If Money Talks, Few GOP Members Walk

Posted April 16, 2007 at 6:08pm

If money truly talks, its message to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee may be: Not so fast.

Earlier this year, the DCCC put 27 House Republicans on a retirement watch list. DCCC operatives argued that some combination of the incumbents’ age, failing health, ethics scrapes, unhappiness with their lot in Congress or ambitions for other offices might create a number of open seats — and tantalizing Democratic opportunities — in 2008.

Yet an analysis of first-quarter fundraising reports, which have been released over the past few days, suggest that there may not be a mass exodus of House GOP incumbents after all. Even though Republicans lost the House majority in November, some GOP Members posted robust fundraising numbers from Jan. 1 to March 31, and several are sitting on bulging war chests.

But not everyone has shot out of the gate so quickly.

Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), who will remain on retirement watch lists for as long as he serves in Congress because he is 82 years old, raised just $1,500 in the past three months, though he retained $91,000 in his campaign account (for more details, see p. 10). Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), who at age 80 also will be the subject of constant retirement speculation, took in just $8,100 but had $202,000 banked. Rep. Henry Brown (R-S.C.), who is 71, raised just $12,000, though he had a healthy $771,000 in cash on hand.

Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.), who is likely to be a Democratic target despite the heavy Republican lean of the Equality State, had just $8,900 in cash on hand as of March 31. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), whom Democrats would dearly love to knock off in a swing district in northern Arizona, had $81,000 on hand — though he is wealthy and easily could replenish his campaign account with personal funds.

At the other end of the financial spectrum are two potentially vulnerable Republican House incumbents who could wind up running for Senate next year and who both have raised money fairly aggressively since the beginning of the election cycle: Rep. Tom Davis (Va.) collected $624,000 and Rep. Heather Wilson (N.M.) raised $325,000.

Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) used his remaining political muscle to pull in a healthy $289,000 in the first three months of 2007. But he spent a good portion of it, finishing the quarter with $59,000 on hand — which probably won’t be enough to quell retirement rumors. Democrats believe Hastert’s suburban Chicago district is trending their way and will be competitive if the seat becomes vacant.

Two younger women whom Democrats have pegged as possible retirees from Congress — in part because of their family obligations — don’t seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere, if their campaign finance reports are any indication. Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.) collected $196,000 in the first three months of 2007 and had $225,000 in the bank, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who is expecting her first child later this spring, raised $165,000 and banked $108,000.

McMorris Rodgers probably is safe in her Spokane-area district, and while Democrats dream of making Bono’s changing Palm Springs-area district competitive, it probably is hers for as long as she wants it.

Beyond the Democrats’ wish list, Republicans have further retirement fears of their own. In a White House memo that was made public late last month in Congressional testimony, Republicans also expressed some concern about potential retirements by GOP Reps. Bill Young (Fla.), Don Young (Alaska), Joe Knollenberg (Mich.), Vernon Ehlers (Mich.) and Sue Myrick (N.C.).

Bill Young, Ehlers and Myrick had fairly slow fundraising quarters, taking in $16,000, $67,000 and $85,000, respectively (though Young, who is 76, recently filed papers to seek a 20th term).

Don Young, who always has been an able fundraiser, took in $343,000 in the quarter and has almost $2 million in his campaign account, while Knollenberg, who may be facing a rare competitive challenge in 2008, collected $264,000.

Finally, there is the House’s oldest Member, who did not land on either party’s retirement watch list but who, at the age of 83, probably belongs there: Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), raised just $12,000 and ended March with only $5,700 in the bank.