- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

The year’s first batch of campaign fundraising reports show early betting is on Senate Democrats for the 2010 election season.

Even the party’s supposedly vulnerable incumbents raked in cash at a rapid clip in the first-quarter reports, the ultimate early political tip sheet that reveals who’s hot and who’s coming up short.

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, appointed in January to the seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and possibly facing a 2010 primary challenge, pulled in a healthy $2.3 million during the last three months.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat girding for either a primary challenge from the left or a general election challenge from the right, reported a $1.7 million haul that gives her a total of $2.3 million in the bank.

A key Democratic challenger raised twice as much money as Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents of the Republican party. Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo raised $429,552 since he entered the race in February, compared to Mr. Bunning’s first-quarter haul of about $263,000, for a total of just $786,000 on hand.

And in the fiercely contested race for the Missouri seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan raised $1 million to the $542,000 collected by longtime Republican Rep. Roy Blunt.

“It is certainly an indicator that people want President Obama’s agenda for change and getting this economy back on track, and they know the only way to do that is to grow the Democratic majority in the United States Senate,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Eric Schultz said.

Republican National Committee spokesman Todd Irons said the Democrats’ early fundraising advantage likely reflected donors eager for access to the party in power in Washington.

“I wouldn’t read too much into it. It is still a long way from 2010,” he said. “Once the real impact of the policies of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress sink in with people … I think Republicans will start to bounce back.”

The Senate races could tip the balance of power further in favor of the Democrats as they are just two seats shy of the 60-vote majority needed to break filibusters and ram legislation through the chamber.

The first-quarter reports, which were due at the Federal Elections Commission by midnight Wednesday, contained some good news for Republicans.

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, raised nearly $700,000 for a possible run for governor or the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by embattled Democrat Roland Burris.

Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican struggling to recover after his name appeared on the client list of a Washington prostitution ring, raised a respectable $733,000 for his re-election campaign.

One of the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, finished near the top of the fundraising heap.

The Senate Banking Committee chairman - suffering in the polls because of personal financial woes and his ties to bailed-out financial industry giants - brought in $1 million.

The contributions give Mr. Dodd a boost against potential Republican challengers, including former Rep. Rob Simmons and state Sen. Sam Caligiuri. But Connecticut papers were already noting that the vast majority of Mr. Dodd’s funds have come from out-of-state contributors.

Another strong showing came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Nevada Democrat added $2 million to his war chest for a total of $5.3 million on hand, bucking low poll numbers in his home state that have Republicans targeting him for defeat.

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