Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele collected $853,350 for his U.S. Senate bid during the last three months of 2005, outpacing Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin during the period, according to fundraising figures released by the campaigns yesterday.
Cardin, a Democrat, raised nearly $800,000 in the final quarter of last year, and had more than $2.1 million in the bank for the contest to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, his campaign said.
Cardin appears to have maintained his overall fundraising lead in the race, particularly over a growing field of Democratic rivals - several of whom have not yet released reports that are due at the Federal Election Commission Jan. 31.
A cash-on-hand figure for Steele, a Republican, was not available yesterday, but his campaign said he had raised $1.27 million since he began considering the race. Cardin has collected more than twice as much, or $2.8 million, since entering the race in April.
A spokesman for Steele said the numbers show Cardin's status as the leading contender is threatened.
"It doesn't look like as much of an uphill battle against a candidate who once looked like the front-runner," said Leonardo Alcivar, the communications director for Steele.
Democrats countered that Steele should have done better, given the support that national Republicans said they would provide.
"It should be extremely disappointing to Steele supporters that with Karl Rove and George Bush talking about $15 to $20 million in national Republican money, you can't even get to a million dollars [in the quarter] with a totally open field and no challenger," said Derek Walker, acting executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. Bush hosted a fundraiser for Steele last year.
As the perceived Democratic front-runner, Cardin, a 10-termcongressman, came under attack yesterday from members of both parties for his historic reliance on money from political action committees in his federal races.
"In 2004, 65 percent of his money came from corporate PACs," said Allan Lichtman, an American University history professor running in the Democratic primary. Such groups, Lichtman said, "are designed to uphold their own special interests" rather than the interests of Maryland voters.
Alcivar, the Steele spokesman, said that Cardin has taken in a "disproportionate" amount of money from corporate PACs. Still, Cardin said that about 75 percent of his contributions came from within Maryland, compared with Steele's 57 percent.
Lichtman said his quarterly report would show $320,000 in available cash, adding that his fundraising to date was "well enough to stay competitive."
The campaigns of former congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and forensic psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren would not disclose figures. Former Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen will not have to file a report until the end of the first quarter this year, as will Joshua Rales, a Montgomery County real estate investor who is expected to declare his candidacy later this month. All are Democrats.
Oren Shur, a spokesman for Cardin, said concern about PAC money was a distraction being fomented by Republicans.
"The national Republicans and our opponents will do everything they can to divert attention away from the fact that more than 4,000 individuals have contributed to Ben Cardin's campaign because they want an effective leader with strong principles to represent them in the U.S. Senate," he said.