Senate GOP candidates lag in cash but lead in polls

Jon Ward Contributor
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On paper, it’s not just the Republican campaign fundraising arms that have money problems. Several of their Senate candidates do as well.

In all but one of the eight states where Republicans are locked in primary battles for the party’s nomination, the Democratic candidates already have cash on hand advantages, some of them significant.

Add that to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s cash on hand advantage over its Republican counterpart — it started the year with $12.5 million to the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s $8.3 million — and it looks like the GOP faces a steep uphill path.

“These primaries not only present political problems, but also are inhibiting GOP chances of building adequate war chests,” a Democratic strategist said.

Republicans argue that their leads in much of the polling, along with competitive primaries on the Democratic side, put them in what NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said is “a far stronger financial position relative to the Democrats, compared to two years ago.”

Here’s the state of the races:

: Sen. Blanche Lincoln, the incumbent Democrat, has $5 million in her war chest, more than five times as much as the two most serious Republican challengers combined. Rep. John Boozman has about $292,000, and state Sen. Gilbert Baker has $639,000. Yet the GOP is confident that either of those candidates will oust Lincoln, and the polling seems to back them up for now. The two most recent polls had both Boozman and Baker between 15 and 20 points ahead of Lincoln.

Colorado: Sen. Michael Bennet, the incumbent Democrat, has $3.5 million on hand and will snatch up a bit more on Thursday when President Obama campaigns for him. Compare that to the Republicans: former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton has $600,000 and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck has $276,000. But Bennet is facing a stiff primary challenge himself from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. And whiles some polls show Bennet slightly ahead of the Republicans, he is behind Norton in others.

California: Sen. Barbara Boxer, the incumbent Democrat, holds a big money lead here as well, with $7.3 million to the $2.8 million held by the most loaded Republican, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina. Former congressman Tom Campbell, who is leading his fellow Republicans in primary polling, has about $700,000, and state assembly man Chuck Devore has $226,364. Privately, Republicans downplay the significance of this race in the broader scheme, saying it is not one of their top pickup targets, but say either Fiorina or Campbell will at the very least give Boxer a tough enough run that she has to use most of her money and can’t transfer it to the national party.

Nevada: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat, has $8.7 million. He also will get a fundraising boost from Obama this week when the president shows up in Nevada on Friday. The closest Republican is banker John Chachas, with $1.7 million. Businessman Danny Tarkanian has about $377,000, and former state Sen. Sue Lowden has roughly $498,000. But the state of this race is more clear than most: Reid is going to need every cent if he hopes to win reelection. Reid’s negatives are sky high in the state, and he trails both Tarkanian and Lowden in most polls.

New Hampshire: Rep. Paul Hodes, the Democratic frontrunner, has $1.4 million to the Republican front-runner Kelly Ayotte, the state’s attorney general from 2004 to 2009, who has $1 million. That’s a slight lead for Hodes given the fact that he entered the race much earlier than Ayotte. Ayotte consistently leads Hodes in recent polling by several points.

Pennsylvania: Sen. Arlen Specter, the former Republican turned Democrat incumbent, has a Harry Reid-size war chest, with $8.7 million. The closest Republican, former congressman Pat Toomey, has a respectable $2.8 million. But Specter faces a tough primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak, who has $5.1 million himself. And again, Toomey leads in the polls over both Specter and Sestak.

Kentucky: Jack Conway, the state’s attorney general and Democratic front-runner, has a slight edge over the two Republican candidates. Conway has $1.7 million while Trey Grayson, Kentucky’s secretary of state, has $1.4 million, and physician Rand Paul has $1.3 million. Again, a familiar dynamic is at play. Both Grayson and Paul lead Conway in the polls. And Conway faces a challenge of his own from Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who has $783,000 of his own.

Florida: You would think Republican Gov. Charlie Crist would be the clear leader, with a $7.6 million war chest. But he has lost the 30-point lead in the polls he had last summer over primary challenger Marco Rubio, the former state speaker, who has $2 million on hand. Rubio is considered by many in the GOP to be not only a lock for the nomination and the general election, but is also being looked to as a national leader. Democrat Rep. Kendrick Meek has a respectable $3.5 million, but few expect him to be any threat to Rubio or Crist.

Of this list, Democrats are ahead only in Colorado and California. So while the party has an edge in overall cash levels, they are facing some pretty difficult challenges in the overall political environment and look to have a number of very tough races on their hands.