Heading into the final stretch of the campaign, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer continued to dominate fundraising in her race for reelection, maintaining a more than a 3-1 cash advantage over Republican Carly Fiorina at the end of the third quarter. But the two rivals raised money at a virtually even clip between July and September, at a time when the national party and outside groups began chipping in millions of dollars to help Fiorina cut into Boxer's cash advantage.
Boxer has held the upper hand over the wealthy former Hewlett-Packard chief executive since the end of last year, storming into the general election phase of the campaign with nearly $10 million at her disposal after Fiorina nearly drained her campaign treasury in a bruising three-way primary.
Though Fiorina was badly trailing Boxer in available cash in mid-summer, she whittled down her rival's edge in the third quarter, raising nearly $5.86 million to Boxer's $6.25 million with the help of prominent GOP leaders, including former presidential contenders John McCain and Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas.
Still, Boxer was able to outspend Fiorina over that period, airing searing attack ads in mid-September picking apart Fiorina's record at Hewlett-Packard that went unanswered for more than a week.
Though Boxer widened her lead, at least temporarily, Fiorina did not contribute any more of her own money to her campaign after lending $5.5 million to her effort during the primary. She finished the quarter with $1.8 million in cash on hand to Boxer's $6.5 million. The campaigns released only summaries of their fundraising on Friday, the deadline for doing so.
Veteran Democratic strategist Bill Carrick called Fiorina's showing "a good, healthy fundraising report," but noted that if Fiorina intends to stay competitive with Boxer on television, the campaign will have little left for get-out-the-vote efforts and may have to depend on gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's organization to turn out voters. Boxer also stands to gain significant sums in planned fundraising visits by President Obama and his wife, Michelle.
"She doesn't have any money stockpiled for a big powerful finish that's going to be stronger than Sen. Boxer," Carrick said. "There's nothing in this report that suggests she's going to shake the race up unless she puts in her own money."
John J. Pitney Jr., a former national GOP official and government professor at Claremont McKenna College, said the race may hinge on Fiorina's willingness to put more of her own money into her bid, as well as spending by outside groups.
"A lot of people thought Fiorina would self-finance, but then it turns out that she just didn't have the wealth necessary to finance a California race. She's rich, but not Whitman rich," Pitney said. In the final weeks, however, "She might be ready to write a fairly large check out of her own pocket. It could be enough to close the poll gap with Boxer, which isn't all that large to begin with."
Fiorina's aides have revealed little about the candidate's plans: "We're confident we're going to have the resources we need to win," her spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said Friday.
They believe they will be able to match Boxer on the airwaves, in part because the National Republican Senatorial Committee has committed to spend $4.8 million in coordinated expenditures with the Fiorina campaign -- the maximum allowed.
It is unclear, however, how much of that money has already been spent on the joint ads that are running across the state on broadcast and cable. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has not aired any ads on Boxer's behalf.
Most of the outside spending in the California Senate race has been on Fiorina's behalf. A group affiliated with Karl Rove spent $1 million on a weeklong ad buy in August. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had spent more than $3.2 million on ads through the end of September criticizing Boxer's record.
Outside groups and Republican donors, however, have not shown quite the same level of enthusiasm in California's Senate race that they have in other parts of the country like Nevada, where advertising is far less expensive and their impact can be greater.
Republican Sharron Angle, a hero of "tea party" enthusiasts, raked in $14 million over the third quarter, ending up with about as much cash on hand as her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
In Delaware, Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell raised nearly $3.8 million from late August through September. And Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio announced that he had raised more than $5 million between July and September, leaving him with $5.5 million to spend before election day.
That margin was comfortable enough to lead the National Republican Senatorial Committee to shift $4 million earmarked for his race to other contests, including $1.8 million for Fiorina.