Campaign contributions to Sen. Maria Cantwell are off by 30 percent compared with the same point in her re-election campaign six years ago.
The Washington Democrat hauled in $6.4 million through the end of September since her 2006 victory.
That’s $2.8 million below the pace she set for the 2006 election, when she raised nearly $19 million to fend off a GOP challenge from former Safeco Chief Executive Mike McGavick.
Five other senators who’ve served at least two terms in office and are up for re-election in 2012 also posted declines, according to Eric Ostermeier, a political researcher at the University of Minnesota who writes the Smart Politics blog. They include four Democrats and one Republican.
Ostermeier said it may be premature to read any significance into Cantwell’s fundraising slowdown. Both Cantwell’s campaign and the Washington state Democratic Party attributed it, in part, to the fact that she has yet to draw a high-profile challenger.
Cantwell’s only officially declared opponent is Michael Baumgartner, a GOP freshman state senator from Spokane. Republican Phillip Yin, a Bloomberg TV anchor in Hong Kong, has said he plans to run, and recently quit his job and moved back to Washington state to prepare his candidacy.
“Sen. Cantwell is entering this race in a very strong position,” said Rose Kapolczynski, a Los Angeles-based consultant who is handling strategy for Cantwell’s campaign. “Until a few weeks ago, no Republican dared to take her on.”
But Kapolczynski acknowledged that Cantwell is also braced for the possibility of a formidable late entrant to the race or a flood of opposition spending by independent Republican groups. Cantwell estimated earlier this year that it might take $18 million to win a third term.
If Cantwell were to become a GOP target, “then $18 million may be too little,” Kapolczynski said. “Unfortunately, money makes a difference in politics.”
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray spent more than $17.million on her race against Republican Dino Rossi last year.
In 2000, Cantwell spent $11.5 million — 90 percent of it backed by her own money earned as an executive at RealNetworks — to oust Republican Sen. Slade Gorton by just 2,229 votes. Of that, $2.8 million were loans from Cantwell, Kapolczynski said. The campaign repaid $650,000 between 2002 and 2009, and still owes her $2.2 million. The rest of Cantwell’s spending was her personal contribution.
Cantwell ramped up fundraising for her 2006 race against McGavick. She raised $18.9 million, virtually all of it individual donations, and spent $16.7 million. The average cost of winning re-election for the 23 Senate incumbents in 2006 was $8.2 million, according to the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington, D.C.
Cantwell might not have needed all that money; she ended up trouncing McGavick 57 percent to 40 percent. McGavick’s candidacy hit trouble late in the campaign after reports surfaced about a 13-year-old drunken-driving arrest and allegations that he had fudged details in recounting the incident.
“In 2006, she was considered vulnerable. And McGavick seemed like a pretty darned good candidate,” said Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party.
Pelz said he was unconcerned about Cantwell’s fundraising so far.
Ostermeier, of Smart Politics, said voter disaffection with incumbents, especially Democrats, could be behind the slow pace of donations.
Five of the six Democratic senators with two or more terms in office are trailing their 2006 fundraising pace.
Among them is Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who’s running for her fifth term. Feinstein has raised $2.5 million less than she had at this point in 2005. But her former campaign treasurer was arrested last month and accused of embezzling $4.7 million. Had it not been for that, Feinstein conceivably could have actually raised $2.2 million more than in 2006.
Of the three senior Republicans up for another term, two, Utah’s Orrin Hatch and Maine’s Olympia Snowe, have taken in significantly more contributions than previously.
In all, 25 incumbents are running for re-election out of the 33 seats on the ballot in 2012.
Between this July and September, Cantwell raised $1.34 million, compared to $1.5 million during the third quarter of 2005. Eighty-four percent of that came from individuals; Cantwell accepted just $5,000 in donations from political-action committees. She now has $3.1 million in cash, down from $3.8 million from the same period six years ago.
Individuals can give candidates up to $2,500 each for primary and general elections, for a total of $5,000.
Top donors in the third quarter included Steve Ballmer of Microsoft; Seattle developer Martin Selig; Jeff Bjornstad, who resigned as Patty Murray’s chief of staff earlier this year to join a lobbying firm; and David Bonderman, a Texas billionaire investor whose private equity firm made a failed bailout bid for Washington Mutual before it collapsed in 2008.
Read more: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/10/20/2237114.html#ixzz1bTWaQaHt