Washington — In the political money chase in the race to fill retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat, deep-pocketed Linda McMahon began the year with the least amount of money.

But given that she spent $50 million of her own money on her failed 2008 Senate bid, McMahon should be able to manage a slight cash infusion if she runs a little low as the campaign progresses.  

According to the latest reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, McMahon, a Republican, had $227,000 in cash-on-hand Dec. 31.

That’s much less campaign cash than her Republican and Democratic rivals reported.

Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, ended the year with about $2.5 million in his Senate campaign. Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, also a Democrat, reported about $900,000 in cash-on-hand, and former 4th District Rep. Chris Shays, a Republican, reported about $317,000.

A fourth candidate in the race, Democratic state Rep. William Tong, from Stamford, said he ended 2011 with about $280,000 in his campaign coffers.

McMahon began the year at the rear of the pack because she has already spent nearly $2 million on her race, far more than the other candidates have.

Although she’s largely self-funding her race, McMahon has raised more money from individuals in this bid for the Senate than she did two years ago when she ran unsuccessfully for former Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat.

Much of the $326,646 McMahon raised from individuals came from donors who live in or around Fairfield County.

So far McMahon’s loans to her campaign total $780,000, much less than the millions in personal funds she spent on her previous bid for the Senate.

To keep competitive, McMahon is likely to continue to self-fund her campaign. Campaign spokesman Erin Isaac declined to say how much more the candidate will loan her campaign this quarter.

Shays, a victim of embezzlement who had debts of nearly $300,000 in his House campaign account, loaned his campaign $100,000.

Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, said Shays’ willingness to put his own money into the race may indicate he’ll run as a third party candidate if he fails to get the GOP nomination.

“If he does, he’ll pretty much erase McMahon’s chances of winning,” Duffy said.

In contrast to McMahon, Murphy raised more than $2.8 million from individuals. He’s also benefited from his status as an incumbent, raising more than $450,000 from political action committees, many of them representing doctors. Murphy sits on a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee panel with jurisdiction over health care issues.

Murphy’s ability to raise money also helped him win the favor of Democratic Party leaders, Duffy said.

In December, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, endorsed every Democratic woman running for Senate — except Bysiewicz.

“Her omission is glaring,” Duffy said. “I expect it has to do with Murphy’s ability to raise cash. The DSCC doesn’t want to spend money in Connecticut if it doesn’t have to.”

Bysiewicz, however, has won the support of Emily’s List, the national organization that steers political money to pro-choice Democratic women.

“Her election would make history, breaking down that glass ceiling and becoming the first woman to represent Connecticut in the Senate,” said Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock.

Duffy said this year’s Senate race will be much less expensive than the fight for Dodd’s seat. She predicted that $4 million to $8 million will be spent on the primary races and another $10 million to $20 million on the general election.

The Cook Political Report has put the Connecticut Senate race in its “likely Democratic” column.

“But if Linda McMahon becomes the Republican nominee and starts spending a lot of her money, it could get interesting,” Duffy said. “And if the Democratic candidates beat each other up in the primary, it could get interesting.”

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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