When it comes to long-range political forecasting, there's no better place to start than Louisiana's U.S. Senate showdown, and there's no mistaking who's leading the money race there. Incumbent Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, raised more than $1.2 million from October to December last year, compared to his challenger's $600,000 from the same period. As for the tell-all, money-in-the-bank figure, Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, has roughly $2 million, while Vitter is sitting on $4.5 million.
Democrats nationwide have seen better political climates. Based on the latest Gallup/USA Today poll, 58 percent of respondents said the Democratic-controlled Congress was either "below average" or "one of the worst ever." But Bradley Beychok, Melancon's campaign manager, and others argue that the money game is far from over, especially since the national parties have yet to get involved.
The Republican National Committee has become relatively cash-poor in recent months. It started 2010 with only $8 million in the bank, which is down from $22 million just a year ago. That has led some GOP faithful to fret that the RNC won't be able to support its Republican incumbents as it has in the past.
RNC Chairman Michael Steele said in a press release last month that the GOP bankrolled several expensive and successful campaigns in 2009 and it will do the same in 2010. The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, started the year with nearly $14 million cash on hand.
• Bill's Big Bank — If any Democrats are waiting in the wings to take on freshman Rep. Bill Cassidy, they didn't raise any money last year. Campaign finance reports for the final quarter of 2009 were due at the Federal Election Commission last week, and Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, was the only politico in the 6th Congressional District to file.
Cassidy's report shows him with a whopping $735,000 in the bank, which exceeds the holdings of all other Louisiana House members and is the second highest among freshman House Republicans, according to National Journal's House Race Hotline.
From October to December, Cassidy collected more than $161,000 in donations, of which 96 percent came from individuals in Louisiana (65 percent of that total can be traced to the Baton Rouge region).
In a prepared statement, Cassidy says he was grateful for the support. "I have worked to bring the ideas and values of our district to bear in Congress," he says. "People vote with their dollars, and this shows a lot of votes for limited government, free enterprise, and individual opportunity."
Although he's a newbie and relative political novice, Cassidy's $100,000 in expenditures from the last quarter shows he's looking to make smart moves. A great deal of his spending was dedicated to consulting services, such as $8,800 to Massachusetts fundraiser Ethan A. Zorfas, a well-known GOP operative. Cassidy also kicked a sizable bit of dough up the ladder, contributing $19,000 to the cash-strapped Republican National Committee.
For the RNC, it was money in the bank. For Cassidy, it was a down payment on his political future.
• Cao's Burn Rate — Elsewhere in the fourth quarter, Cassidy was outraised only by Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-New Orleans, who put together an impressive $247,000 — and spent it all ... and then some. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of talk about Cao's burn rate, or what could be construed as negative cash flow. In short, Cao spent $35,000 more than he raised from October to December.
What gives? Such practices prevent his campaign from building up a reserve for what is expected to be the most contested race in the nation. His $316,000 in the bank now contrasts with his third quarter 2009 filing, which showed $351,000 cash on hand.
Of the $283,000 Cao spent during the last quarter, a great deal went to direct mail. Nearly $39,000 went to Base Connect of Washington, D.C., a firm with connections to various outreach organizations and so-called 527 groups, which have relaxed reporting requirements, like the National Black Republican Association. According to The Washington Post, the NBRA once bankrolled radio ads to "identify Martin Luther King Jr. as a Republican and pin the founding of the Ku Klux Klan on Democrats."
For a Republican representing a Democratic district, that's a connection worth remembering when the contest heats up later this summer and fall.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.