It’s never a great idea to read too much into fundraising totals. Dollars aren’t votes, and plenty of candidates have found that the amount of money they raised and spent didn’t solve their other problems. After all, no one outspent Linda McMahon in 2010, but her money didn’t translate into a win or even into a close loss.

Still, fundraising numbers can give us a window into how each candidate is faring as we get deeper into 2012. This is especially true of candidates fighting it out in primaries, since the kinds of committed party activists whose support is so crucial in primaries are also likely to be the ones donating to campaigns. A slew of year-end quarterly numbers came out recently, and they do a lot to show us candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.

U.S. Senate

Linda McMahon is actually trying to raise money this time around in an attempt to make people forget just how much of her own cash she’s capable of throwing at a race. The idea is that people will be more invested in her campaign if they donate money, and thus will generate a real grassroots groundswell of support. So far her effort isn’t going too badly: the campaign reported raising a respectable $326,646 in the last quarter of 2011, mostly from small-dollar donors in Connecticut. However, I doubt she’ll be able to completely ditch the sense that she doesn’t need to raise money; she loaned her campaign $770,000 this past quarter, after all. McMahon seems to see her problem as one of branding and marketing, but given how much money she spent on fruitlessly cultivating her image in 2010, I don’t think any amount of money thrown into reinvention schemes is going to make people change their minds about her candidacy.

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, who is playing the part of Rob Simmons this cycle, only officially launched his campaign a little over a week ago but his fundraising numbers are surprisingly solid. He’s been raising money since the fall, and while he did fall short of the $1 million he said he would raise, $422,145 isn’t bad at all. That number doesn’t include a $100,000 loan from the candidate, which proves that McMahon isn’t the only one with some money to throw around. Shays isn’t trying to outdo McMahon when it comes to campaign spending, but his respectable haul suggests he may have just as much actual grassroots support, if not more. I’ll be watching to see if Republican donors can forgive Shays’ moderate past in the hopes of beating McMahon and the Democratic nominee.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy had a good quarter, raising $720,000. Murphy, who has always excelled at fundraising, leads both of his challengers by a wide margin in the money race. Susan Bysiewicz, on the other hand, seems to be in steady decline. She’s never come close to Murphy in terms of dollars raised, but her first quarter has so far been her best. Since then, her donations have fallen almost by half, and her latest numbers are anything but strong. She’s been releasing more ambitious, populist plans and taking shots at Murphy over votes, but these sinking numbers suggest that her new approach isn’t working as well as she would like. Meanwhile, Murphy is picking up endorsements and the attention of national Democrats. Did Bysiewicz peak too early?

Congress

In the open 5th district, State Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen) raised $237,687 in the last quarter of 2011, more than any other Republican, despite having entered the race a few weeks into the period. This has to worry fellow Republicans Justin Bernier, Lisa Wilson-Foley, and Mark Greenberg, all of whom raised significantly less. Roraback likely has the best chance to take this seat from the Democrats in November, and Republicans are opening their wallets for him. Roraback even outraised Democratic heavy hitter House Speaker Chris Donovan, who came up with $204,699 this quarter. To be fair, Donovan has much more cash on hand. Both of the other two Democrats in the race, Elizabeth Esty and Dan Roberti, raised only slightly less than Donovan. Both have plenty of cash at the moment, and either could be a strong candidate in the primary if Democrats decide they’d rather have someone other then Donovan.

Incumbents in contested districts generally did well, which isn’t a surprise. Rep. Jim Himes outraised his two opponents, Steve Obsitnik and Chris Meek, by a 2-1 margin. However, there’s clearly money out there for Republicans challenging Himes, and whomever he faces likely will be well-funded.

Rep. Joe Courtney raised more than $200,000 while his opponents, State Rep. Chris Coutu and Daria Novak, raised paltry amounts by comparison. This has been the pattern in the 2nd district for the past few cycles; Courtney has cruised while Republicans struggle to raise money and collect votes. Courtney remains a popular figure in the district, and his opponents haven’t been able to give him much of a challenge since his narrow win over Rob Simmons in 2006. But this district is always changeable, and Republicans will likely not be down and out forever.

Again, fundraising totals don’t tell us the whole story. But they are indicators of the overall health of a campaign, and sometimes reveal more than the candidates might want.

Susan Bigelow is the former owner of CTLocalPolitics and an author. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.