COLLEGE PARK – Of the 11 U.S. senators elected to a first term in 2006, nine had more money in the bank for possible 2012 re-election bids than Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.
Only Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with $141,661 on hand, had less than Cardin, who reported having $379,594 in the bank as of June 30, the most recent reporting deadline for the Federal Election Commission.
Some analysts suggest that Cardin has not raised as much money as other senators because he does not have to: Even though Maryland has not yet opened registration for the 2012 election, a recent poll suggested that Cardin would be a considerable favorite for re-election then.
Of 569 Marylanders polled from July 10-12 by Public Policy Polling, 51 percent would vote for Cardin against 33 percent for a generic Republican, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent.
Public Policy Polling analyst Tom Jensen said when there is an open seat in Maryland, Republicans have a chance — but once a Democrat is elected, he or she is “pretty much there for life.”
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, agreed.
Incumbent Democrats in Maryland “might not take anything for granted, but looking historically,” it would be easy for them to do so, Sabato said.
According to the Cardin campaign, the senator has other priorities than fundraising right now.
“The senator is busy supporting (Gov.) Martin O’Malley and (Sen.) Barbara Mikulski for their campaigns, but (after the election) he’ll be much more focused on his own campaign,” said Shelly Hettleman, Cardin’s campaign director. “We’re not taking anything for granted.”
Political observers believe that if Cardin runs for re-election in 2012, it will not be as difficult as his election campaign in 2006 or as difficult as most other senators’ re-election bids. Six of the 10 other senators won seats away from Republicans in 2006, and some may find re-election challenging.
In 2006, Cardin ran for an open seat that had been held by a Democrat. He faced former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a Republican, and won 54 percent to 44 percent, the closest Senate election in Maryland in more than two decades.
For that race, Cardin raised $8.78 million and spent most of it, according to the FEC. Since 2006, he has raised $1.2 million, less than all but three of the senators first elected in that year.
Sanders, an independent, raised $426,000 during that period and had $141,661 on hand, according to the FEC. Sen. James Webb, D-Va., raised just over $1 million and had $509,959 in the bank, while Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., raised $1.2 million and had $500,768 on hand.
Sanders, like Cardin, is considered a heavy favorite for re-election in a relatively small state: He won election in 2006 with 65 percent of the vote.
And Senate seats in Maryland have been safely Democratic for some time. Cardin’s predecessor, former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who was first elected in 1976, and Mikulski, first elected in 1986, have always won at least 59 percent of the vote. Both are Democrats.
Webb, who beat then-Sen. and former Virginia Gov. George Allen by less than half a percent in 2006, had raised a relatively small amount of money compared to his peers.
Sabato said that there is a long-standing tradition in Virginia not to raise significant amounts of money during off-cycle years when other candidates from the same party are running. He said that with four Democrats in close races for seats in the House this year, it would be “improper” for Webb to raise significant amounts of money before the election.