Wednesday October 17, 2012 | 05:50 PM

WASHINGTON -- Even though her next election is still two years away, Sen. Susan Collins raised more campaign cash last quarter than some Maine congressional candidates running for office this November.

Collins raised more than $100,000 during the three-month period that ended Sept. 30, according to the Republican's latest campaign finance reports. After expenses, Collins was left with roughly $823,000 in her campaign coffers.

By comparison, Democrat Cynthia Dill raised $57,000 last quarter for her long-shot campaign to replace retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe this November. And Republican Jonathan Courtney, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in the 1st District race, pulled in roughly $67,000 for his campaign.

Collins' fundraising activity is indicative of several political realities on Capitol Hill. The first is that incumbents nearly always have an enormous financial advantage thanks to ready access to political action committees and political donors in Washington, DC. Nearly all of Collins' $102,000 came from PACs or DC-area donors.

Another reality is that the hunt for campaign cash often begins as soon as the last election is over, which is especially true for House candidates who must run every two years.

In 2008, Collins spent just shy of $8 million fending off a challenge by then-U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, D-District 1, who spent roughly $6.5 million. That race is still Maine's most expensive Senate campaign, although the money count in the contest for Snowe's seat is climbing steadily.

During the most recent quarter, Collins received $30,000 in donations from individuals, with the vast majority of those residing in the greater Washington, DC-area. A wide range of political action committees, or PACs, contributed another $72,000.

Much of that money was collected at two fundraisers held in Washington, DC -- including her annual Maine-Style Lobster Lunch -- and a third in Las Vegas.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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