It always means more in an election year.
Fundraising does matter in an off year—just ask Mitch McConnell's opponent, Matt Bevin, if he wishes he had collected enough cash last year to be on TV in a big way now. But it matters more with an election in November, and candidates already are distinguishing themselves—in ways both good and bad—in the first financial disclosures of 2014.
While numbers will continue to materialize this week, here are some of the winners and losers so far.
The daughter of former Senate royalty was expected to raise money plenty of money, but her hauls have to be exceeding even the wildest Democratic fantasies. Michelle Nunn raised about $2.4 million in the first quarter, an astronomical sum for any candidate, much less a Democrat running in a red state like Georgia.
Her cash-on-hand totals aren't yet public, but after carrying roughly $2.5 million into the new year, it's a fair bet the onetime philanthropist is not wanting for dollars as the state's primary season hits its home stretch.
Nunn has long been seen as a threat to win the general election if Republicans nominate someone outside the political mainstream, like Reps. Paul Broun or Phil Gingrey. But with this kind of cash, she'll be a formidable foe to whomever the GOP taps to face her.
Democratic Super PACs
With the 2014 map turning against their party, Democratic donors are stepping up. The two Democratic super PACs focused on congressional elections recorded major improvements over their first-quarter totals from the 2012 cycle.
Senate Majority PAC announced that it raised about $11 million in the first three months of the year, compared with the $1.7 million it brought in during the same period in 2012, and finished with about $8.5 million in the bank. Meanwhile, House Majority PAC nearly tripled its haul from the first quarter of 2012 to roughly $5.3 million in 2014, and finished March with about $7 million on hand.
Still, it shouldn't all be unbridled optimism for Democrats. For one, these groups are far better established now than in 2012, their first political cycle. And even if they keep up the fundraising pace through the rest of the cycle, they will be hard-pressed to outspend Americans for Prosperity and other conservative advocacy groups backed by wealthy donors that have already poured big bucks into key Senate and House races across the country.
House Challengers and Freshmen
One of the greatest obstacles for primary challengers is a lack of funds, especially when they start without a preexisting base of support. Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton's big first quarter—nearly $455,000 raised—ensures that he'll have the ability to get his name out there when his primary against Democratic Rep. John Tierney heats up.
A few freshmen scored big in the first quarter, too. Republican Rep. Rodney Davis pulled in $600,000 in Illinois, while Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy continued his gangbusters pace in Florida by raising $675,000—even though he's not running against firebrand Republican Allen West this year.
Meanwhile, both Rep. Mike Coffman and Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff are looking like winners ahead of their matchup in Colorado. This race figures to be one of the country's most expensive House contests in 2014, and both candidates continue to give themselves the best possible chance to tell their own stories in the fall. Romanoff is in slightly better position, having raised $603,000 in the first quarter to Coffman's $593,000, and the Democrat has $2.1 million in the bank to Coffman's $1.85 million.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Yes, the Senate minority leader's burn rate is high. And yes, his Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is stockpiling loads of cash while McConnell fends off his Republican opponent. But don't lose sight of the two figures that matter most: a massive $2.4 million raised during the first three months of 2014, and about $10.4 million cash on hand.
Both suggest that McConnell's campaign—along with what's sure to be an onslaught of help from well-funded GOP outside groups—can maintain its already-heavy spending through November.
Of course, if McConnell loses, critics will look to his first-quarter fundraising report and wonder just what the campaign was spending its money on. His top aides argue they're laying the foundation for a robust ground game come November. Nobody will find out the efficacy of those efforts until Election Day.
Sens. Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan
Despite their status as two of the most vulnerable incumbents, Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan each showed they'll have anything but a thin wallet by the fall.
In Louisiana, Landrieu outraised her top GOP opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy, $1.8 million to $1.2 million, and had about $2.5 million more in the bank at the end of March. Hagan, meanwhile, continued building her own war chest in North Carolina, bringing in roughly $2.8 million in the first quarter and finishing with about $8.3 million on hand.
Those are serious sums of cash for a couple of endangered incumbents.
The two Democrats still face dramatically different situations: As outside groups continue to spend heavily on both races, Hagan can conserve her cash as the Republican candidates duke it out ahead of the May 20 primary. Landrieu, on the other hand, is already preparing to take to the airwaves, booking $2.6 million in ad time between mid-April and the end of June.
Sen. Mark Begich
It's never good for incumbents to be outraised by their challengers, and Mark Begich is no exception. Former Republican Attorney General Dan Sullivan trumped Alaska's sitting senator by nearly $300,000 during the first three months of the year.
Sullivan brought in about $1.3 million to Begich's roughly $1 million, though Begich still has a cash-on-hand advantage. He ended the quarter with about $2.8 million in the bank while Sullivan reported about $2 million.
But if Begich can't pick up the fundraising pace, his heavier bankroll will soon become a thing of the past. The Alaska Democrat's best chance to maintain his financial edge might be a competitive primary for Sullivan, but his Republican opponents haven't shown much of an ability to raise money themselves.
Sen. John Walsh
Even with the added benefit of incumbency, Democratic Sen. John Walsh, who was appointed to fill the Montana Senate seat vacated by Sen. Max Baucus in February, was outraised by his likely Republican opponent in the first three months of the year.
Rep. Steve Daines brought in about $1.2 million and finished the first quarter with roughly $2.2 million cash on hand. At $947,000, Walsh raised a decent sum, but ended March with just $700,000 on hand.
Like Begich, it's never a good sign when the challenger posts a larger haul than the incumbent—even if Walsh has only been one for about two months. The race was already viewed as an uphill battle for Walsh, and these figures support that notion.
Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey
The run-up to the GOP nomination has been good financially for these two Georgia Senate hopefuls, but probably not good enough.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Broun raised $345,000 in the first quarter, up from previous hauls, but still below what most of the congressman's boosters would like to see as the primary enters its final weeks. He had just $230,000 in his campaign's bank account entering April, hardly enough for much airtime in the all-important Atlanta TV market.
Gingrey, meanwhile, raised less than his congressional counterpart, according to reports, a worrying sign for a candidate who started the primary with a sizable war chest. If either Gingrey or Broun finishes in the primary's top two spots, positions that would guarantee a place in a two-candidate runoff, it won't be thanks to a surge in cash.
GOP House Candidate Tom MacArthur
When comes to financial disclosures, big numbers don't always mean big support. New Jersey Republican Tom MacArthur, for example, brought in $2,001,075 in the first quarter—but the first $2 million of that was a personal loan.
Now, it is probably better to be the guy with $2 million in the bank than it is to be his opponent, but the total lack of outside fundraising by the main candidate standing between the controversial Steve Lonegan and the GOP nomination in a vulnerable, open congressional district might raise a red flag or two about his level of support.
This article appears in the April 15, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.