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Dialing for Dollars Comes Easy for Some New Senators

Former Denver Superintendent of Schools, Sen. Michael Bennet, (D-Colo.), survived baptism by fire this week after being associated with Vice President Joe Biden for several days and emerging relatively gaffe-free.

Although Biden was in Denver for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, he encouraged locals to support Bennet as well — but it appears Bennet is doing just fine on his own in that department. Bennet racked up $1.1 million in individual contributions to his 2010 campaign, outraising most of his Senate colleagues in the first quarter of 2009. The Denver Post notes this week that he came in fifth in the entire Senate for total fundraising last quarter, even beating out big household names like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).

How does he do it?

Bennet — who owes his seat to President Obama’s selection of Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) for secretary of the interior — is new to politics but his fundraising ability indicates he may be a natural. The Washington Post ran a rather endearing front-page feature story about Bennet early this year, describing how he was sleeping on his mom’s couch in D.C.’s Woodley Park neighborhood and running around town with a notepad containing advice and phone numbers as he struggles to adjust to life as a senator.

The Denver Post notes that $100,000 in individual contributions poured into Bennet’s campaign pockets from the D.C. area this year, so the feature probably didn’t hurt.

But Bennet’s fundraising prowess pales next to fellow appointee Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) the top fundraiser in the Senate during the first quarter of 2009. Gillibrand — who was appointed to fill Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vacated seat. Gillibrand raised $2.3 million of her own last quarter, which along with a phone call from Obama, may have helped convince Rep. Steve Israel, (D-N.Y.), to abandon thoughts of challenging her.

In contrast, Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) — in addition to a host of other problems stemming from his appointment by disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — has only $845 in cash on hand. Anytime my own bank account outshines an elected official’s campaign fund, it’s probably not good news.

And the guy who took Biden’s old seat? Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), Biden’s former chief-of-staff — who some suspect is “keeping the seat warm” until Biden’s son, Beau, can run — says he has no interest in running in 2010, a point underscored by the fact that he has no FEC record because he hasn’t raised a dime.

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