Shoring Up the Weak

Parties Come to the Aid of Vulnerable House Incumbents

Posted July 16, 2003 at 6:47pm

Both Democrats and Republicans worked hard to bolster the war chests of their vulnerable House incumbents, while GOP challengers are well positioned financially, a cursory analysis of the second-quarter fundraising reports shows.

While Democrats are touting the success of their “Frontline Democrats” joint fundraising committee, which aids vulnerable incumbents with contributions from other Members [see p. 1 for more details], the latest fundraising reports underscore the party’s current paucity of challengers across the country in competitively drawn seats. With a 12-seat deficit, this could be a problem for House Democrats.

Meanwhile, only three Republican incumbents have drawn challengers so far in competitive seats.

In Georgia’s 12th district, two Democrats have filed to run against Rep. Max Burns (R).

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow (D), who was on par with Burns’ fundraising in the first quarter, had a slower second quarter as he raked in $66,000. Still, he showed $233,000 in the bank at the end of June, a competitive comparison to the $309,000 Burns had left in reserve. The freshman Congressman, who represents a district that heavily favors Democrats, raised $212,000 during the period.

Democrats are also enthusiastic about the fundraising performance of former Boston Celtics scout and assistant coach Jon Jennings (D), who raised just more than $77,000 during the second quarter and showed $64,000 in cash on hand.

Jennings is challenging perennial target Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), who reported raising a paltry $1,100 in the period. Hostettler, who showed roughly $10,000 in the bank at the end of March, ended June with just $5,000 in reserve.

However, Hostettler’s sluggish fundraising performance is one of only a few bright spots for Democrats when it comes to open-seat and challenger races this cycle.

In Pennsylvania’s open 15th district, state Sen. Charlie Dent (R) raised $257,000 in the quarter and showed $247,000 left in the bank. Democrats have yet to recruit a candidate in the race for the swing district seat currently held by Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is running for Senate.

A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the party expects to have candidates emerge in competitive districts like Pennsylvania’s 15th.

“We’ve been recruiting in over 42 targeted districts and expect to have strong candidates coming out very soon,” said DCCC spokesman Greg Speed.

Speed argued that some of the seven challengers touted by Republicans for having raised more than $200,000 in the cycle were aided by personal loans.

But while personal money may have boosted some candidates, at least one Republican challenger out-raised a Democratic incumbent without opening her own checkbook.

In Florida’s 2nd district, state Rep. Bev Kilmer (R) out-raised incumbent Rep. Allen Boyd (D), $218,000 to $157,000. Boyd is considering running for Senate, and while Kilmer appears alone so far in the GOP field, Democrats do not appear to have an obvious heir to Boyd if the seat becomes open.

There are also indications that Kilmer will have plenty of fundraising help from Washington, D.C., down the stretch.

Kilmer, one of the challengers National Republican Congressional Committee officials are most excited about, was the featured guest at a reception hosted by the House Republican leadership Wednesday. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has also agreed to do an event in the district for Kilmer.

The reports showed good news for Republicans in other challenger races as well.

In Kentucky’s 4th district, where Rep. Ken Lucas (D) is considered vulnerable, 2002 nominee Geoff Davis (R) and attorney Kevin Murphy (R) both continued their strong fundraising efforts in the second quarter. Davis and Murphy each raised better than $100,000 in the quarter and have more than $200,000 on hand. Lucas, who is breaking his pledge to serve only three terms, showed $263,000 raised and $333,000 on hand.

Aside from the races in Florida, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, Republican challengers in Oregon’s 1st and 5th districts, Texas’ 11th district and Kansas’ 3rd district also raised more than $200,000.

Meanwhile, targeted Democrats such as Reps. Jim Matheson (Utah), Chet Edwards (Texas) and Dennis Moore (Ky.) all raised more than $200,000 in the period thanks to the DCCC’s Frontline program. The program also helped other likely targets, such as Reps. Max Sandlin (D-Texas) and Rodney Alexander (D-La.), who have yet to draw challengers, surpass the $200,000 mark.

In Georgia, freshman Rep. Jim Marshall (D) raised $122,000 during the period, with $192,000 left in the bank. Marshall, who is considering running for Senate next year, is being challenged again by 2002 opponent Calder Clay (R). Clay raised $95,000 and had roughly $110,000 in reserves at the end of June.

In Georgia’s only other potentially competitive seat, freshman Rep. Phil Gingrey (R) has been successful in building a sizeable war chest, a handy tool in helping ward off potential challengers, in the first six months of the year. Gingrey raised $316,000 in the period and showed $575,000 in the bank after repaying himself for a $100,000 loan.

Several other vulnerable Republican incumbents also surpassed the $300,000 mark.

Republican Reps. Heather Wilson (N.M.), Rob Simmons (Conn.), and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) all raised more than $300,000 in the second quarter. Richard Romero (D), president of the New Mexico Senate, who ran against Wilson in 2002 and said he plans to try again in 2004, collected just $50 in the last quarter, though he had $41,000 in the bank.

Freshman GOP Reps. Mike Rogers (Ala.), the top fundraiser among all freshman for the quarter, and Jim Gerlach (Pa.) raised $348,000 and $318,000, respectively, in the period.

Sarah Bouchard contributed to this report.