House Democratic leaders are gaining confidence in their 18 most threatened Members’ chances after the incumbents’ latest fundraising reports show they have a financial leg up on many of their Republican opponents.
The 18 Democrats, known as “Frontline” Members because of their vulnerability, have collectively pulled in $16.4 million this cycle and hold a combined $11.4 million in the bank. In the first quarter of 2004, which ended March 31, those same threatened Members raised $4.9 million overall.
Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that with the exception of two Texas races in which Democratic incumbents are facing off against GOP incumbents, the most threatened Members are far outpacing their Republican challengers in fundraising this cycle — in cash on hand and overall receipts.
“We’ve always said that for us to take back the House we have to protect our Democratic incumbents,” Matsui said. “It appears we are doing very well in that respect.”
In Texas, Democratic Reps. Martin Frost and Charlie Stenholm this quarter failed to match the fundraising muscle of their opponents, GOP Reps. Pete Sessions and Randy Neugebauer, respectively.
Frost and Stenholm are among five Texas Democrats facing tough odds to stay in Congress in the wake of the state’s new redistricting plan. House Democrats must win at least 12 seats this cycle to regain control of the chamber.
Still Democratic leaders are feeling hopeful about their chances, noting that all but three of their Frontline incumbents fared better in total fundraising this quarter than their Republican opponents. The vulnerable Democrats on average raised $274,755 during the past three months and have $633,000 in the bank.
“Our Frontliners have a heavy arsenal, which is what they need to win in battle,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Rep. Baron Hill (Ind.), who brought in $177,000 in the quarter, was the only Member outpaced by a nonincumbent challenger. Transportation company owner Mike Sodrel (R), the 2002 nominee who is seeking a rematch, collected $189,000 during the period.
Hill, however, had $636,000 cash on hand, compared with Sodrel’s $255,000.
Democratic leaders are shining the spotlight on Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah), who brought in $251,000 this quarter, compared to his Republican challengers, Tim Bridgewater, who collected just more than $25,000, and John Swallow, who collected $135,000 in the three months. They also point to Rep. Dennis Moore (Kansas), who raised $302,000 this quarter, compared with Republicans Adam Taff with $100,000 and Kris Kobach with $74,000.
Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the Democrats — by touting their threatened incumbents’ fundraising — are looking for ways to paint a rosy picture for 2004.
He said three of the top five Democratic targets — Frost, Stenholm and Hill — fell behind their opponents this quarter. Forti added that all of the top House Republicans who are Democratic targets have more than $1 million in the bank.
“The challenge facing [the Democrats] is they have to defend all of their own seats, hold the open seats and pick off 12 Republican seats,” Forti said. “If the past couple of cycles are any example, it will be very, very difficult for them to do.”
Matsui said Republicans historically raise more money than Democrats, but insisted, “we’ll be able to hold our own.”
“We’ve always done well in spite of that fact,” he said. “Our challenge is to make sure we have our incumbents raise enough to get their message out and secondly that our challengers raise enough to get their message out.”
While Frost still lags behind Sessions in the money game, he far outdid his fellow Frontline Democrats by raking in $689,000 for the quarter. Frost had $1.2 million on hand, the most of any threatened House Democrat, compared to Sessions with $1.9 million on hand. Stenholm, meanwhile, brought in $249,000 for the period and had $588,422 in the bank, compared with Neugebauer who collected $310,000 this quarter and had $727,000 in the bank.
Behind Frost, those threatened Democrats sitting on the biggest war chests were Darlene Hooley (Ore.) with just more than $1 million, Moore with $829,000 and Chet Edwards (Texas) with $816,000. Those with the least money in the bank were Reps. Lincoln Davis (Tenn.) with $290,000, Max Sandlin (Texas) with $374,852 and Michael Michaud (Maine) with $405,975.
The incumbents’ successful period comes amid concerns from some of them that House Democrats — through the DCCC “Frontline” program — aren’t doing enough to help their re-elections. Last month, some of the Frontline Democrats sat down to clear the air with Matsui and Robert Menendez (N.J.), who heads the effort.
Frontline is a campaign to encourage greater giving by Democratic donors and fellow House Members to the threatened incumbents.
The additional Frontline Democrats are Reps. Rodney Alexander (La.), Tim Bishop (N.Y.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Tim Holden (Pa.), Rick Larsen (Wash.), Nick Lampson (Texas), Jim Marshall (Ga.) and Earl Pomeroy (N.D.).