House Newcomers Taking Care of Business

Of Top Democratic Fundraisers, Only Bishop Vulnerable

Posted October 21, 2003 at 6:26pm

By Erin P. Billings Roll Call Staff The 21 House Democratic freshmen have raised $6.5 million for their re-election bids this cycle, with three Members individually surpassing the half-million dollar mark.

First-term Reps. Tim Bishop (N.Y.), Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) are leading the Democratic class in overall fundraising this year, collecting more than $500,000 apiece. Emanuel, a former Clinton White House aide, raised the most of any freshman with $645,316, while Bishop collected $550,928 and Van Hollen brought in $536,422.

The three Members also led the pack in fundraising over the previous quarter, with Bishop collecting the greatest amount, $198,650.

Bishop sits in a marginal Long Island district, while Emanuel and Van Hollen represent safe Democratic districts and are unlikely to face major opposition in the 2004 election. Emanuel took in $169,955 over the last quarter, while Van Hollen raised $110,150.

“From our perspective, we think our freshmen are doing pretty well,” said Rep. Robert Matsui (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We have no policy, but we have talked individually with freshman Members [about where they should be at this point in fundraising].”

While House Democratic leaders don’t set specific thresholds for freshman fundraising, they do expect Members to raise what’s required to secure their re-election, Matsui said. Freshmen who escape a serious challenge are also expected to funnel their campaign funds to fellow Members.

“The first priority is to win the election, and after that they know they can help themselves by helping others,” Matsui said.

Bishop, who is in the DCCC’s Frontline program for the party’s 19 most vulnerable incumbents, said he has felt no pressure from Democratic leaders to give to other Members and is focusing instead on his own survival: “I fully anticipate it’s going to be a tough race. The more money I collect, the better off I’ll be.”

Bishop won his race against then-Rep. Felix Grucci (R) by just 2,700 votes in 2002. He could face a tough challenge in 2004 from Brookhaven Town Supervisor John Jay LaValle (R), who is expected to announce in late November whether he’ll run for Bishop’s seat. If LaValle forgoes the race, Bishop’s path to re-election should be much easier.

Prolific fundraising is a key component for future Congressional leadership. Members who raise and give a lot of money for and to fellow Democrats are viewed as solid assets to the party and secure themselves as potential leaders.

“My sense is [the top fundraisers] want to help other Members or the DCCC,” Matsui said. “That’s either because they have the resources or they want to help themselves move up the House ladder.”

Both Emanuel and Van Hollen are viewed as two of the rising stars within the House minority. Emanuel, in particular, is considered a likely candidate for future DCCC chairman.

“He’s doing everything he can to help his colleagues, help the Caucus and make a name for himself,” one senior House Democratic aide said of Emanuel.

Emanuel said that while there may be talk in some Democratic circles that he has leadership ambitions, he is just doing his part to help his leadership and the party.

The Illinois Democrat said the reason he works hard to raise money is simple: “I like the sound of ‘Democratic majority.’”

Emanuel is among the freshman leaders in giving to the DCCC, having donated $50,000 to the party’s fundraising arm. Edging him out is Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), who has contributed $75,000 of the $151,000 the DCCC has collected from freshmen so far this year.

Most of the top money recipients are insisting that a future in House Democratic leadership isn’t their goal. Rather, those freshmen say they are simply trying to play it safe and secure their re-election to the House, help other Democrats and attempt to win back the majority.

“It’s important to show that we’re not taking anything for granted,” said Van Hollen, who knocked off longtime Republican Rep. Connie Morella to win his seat. “It’s also important to try to be in a position to try to help others.”

Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.), who sits in the upper third of the class with $322,815 raised overall and $79,726 for the quarter, said freshmen universally want to share with other candidates if they can.

“Most freshmen feel their first primary is our own security,” Davis said. “It’s natural. We have had to keep that focus.”

While Van Hollen, Emanuel and Bishop are the top fundraisers so far this cycle, several other freshmen aren’t far behind. Rep. Denise Majette (Ga.) has collected $470,876, Rodney Alexander (La.) has taken in $467,129, Mike Michaud (Maine) has raised $441,944 and David Scott (Ga.) has raised $455,013 for the cycle.

Of this quartet, only Scott is considered safe for re-election. Michaud is in a swing district, Alexander’s leans toward the GOP, and Majette may face a rematch with former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (Ga.), whom she defeated last year in a Democratic primary.

Rounding out the bottom in total fundraising are Reps. Linda Sanchez (Calif.) with $98,852, Frank Ballance (N.C.) with $73,570 and Dennis Cardoza (Calif.) with $119,396. Democrats, however, consider all three seats safe for the party.

The freshmen raising the least amount for the quarter were Reps. Ballance with $5,800, Cardoza with $4,900, Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) with $38,775 and Jim Marshall (Ga.) with $39,365. Marshall, who is recovering from prostate cancer surgery, is eyeing a bid for the Senate.

Cardoza acknowledged that his numbers didn’t break records this quarter, but noted the difficulty raising money as the California recall dominated his state’s attention.

“There were so many pressures to raise money this quarter,” Cardoza said. “It was tougher [than we thought it would be]. But we’re pleased with where we are.”