- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Republican incumbent Richard Burr and Democrat Deborah Ross raised the most money for the U.S. Senate before the final weeks of campaigning for their respective March 15 primary elections. Greg Brannon, Burr’s chief GOP challenger, also showed his ability to generate contributions, particularly in small denominations.

In the race for North Carolina governor, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper’s campaign said he raised $1.1 million in the first two months of 2016 and had nearly $5.7 million in cash in the bank entering March 1.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, his likely opponent in the general election, didn’t release his totals for January and February ahead of Monday night’s filing deadline at the State Board of Elections. Spokesman Ricky Diaz said McCrory’s campaign “will report strong fundraising numbers.” The U.S. Senate candidates’ pre-primary deadline was last week.

Cooper outraised McCrory in 2015 by about $1.2 million. Both had several million dollars at their disposal starting the new year, anticipating their potential general election campaign.

First, Cooper and McCrory must defeat primary opponents. Entering next year, Republicans Robert Brawley and Charles Kenneth Moss and Democrat Ken Spaulding reported only small fractions of what the more well-known candidates have raised. Spaulding and a Brawley campaign spokesman didn’t respond Monday for updated campaign report information. Moss said last week he had eschewed fundraising.

In the Senate race, Burr’s committee told the Federal Election Commission it raised $519,100 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 24 and reported $5.3 million on hand.

Brannon, who finished second to Thom Tillis in the 2014 Republican U.S. Senate primary, told the FEC he raised $167,300 during the period and had just $36,600 on hand. More than $92,100 of the amount raised came from contributions of $50 or less. Brannon has relied on mass fundraising emails, particularly to keep radio advertisements on the air.

Brannon, a Cary obstetrician and tea party favorite, began a bus tour Monday to early-voting centers, starting with eastern counties.

Brannon has tried to paint Burr, who is seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate, as a Washington insider and hopes support for presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump will seep into his race. Burr has talked up his conservative credentials and national security responsibilities as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman. Republicans Paul Wright and Larry Holmquist also are running.

Ross, a former state legislator, raised $342,300 and had $292,000 cash on hand. Burr and Ross’ campaigns each spent $503,000 during the same period, according to their reports, as they began paying for television ads and other paid media.

Ross, however, remained well ahead of fellow Democratic candidate Kevin Griffin of Durham, who had less than $1,000 in his campaign coffers and had borrowed $18,500 from himself. The FEC had not received the campaign report of Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey, another Democrat, by last Friday, according to a letter sent Rey’s campaign. Democrat Ernest Reeves has not raised any Senate campaign funds.

In-person early voting ends Saturday for the primary, which also includes nominee races for president, Council of State positions, the legislature and some judgeships. Nearly 153,000 people had completed in-person early voting through Sunday, according to the State Board of Elections.

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