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Kennedy's Senate seat: How much money do contenders need?

Most of the potential Democratic candidates have more than $1 million available. But for those who officially enter the race, more fundraising may be necessary.

By Tracey D. SamuelsonContributor / September 2, 2009



Boston

Runners, take your mark.

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Martha Coakley, Massachusetts' attorney general, has kicked off the race for Sen. Edward Kennedy’s vacant Senate seat. A representative from her office picked up nominating papers on her behalf Tuesday.

The special election to fill the seat that Senator Kennedy occupied for nearly half a century is less than five months away. The election date is Jan. 19, 2010, with a primary date set for Dec. 8, 2009.

While typical Senate races are marathon-like tests of a candidate’s endurance, with a year or more of campaigning, the special-election process requires a sprinter’s legs.

The short time frame means that candidates will need to begin fundraising immediately. Each will probably need to raise between $2 million and $4 million, says Dan Payne, a Democratic media consultant who has worked on the campaigns of Massachusetts representatives and senators.

This explains why Ms. Coakley, a Democrat, lost no time in moving forward with her campaign.

Unlike other potential candidates, Coakley does not have a deep well of financial reserves at the ready. Federal election laws prohibit her from rolling money left over from her state campaigns into her bid for federal office.

Other Democrats thought to be considering a run are better off.

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, US Rep. Michael Capuano has just over $1.2 million in his campaign account, while the account balance of Rep. Stephen Lynch is just shy of $1.4 million. Rep. Edward Markey has about $2.9 million in cash on hand.

Former Rep. Marty Meehan, now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, has the largest war chest, with nearly $5 million.

Joseph Kennedy II, the late senator’s nephew whose candidacy might discourage Mr. Meehan and Representatives Markey and Capuano from running, has $1.7 million in his campaign reserves. He has not held public office since he left the US House in 1999, after serving there 12 years.

Rep. Jim McGovern, whose name has been floated as a potential candidate but who has also been omitted from many shortlists, has $536,000 in his political war chest. He is the only possible Democratic contender besides Coakley who has less than $1 million at his campaign disposal.

But Coakley’s financial weakness as a candidate may be tied to a political strength, says Mr. Payne. She's the only candidate with statewide election experience, which means she has a broader network of volunteers and campaign operations than her potential competitors.

Also, Coakley is likely to be the only female Democratic candidate, which could help her on the fundraising front quickly. She’ll probably enjoy the support of national women’s groups who are eager for Massachusetts to elect its first female senator.

Coakley's fundraising weakness is "a temporary disadvantage,” Payne says.

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Click here for more details on who may enter the race to replace Kennedy.

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