Year-End Coffers Pad the Two-Year Fundraising Sprint

Some senators started 2018 cycle with millions; others with much less

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown’s campaign committee ended 2016 with $3.2 million in cash on hand, ahead of what is likely to be very competitive re-election for the two-term senator next year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With the 2018 election cycle underway, incumbents gearing up for re-election will begin fundraising in full force this spring.

It helps to have a stockpile of cash already in the bank, but not everyone starts with an equally comfortable cushion. 

Of the senators facing competitive re-elections next year, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown began this year with the biggest bank account.

His campaign committee reported nearly $3.2 million cash on hand to the Federal Election Commission in its 2016 year-end report. Those reports, filed on Jan. 31, don’t reflect any fundraising beyond Dec. 31.

[Leftovers: What Happens to Members’ Campaign War Chests?]

Brown is starting this cycle with more than twice as much in the bank as he had at the same point in the 2012 cycle. He ended 2010 with $1.5 million.

He’ll need that money in what’s likely to be an expensive race to hold onto his Ohio seat. In last year’s Buckeye State Senate race, the general election candidates spent a combined $37 million, according to OpenSecrets.org. While the trend is for federal races to get more expensive every cycle, it’s worth noting that in 2016, unlike next year, Senate races had to compete with a presidential election.

One possible opponent to Brown, GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi, ended 2016 with $5.2 million in the bank — more than all but three Senate candidates from last year, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org.  

Of the four Democrats sitting in seats rated Toss-ups by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III ended 2016 with the most money. His $1.7 million coffer is an increase from the same point in the 2012 cycle, when he had just won a special election to the Senate and had only $377,000 in the bank. 

Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly ended the year with $1.4 million. At this point six years ago, he was still a member of the House and had only $20,000 in the bank. Likewise, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp wasn’t in the Senate at this point in the 2012 cycle and didn’t even file a 2010 year-end report. She began this year with $618,000. 

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill began the 2012 cycle with slightly more in the bank — $905,000 compared to $782,000 this cycle. She’ll be raising much more if her past elections are any indication. 

A member’s cash on hand at the beginning of an election cycle is also a clue (albeit a limited one) as to whether they’re running for re-election. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein ended 2016 with $2.4 million in the bank. At the same point six years ago, the California Democrat had nearly $3.9 million. The 83-year-old was fitted with a pacemaker last month and has not said definitively if she’s running for another term, only that she’ll make that decision formal “at an appropriate time.”

But Feinstein, now the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, was back at work several days after being fitted with the pacemaker, and has long said she’ll continue to serve as long as she thinks she’s effective. She has two re-election kickoff fundraisers planned for March, according to the Los Angeles Times.

As of the end of 2016, Delaware Sen. Thomas R. Carperhadn’t decided whether he’d run for re-election in 2018 either. He ended 2016 with just $245,000 in the bank, less than the nearly $800,000 he had at the same point before his 2012 re-election.

Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch had planned to retire when his term ends next year, but he’s since said he’s reconsidering. The longest-serving Republican in the Senate ended 2016 with $2.2 million, slightly less than his cash on hand at the end of 2010. Although Hatch holds a safe Republican seat, if he doesn’t retire, he may need that cash to fend off a primary challenge. 

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