Money talk in Senate race between Susan Collins and Shenna Bellows

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows and her campaign are happily trumpeting a recent victory of sorts: outraising Republican Sen. Susan Collins in the most recent fundraising quarter, with Bellows raising $331,000 to Collins’ $315,000. To be sure, this is not nothing. But it’s also – on it’s own – not really that much of a something.

Collins has about $3 million in cash-on-hand. Bellows has $233,000. As the Collins camp points out, her last opponent, then-Congressman Tom Allen had amassed $2.5 million at this point in 2008 and he still lost in a landslide.

“it’s true that Shenna outraised us for the quarter, but I would also note she outraised us by $17,000,” said Steve Abbott, Collins’ chief of staff. “For her, if she’s going to catch us, at that rate it will take her slightly over 50 years before we are at the same amount raised.”

The former University of Maine athletic director invoked a Super Bowl analogy to drive the point home even further.

“It would be like the Broncos saying, ‘we outscored the Seahawks on offensive points 8-7 in the third quarter.’ Technically true, they did, but it doesn’t really tell you the story of the game,” he said.

But Bellows, in her press release trumpeting the fundraising haul, rightly highlights the nature of her efforts and plays up the right angles against her establishment rival.

“One of the biggest threats to our democracy is big money in politics, so it is refreshing to see that grassroots giving from real people can triumph over corporate interests from out-of-state,” said Bellows in the release.  “Our early fundraising success shows that Mainers are taking a look at this campaign and like what they see.”

The release also touts the fact that “most of her funds from individuals in Maine” and she raised funds from all 16 Maine counties. She also did not receive any “corporate PAC money,” which leaves the door open to the possibility that she may have indeed receive funds from outside political groups or leadership groups.

“We are running a different kind of campaign that focuses on local Maine communities who feel like Washington is not listening to concerns about the economy, the environment and the Constitution,” Bellows said. “Our grassroots approach means that our campaign is accountable to the Maine people rather than out-of-state corporations.”

Collins, of course, has received funds from all kinds of PACs and from interests around the country, as is expected of well-known incumbents. Abbott touted that as Collins strength, not weakness.

“One of the reasons that I’m confident that we are going to have the money that we need to run this campaign is that Sen. Collins enjoys tremendous support in the home state as we see through her fundraising in Maine and in her poll numbers in Maine,” he said. “But she’s also a respected figure nationally and in this election cycle, we’ve received contributions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, which is a remarkable feat for a Maine [U.S.] Senate candidate.”

Though he downplayed the overall importance of the recent fundraising totals, Abbott insisted the Collins campaign isn’t taking Bellows, a first-time candidate, lightly.

“We think Shenna is a very capable opponent; but we aren’t taking the race seriously because in one quarter she raised $333,000,” he said. “We take it seriously based on her ability, not based on her fundraising.”

Money isn’t everything in politics, especially Maine politics. Just ask Gov. Paul LePage, who trounced his Republican primary field of well-funded opponents with a paltry sum. He was catapulted to the front because of a groundswell of base support. Les Otten and Bruce Poliquin both tried and failed to personally buy their way into the 2010 nomination. In order to win, Bellows needs to raise enough money to compete with Collins, something this quarterly fundraising number shows she may be capable of. But more importantly, she also needs to find fissures in Mainers’ support of Collins and blast them open. As of yet, Bellows has failed to show why voters should fire the incumbent.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer with U.S. News and World Report, who hails from the state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. She spent much of 2012 covering the presidential campaign and particularly enjoyed her time on the road in states like Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Ohio and Ohio. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and is a Bowdoin College grad.