None of the four Republicans seeking to replace Suzi Schmidt as the state senator for the 31st District has been doing much in the way of campaign fundraising, state records show.
One hasn't even formally registered a campaign committee with the state board of elections, according to the agency's website.
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The lone Democrat in the race, however, has begun building a war chest ahead of her eventual showdown with the GOP victor, collecting donations from a bevy of backers since the summer.
The candidates will have to start dialing for dollars soon if they want competitive campaigns.
In the year leading up to Schmidt's upset win over incumbent Democrat Michael Bond in November 2010, those two candidates spent a combined $931,404 on their campaigns, according to state records.
With the Republican and Democratic parties fighting for every seat in the Capitol, Schmidt believes next year's general election showdown for the seat could be a million-dollar contest.
"It's a shame that it costs that kind of money to run a race," said Schmidt, a Lake Villa Republican who isn't seeking re-election. "But I would expect it to be at least as expensive as my and Michael's (race) was."
The 31st District encompasses northern Lake County. The seat is open because Schmidt opted not to seek re-election run after personal problems surfaced in September.
The four Republican candidates in the March primary are: political activist Linwood "Lennie" Jarratt of Round Lake Beach; former Lake County Board member Lawrence "Larry" Leafblad of Grayslake; Lindenhurst resident Michael L. White; and Joe Neal, a Wadsworth resident who is the son of former county Commissioner Robert Neal.
Grayslake Democrat Melinda Bush, a county board member, is running as a Democratic. She beat Leafblad in 2008 to win a seat on the county board.
State law requires candidates to file paperwork with the elections board detailing campaign donations and expenditures once they've raised or spent $3,000. After that, a report must be filed any time a candidate collects $1,000 from a single donor in one year.
Disclosure reports are available for public review at elections.state.il.us.
Jarratt, a small-business owner and founder of the Lake County Tea Party, has only one report on file. Stamped Nov. 11, it details the creation of his campaign committee and indicates the group had no funds at that time.
"I started so late -- my focus had been getting signatures and getting on the ballot," Jarratt said.
Leafblad filed his campaign's statement of organization the same day. It launched with $323 in the bank, records show. He has not submitted any financial reports since then but expects to this week because he's crossed the $3,000 threshold.
Like Schmidt, Leafblad predicts the general election will be costly. As for the primary, he guessed candidates each will spend $50,000 or less.
"It's not easy to get people to contribute today," said Leafblad, a senior consultant with Ambit Energy. "It's ugly to have to pick up the phone and call your friends and say, 'Hey, can you send me $1,000?'"
White, an Air Force veteran and consultant, ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for governor as an independent. State campaign reports show he intended to run for governor again as a Republican but then amended his paperwork in October to indicate senatorial aspirations.
White's most recent financial disclosure report, dated Oct. 7, indicates his campaign at the time had less than $112 in the bank.
White said he delayed fundraising until he was on the ballot. Now that he is in the race, he said he wants to keep campaign costs down to avoid seeking donations from people who are struggling to pay their bills.
"It almost seems immoral to me to be spending $1 million in a state campaign," he said.
Neal has not submitted any financial disclosure forms with the state, nor has he filed the necessary paperwork to formally create a campaign organization. He could not be reached for comment Monday.
Compared to the campaigns of her Republican rivals, Bush's effort is financially flush. She announced plans to run for the seat in August, back when Schmidt was her likely opponent.
The Friends of Melinda Bush campaign organization ended June with abut $445 in the bank. Donations rolled in during the next three months, and by the end of September the committee had nearly $17,000 saved.
Bush also reported receiving six donations of $1,000 or more this month and in November, records show.
Checks came from the Lake County Federation of Teachers, state Sen. Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge, state Sen. Heather Stearns of Chicago, a Round Lake Beach business called Edison Electric and a political action committee representing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Bush knows that whatever fundraising lead she has over Republicans now will fade in the months to come. She was critical of the money spent on the 2010 Senate showdown.
"I certainly hope we don't have to spend that kind of money on this race," Bush said. "There are other, more important things we could be spending on in today's economy."
To escape that financial trap, Bush said she has been reaching out to the community and building a volunteer team. She pledged to be out "every weekend" introducing herself to potential voters.
"I will raise whatever I have to raise," Bush said. "But I really hope it doesn't come to that."
But with Republicans trying to retain the seat and Democrats wanting it back, Schmidt expects both parties will consider the contest one of the most important on the ballot.
And that means money will be spent.
"It will definitely be a targeted race," Schmidt said.