By RONNIE ELLIS
While most Kentuckians bid farewell to 2013, the campaigns of the three major candidates for the U.S. Senate were busy Tuesday scraping together all the money they could before the midnight fourth quarter fundraising deadline.
The final tallies won’t be known until the Jan. 31 deadline for federal campaigns to report fourth quarter totals to the Federal Election Commission.
But it’s a safe bet that incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell will remain well ahead in the money race, even if the polls say he’s running basically even with his presumptive Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell reported having raised $17.7 million for the campaign at the close of the third quarter with $10 million of that in the bank.
Additionally, McConnell has benefited from outside groups which have run ads supportive of the five-term incumbent, including one which ran in December touting his work with his fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul opposing the policies of Barack Obama.
Neither Grimes nor McConnell’s primary challenger, Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin, have much chance of catching McConnell in the fundraising battle, but Grimes actually outraised McConnell in the third quarter, her first after declaring she was running. Grimes reported raising $2.5 million between July 1 and Sept. 30, while McConnell reported about $2.3 million.
Meanwhile, Bevin raised only $222,000 in the third quarter while tossing in $600,000 of his own money to kick-start his campaign. He remains far behind McConnell in most publicly released polling, although he’s narrowed an already huge gap a bit. The competitiveness of his campaign rests on his fourth quarter fundraising.
His spokeswoman, Rachel Simmel, said Bevin doesn’t expect to match McConnell’s fundraising but still expects a good showing in the final three months of the year.
“We’re excited by the tens of thousands of people who have contributed to the campaign and the momentum we’re picking up,” she said. “As Kentucky voters learn more and more about Mitch McConnell’s record of big government votes, they are rallying to Matt Bevin’s campaign”
That’s Bevin’s biggest challenge. To introduce himself to as many voters as possible, he has crisscrossed the state but without money to pay for television ads, he’ll have a hard time telling his story to enough of them before the May primary.
Bevin is expecting some help from some outside groups, including the Senate Conservatives Fund, headed by former South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint. But McConnell’s big edge and support from outside groups allows him to have the airwaves to himself as neither Bevin nor Grimes is running television ads.
Grimes may find it difficult to reproduce her third-quarter success this time around. The end of the year and Christmas season usually makes the fourth quarter a bit trickier. Six years ago, McConnell raised about $1.6 million in the fourth quarter and that might be a measuring stick for Grimes.
Her campaign sent out multiple email blasts in the final week of the year seeking donations, including one from her grandmother, Elsie Case, who has been featured in much of Grimes’ advertising. Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway also sent out an appeal and so did Emily’s List. Both McConnell and Bevin also sent out last-minute appeals.
Grimes campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton wouldn’t offer any fundraising goals but said, “I think we’ll have a good fundraising quarter.”
She pointed out that while Grimes remains well behind McConnell in the total raised thus far, Grimes has done no television advertising while McConnell has spent money attacking both Grimes and Bevin while Grimes’ position in the polls has remained fairly steady.
Meanwhile, McConnell was in Bowling Green Monday where Paul and Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer signed his candidacy papers, according to spokeswoman Allison Moore.
The alliance with Paul is important because it provides McConnell political cover with the most conservative wing of the party which generally supports Paul and to which Bevin tries to appeal. It also effectively blocks Bevin from accessing Paul’s extensive and national network of contributors.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
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