New fundraising figures put Whitehouse in good shape

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse finished last year with $723,000 in his campaign account as he prepares for what could be a competitive reelection fight in 2012.

Whitehouse’s war chest grew by $147,327 between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, according to a new Federal Election Commission filing obtained by

Cook Political Report senior editor Jennifer Duffy – who’s also a Rhode Island native – told me Whitehouse is in decent shape gearing up for his first campaign as an incumbent senator.

“He’s doing pretty well,” Duffy said. “This is a pretty strong starting number. … The ball has started rolling, and this is a healthy start.” Rhode Island’s small size also makes it a relatively low-cost state in which to run.

The numbers do not include the donations Whitehouse received at a major fundraiser he held Sunday night at the Providence Biltmore, which was headlined by his colleague Jack Reed and attracted a who’s who of local politicians.

The big question now is which Republican will step forward to challenge Whitehouse next year. All eyes are on recently departed Gov. Donald Carcieri, who’s weighing whether to jump into the race. A decision by Carcieri – and then if he opts out, the eventual Republican nominee – is likely to come by the spring.

Since Whitehouse took office in January 2007, he has raised $1.71 million and spent slightly more than that – $1.78 million. But much of that money went toward paying off leftover expenses from his original Senate campaign.

Whitehouse’s donations mainly have come from political action committees and individuals writing big checks; he’s only raised $26,522 from those who gave small amounts of $200 or less, Duffy said.

Asked how much Whitehouse and his opponent are likely to spend next year, Duffy said: “Let’s see who runs.”

Jack Reed, who is not up for reelection until 2014, continues to maintain a huge war chest – it totaled $2.4 million as of Dec. 31. “That’s what I call intimidating,” Duffy said. Reed’s financial advantage and popularity here in Rhode Island make him about as safe as a politician can be.

The state’s two congressmen closed out 2010 with amounts that Duffy said “make sense” considering the pair just finished a campaign. Congressman Jim Langevin had $177,927 and David Cicilline had $37,562.

In fact, both of Rhode Island’s House members had more money than their colleagues who represent Bristol County, Mass.: Congressman Jim McGovern had $26,137 and Barney Frank had just $21,038 after a hard-fought race. The state’s junior senator, Scott Brown, had an astonishing $7.2 million in his campaign account at the end of 2010.

The Washington Post has a good overview of how much money the 33 senators up next year have on hand if you’d like to read more.

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