In a bid to establish himself as the Democratic frontrunner, Chris Murphy today reported raising $720,000 for his U.S. Senate campaign in the last quarter of 2011, giving him a total of $3.5 million since entering the race early last year.

Murphy, a three-term congressman trying to be seen in Connecticut and Washington as as the inevitable Democratic nominee for the open Senate seat, is the first candidate to release a fundraising summary in what could be a key quarter for contenders in both parties.


U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy

In the Republican race, the quarterly report will be the first for Chris Shays, the former 4th District congressman, who set $1 million as his ambitious goal, an effort to show he can compete with Linda McMahon for the GOP nomination. Perhaps more than other candidates, Shays’ viability will be judged by his initial fundraising.

Shays, a Bridgeport resident, is expected to release his numbers in the next week or two, said a campaign spokeswoman, Amanda Bergen, who did not characterize his fundraising. Candidates do not have to file the reports until Jan. 31.

In the race for the Democratic nomination, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, of Middletown, and state Rep. William Tong, of Stamford, are under pressure to show they can raise enough money to compete with Murphy, who raised twice as much money as Bysiewicz for three straight quarters last year.

Bysiewicz has no plans to release her fourth quarter numbers before the end of the month, said Jonanthan Ducote, her spokesman.

“We’re confident we’ll have the resources to communicate with voters,” Ducote said.

There is gamesmanship is the early release of campaign numbers.

Tong made a splash in July by collecting a quick $565,572 in his first weeks as a candidate, but he reported raising only a paltry $155,000 in the quarter ending Sept. 30.

Tong’s fundraising was the source of the initial buzz surrounding his candidacy, so another disappointing quarter and his low name-recognition in polling late last year would fuel doubts about his viability.

Murphy’s campaign today said it has $2.5 million cash on hand.

“When we kicked off this campaign 12 months ago, I’m not sure I could have imagined that a year later we’d already have almost 5,000 donors to the campaign, and 7,000 individual endorsements from Democratic and progressive activists,” Murphy, of Cheshire, said.

His campaign said eight of 10 contributions are from Connecticut residents, with the majority of donations under $250.

“We’re building a fundraising base that doubles as a grassroots operation,” he said.

McMahon, a Greenwich resident, has no money worries. Independently wealthy, she spent $50 million of her own money on her unsuccessful Senate campaign in 2010.

She has said she will raise money in this race, if only to build a base of grassroots support.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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