The two leading Republican contenders in the U.S. Senate race are locked in a fierce fundraising battle as Sue Lowden raised about $500,000 in the first three months of 2010 with Danny Tarkanian close behind, their campaigns said Thursday.
Lowden also planned to give herself another $500,000, a dollar-for-dollar fundraising match the multimillionaire casino executive pledged earlier this year, a move that will help replenish her campaign coffers, adding up to a total $1 million to report for the period ending March 31.
Meanwhile, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., raised more than $1.5 million in the first three months of this year for his re-election campaign, putting the Democratic leader closer to the halfway mark for his goal of collecting a record $25 million to defend his Senate seat, his campaign said.
"Name recognition is going to be a large factor but you've got to have the money to reach the voters and tell your story," said Fred Lokkin, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College.
Tarkanian, a businessman and former UNLV basketball star, expects to report raising roughly $445,000 during January, February and March, although the final figure won't be known until all the late-arriving checks are counted, campaign consultant Jamie Fisfis told the Review-Journal.
"I don't think we expected to be anywhere near Sue Lowden," Fisfis said, adding, however, that the Tarkanian camp believes it will continue to be competitive through the primary on June 8.
Neither the Lowden nor Tarkanian campaigns would disclose how much cash on hand they have, although Fisfis acknowledged it would be very little because Tarkanian already had paid for TV and radio ads through the spring.
More ad time may be bought depending on how the race shapes up, Fisfis said.
Lowden probably doesn't have much in the bank either given her heavy, out-front media buys, jumping out with four TV ads and radio starting in February, which helped her emerge from the pack. She also appears to have the largest campaign staff, including top operatives from in and out of state.
New York investment banker John Chachas estimated that he currently had some $1 million in cash on hand, but he said he didn't know yet exactly how much he had raised during the first quarter of 2010.
An Ely native who has returned to Nevada for his first bid at public office, Chachas had loaned himself $1.3 million last year, which left him with $1.9 million in total funds at the end of 2009.
"The cash on hand are the only relevant numbers that matter, and Sue is just burning through a ton of money," Chachas said in a telephone interview. "I'm holding some fundraisers and I'm watching what I'm spending, but I haven't paid as much attention to that as others.
Chachas, nearly unknown and who has been out of state for two decades, just went up with nearly $200,000 in TV and radio ads and plans to spend more to get his name and business experience known as voters start paying attention in the last few weeks.
"I don't see any evidence that this race is anything other than open," Chachas said.
Tarkanian's campaign criticized Lowden and Chachas for partly self-funding their election bids, saying that's one reason Tarkanian has called for campaign finance reform to prevent rich candidates from buying elections.
Individual donations are limited to $2,400 in the primary and general campaigns.
"The current campaign finance laws give an advantage to wealthy candidates," Fisfis said.
The campaign fundraising reports for federal candidates during the first quarter of 2010 are due April 15 to the Federal Election Commission.
Fundraising figures weren't immediately available from other GOP primary campaigns, including former Reno Assemblywoman Sharron Angle and Las Vegas Assemblyman Chad Christsensen.
Lowden raised more than $800,000 during the last quarter of 2009, much more than her fundraising during the past three months.
The Lowden campaign said it was happy with the money raised so far in 2010, however, and communications director Crystal Feldman noted that Reid's financial advantage has not shown up in early opinion polls of Nevada voters.
"Despite having spent over $4 million as of December 31, 2009, Reid still struggles to get his abysmal polling numbers out of the 30s," Feldman said in a statement, referring to polls commissioned by the Review-Journal showing only one-third of voters have a favorable opinion of the senator.
As a powerful incumbent, Reid's fund-raising prowess has far outmatched his strongest Republican primary opponents, who are having to tap out of state donors because Reid has locked up much of Nevada.
Reid's campaign dismissed the GOP fundraising effort by front-runner Lowden as anemic.
"Even if Sue Lowden had written herself a $1 million check instead of a $500,000 check, she'd still have lost a chunk of ground for the quarter," said Kelly Steele, communications director for the Reid campaign. "It looks like they now have two self-funders on the GOP side."
Reid finished the year with around $9 million raised. His additional $1.5 million plus puts him at more than $10 million so far in this election cycle, which is setting fundraising records.
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