Senate race leads the nation in campaign moneyby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Today is a big day for political campaigns. It's the deadline for collecting second quarter campaign contributions. In Minnesota's high-stakes, big-bucks Senate campaign, Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken have been making urgent appeals to supporters for cash. Both men are currently running expensive TV ads, and each is hoping to end the first half of the year with a pile of money to use against the other.
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota's 2008 Senate race leads the nation in campaign money.
All told, the candidates -- including DFLer Mike Ciresi who dropped out months ago -- have raised more than $27 million.
Those numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics are only current through the first three months of this year. That means the real total is almost certainly much higher, because the candidates have been aggressively working to raise even more money over the past three months.
Record overall spending for a Senate race in Minnesota approached $30 million dollars in 2000. That race featured a wide field of Democrats in a primary battle which Mark Dayton won.
In a recent e-mail to supporters, Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign manager cited a recent poll that showed Coleman with a double-digit lead over DFLer Al Franken.
Still, the Coleman campaign's correspondence predicted a close race, and one in which Franken and "liberal allies like MoveOn.org" will pour money into attacking Coleman and distorting his record.
The Franken campaign, too, has been making last-ditch appeals for money. An e-mail from its finance director sent last week does not mention Coleman, but it calls the fundraising quarter "critical."
The correspondence says the tally will amount to the budget the Franken campaign needs to pay for staff, TV ads and other essentials between now and November.
Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier says in addition to simply needing the money, fundraising success translates to political momentum.
"Once those totals are reported, good news helps bring in more money, and a high total means good news," said Schier.
Andy Barr, with the Franken campaign, says political pundits use contributions as a measure of a campaign's success.
"It's a big deal, because folks like you, the political insiders, are going to use our numbers to comment on how the race is going," Barr said. "It's a big deal for us, because we need to buy things."
Minnesota's Senate race is on track to shatter the previous fundraising record between the endorsed major party candidates of about $25.5 million. That record was set during the 2002 race that elected Coleman to the Senate, following the plane crash death of Paul Wellstone and Coleman's victory over former Vice President Walter Mondale.
As of the end of March, Coleman and Franken had raised more than $22 million. Coleman led Franken $13.1 million to $9.35 million.
But the most important first quarter number showed Coleman had almost $7 million in the bank, about twice as much cash as Franken.
Steve Schier says he'll be watching the second quarter fundraising to see if Franken's cash position has improved.
"Before the end of this quarter, Norm Coleman had at least a two to one cash-on-hand advantage, which is very helpful to him, because that pays for ads and organization in the fall, and what Al Franken really needs to do is to shrink that advantage," said Schier.
Schier says if Franken is unable to begin closing that gap, he will likely be headed for problems going into the fall campaign.
Schier says the second quarter numbers could indicate whether Democrats are upset about Franken's past tax problems, and the controversy over his several-year-old pornographic Playboy essay.
"One of the things to watch is whether his fundraising totals are down and whether his totals from Minnesotans are down, because that will indicate, perhaps, that the recent disclosures about Al Franken have really hurt him," said Schier.
Luke Friedrich of the Coleman campaign declined to offer any specifics about how Coleman's second-quarter fundraising will come in. He did say Franken's problems helped Coleman's fundraisers draw a sharp contrast between the senator and his DFL competitor.
"When people see that contrast, it certainly affects fundraising. That's a contrast that you can draw, and when you look to the most recent poll that came out, again, people are responding to the clear difference between Senator Coleman and Al Franken," Friedrich said. Franken's campaign predicts it will be outspent by Coleman, but, that it will have plenty of money.
The Franken camp says both campaigns will have an "insane amount of money," enough to make Minnesota's 2008 Senate race a good argument for public campaign financing.
Editor's note: This story initially reported that the Senate fundraising record in Minnesota was $25.5 million in 2002. We clarified this story to note that $25.5 million was the record amount raised by the endorsed major party candidates. But when all Senate candidates are included, the spending record approached $30 million in 2000.
- Morning Edition, 06/30/2008, 7:20 a.m.