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Early Returns Blog


Who needs a credible opponent? Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., came out swinging in his first quarter fundraising, bringing in $1.1 million to raise his total bankroll to $2.1 million.

"These are strong numbers that show a growing war chest as the cycle begins," spokesman Larry Smar wrote in an email. "His numbers are competitive with or higher than top targeted races around the country."

Smar is right about staying competitive with other races. As the keen-eyed Tom Fitzgerald of the Inquirer notes: "Casey outraised in the first three months of 2011 several prominent incumbents of both parties who are facing stiff challenges to their reelections, including Sens. Richard Lugar (R.,Ind.); Ben Nelson (D.,Neb.); Claire McCaskill (D.,Mo.), Olympia Snowe (R.,Maine). He has more cash on hand than McCaskill and Snowe, and close to the amounts amassed by Nelson and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D.,Ohio)."

But few states -- and certainly not those listed above -- require as much money for paid media as Pennsylvania, and Casey still trails the last blockbuster Keystone Senate race by a long shot. A look at Arlen Specter's report from the same point in his cycle (April 2009) shows a comparable $1.29 million haul for the quarter -- but Snarlin' Arlen had been making lucrative use of the previous four years of his term. He had a whopping $6.74 million on hand.

Now, Specter knew he was going to get a primary one way or the other (the report was filed just days before his party switch) and he, Joe Sestak and Pat Toomey spent nearly $40 million among them in the race -- a figure that doesn't include the copious outside money lavished by national parties and outside groups.

It's clear that Casey will have to raise a Scrooge McDuck level of money to win this race, but he's helped at this point by the fact that no big-time challenger has yet emerged and with so many other competitive races across the country, the outside money spigot might not be on high for this campaign.

UPDATE: Marc Scaringi, the Murrysville native, attorney and former Rick Santorum staffer who was the first declared challenger to Casey issued a statement calling Casey's bankroll "repulsive." More:

"Senator Casey is sitting on a $2.1 million war chest for an election that is a year and a half away while our nation is still reeling from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. ...

"These fundraising numbers for Senator Casey answer one question, they let us know where he’s been.  He’s been meeting with special interest groups, including union officials who expect and demand favors from him in exchange for campaign contributions, like the Casey Union Bailout plan calling for the taxpayers to bailout failed union pensions."

The last bit is a reference to a pension guarantee bill I wrote about a while back that has been mercilessly attacked in the conservative blogosphere. Scaringi's first quarter fundraising numbers aren't in yet, but he reported a mere $5,500 in his account at year's end and campaign manager John Haynes told me the other day they aren't really focused on fundraising, more on traveling the state.

Rick Santorum created some buzz for his appearance on Fox News' "On the Record with Greta van Susteren" last night by saying he had a big announcement to make. Most of the speculation assumed that he was forming an exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission. Santorum is forming a committee, and he's even calling it the Rick Santorum Exploratory Committee, but it's not an exploratory committee with the FEC.

Santorum spokeswoman Virginia Davis clarifies that it's an account with the Internal Revenue Service to raise money that can be used in a presidential campaign, as a way to test his viability. As Santorum put it to Greta: "We’re going to determine over the next few weeks whether the resources are going to be there."

His efforts for the past year have been funded by his Political Action Committee, but those funds (aside from a max donation, like any PAC) cannot be put toward an official presidential run. Davis said the IRS "testing the waters" account funds can be transferred to a presidential campaign account. The other problem for Santorum is, as Davis figures it, this step does not fill the requirement Fox News set out to participate in the first debate of the GOP presidential primary season May 5 in South Carolina. Santorum has committed to appearing in the debate, and Davis said she realized time was getting short about filling the requirement of a FEC filing of some kind to appear there, and "as we get closer he’ll make that determination."

So Santorum now tests whether he can raise the kind of money he needs to play in this campaign. More on this in the Daily Santorum.

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said today that he will vote against the last-minute budget deal struck late Friday night by President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The deal has been criticized from the left and the right, and Doyle's southpaw broadsides included its cuts to programs that help Pittsburgh's less privileged -- from the WIC program that provides nutrition and health care for pregnant women and young children to Community Development Block Grants, which we wrote about today. Doyle questioned the wisdom of cutting the safety net and other key priorities while increasing funding for the military.

"I don’t like this whole approach where we are cutting programs that are making investments," he said. "This is a stupid idea to be cutting energy efficiency and programs like that, keys to the future of the country."

The House is scheduled to vote on the six-month "continuing resolution" deal tomorrow. Look for more reaction from the local delegation in Thursday's paper -- in the dead tree or Interwebs version.

As we noted earlier, Democratic county executive candidate Mark Patrick Flaherty followed his opponent Rich Fitzgerald onto TV today. The spots are below.

The first focuses on his fiscal watchdog role as county controller. "I'm Mark Patrick Flaherty, and I know these days every penny counts."

The second is a series of voice-overs saying "Only One" candidate audited county agencies (that would be him) and instituted those weights-measures stickers you see on every gas pump in town. "Only one audited scales and gas pumps to protect to protect working people from being ripped off."

The Fitzgerald camp had this to say about the weights/measures claim:

County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty used thousands of taxpayer dollars to print stickers to put his name on gas pumps, parking meters, and cash registers around Allegheny County. He also ran commercials in 2010 which were quickly criticized for being political and using county employees.

Their full statement on Flaherty's watchdogging as controller is after the jump:



Whichever Republican emerges -- from a field that for now is weaker than Earl Grey -- to face Sen. Bob Casey might have a big fat torpedo to use from the upcoming vote on the debt limit. The White House has asked that Congress vote to raise the nation's borrowing level beyond $14.3 trillion without preconditions. Republicans, Sen. Pat Toomey among them, want to attach some budget reform to secure their vote, such as a balanced budget amendment.

Politico writes today about how this conundrum is splitting Democrats, saying Casey "sounded open to backing a 'clean' debt limit increase" as requested by the White House. Now this unquoted, mild support does not mean the same as a vote. But it nonetheless could open Casey to charges of hypocrisy, considering that he used debt limit votes to bludgeon Sen. Rick Santorum -- remember him? -- during their campaign. Politico's Jonathan Allen notes that when the pair appeared on NBC's Meet the Press, Casey slammed Santorum over his debt limit votes:

Hey Rick, there’s only one guy sitting at this table running for the Senate who voted for those record deficits and voted to raise the debt number more in a couple years than every president from George Washington to Bill Clinton. You’ve got a lot of explaining to do. I’m the one who’s been fiscally responsible in my work. You oughta try it.
It sounds like a line that any 2010 GOP'er could have uttered. And you can bet it will be used against Casey next year.

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