NASHVILLE — Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn edged out Democrat Phil Bredesen in fundraising for their U.S. Senate race during the second quarter and is reporting a cash balance of just over double that of the former governor, according to their disclosures.
Blackburn hauled in just over $2.6 million during the April 1 through June 30 period, while Bredesen took in $2.43 million.
But Bredesen, a self-made millionaire, loaned his campaign $2 million, bringing the total take to about $4.48 million during the period. His personal ante now stands at $3.5 million.
The Brentwood congresswoman reported having $7.36 million in cash on hand as of June 30, while Bredesen disclosed having $3.65 million.
It all comes as the candidates square off in a nationally watched contest likely to become the most expensive federal race in Tennessee history once independent groups jump into the fray. Blackburn and Bredesen are vying to replace retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga in a narrowly divided Senate where the GOP has a 51-49 vote margin.
Some observers have said that with the outside expenditures, the contest could hit $50 million or more by the time the Nov. 6 general election rolls around. Corker raised $34 million in his 2006 race with Democrat Harold Ford Jr.
Blackburn reported spending about $1.7 million during the second quarter, bringing her cycle-to-date expenditures to nearly $3.1 million. Bredesen, who has already embarked on a television ad campaign, spent about $2.57 million, raising his total expenditures to $4.55 million.
Polls show a tight race in the Republican-leaning Tennessee. But Blackburn has yet to go up on TV.
The congresswoman's fundraising has been helped by some $3.2 million in her House campaign warchest, which was added to her Senate funding. She's also benefitted from joint fundraising committees.
Bredesen, a former Nashville mayor, has shown a penchant for self funding in some of his previous bids, including his first unsuccessful gubernatorial quest in 1994 and his his second successful race for governor in 2002. He didn't need to help out in his 2006 re-election as governor, however.
After announcing his candidacy in December for the Senate seat now held by Corker, the former governor told Times Free Press and Associated Press reporters that "I really don't want to" self fund in the Senate race. "I think at this point I've earned the ability to be able to raise the money to run a campaign."
Still, he never ruled it out entirely.
In a memo to advisers and interested parties on Monday, Bredesen campaign manager Bob Corney said "we are more convinced than ever that there is a clear path to victory to win in November and we're already on it."
When releasing top numbers from her fundraising over the weekend, Blackburn said "Tennesseans across the state have generously donated to our campaign as I work to take our shared values to the United States Senate."
In his memo on Monday, Corney jabbed at remarks made by Blackburn's chief strategist Ward Baker, a former National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director who in a presentation to Nashville Republicans last week likened the contest to a boxing match.
"We're going to make sure that he is in a corner, and we are going to constantly punch him in his face over and over and over again," Baker said. "This race will not be won by death by a thousand cuts. It's going to be death by 10,000 cuts."
At "the end of the day, the oxygen will be taken out of the room, and he will not survive, come election night," Baker vowed.
Calling Baker's remarks a "bizarre rant," Corney said the Blackburn campaign is "in a panic" and "resorting to fear-mongering and scare tactics typical of the Washington swamp." He said the Bredesen campaign asked online donors "to help us match the 10,000 cuts with $10,000 in grassroots support — and hundreds of supporters chipped in more than $75,000 in 48 hours."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.