Independent Expenditures Boost Democrats

Posted October 20, 2008 at 6:27pm

From New Hampshire to California, the overwhelming financial advantage that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee enjoys over its Republican counterpart is coming into play in several close House elections.

While Democratic candidates have outspent their GOP opponents in the majority of competitive House races, the DCCC’s financial muscle is stretching the advantage. At times the magnitude of the DCCC’s independent expenditures spending makes it seem as if the Republican candidate is facing a two-against-one situation.

Through Sept. 30, Democratic candidates had outspent Republicans in 29 of the 50 most competitive House races, according to third-quarter campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission last week. Republicans had a cash-on-hand advantage in 28 of those contests, and in one race — Ohio’s hyper-competitive 15th district — the two candidates finished September with the same amount of money in the bank.

But in race after race, the DCCC’s money is turning the Democratic candidate’s financial edge into a spending rout. Through the end of September, the DCCC had $41.3 million in its campaign account while the National Republican Congressional Committee had $17.3 million.

Whether it’s propping up a shaky incumbent, aiding a candidate in a close open-seat race or targeting a vulnerable Republican, the DCCC’s cash could make a difference in key races.

Take New Hampshire’s 1st district, where freshman Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents of the cycle. Through Sept. 30, Shea-Porter had been outspent in her rematch with ex-Rep. Jeb Bradley (R), $1.1 million to $848,000 (though some of Bradley’s money had been spent winning a tough Republican primary).

But that spending deficit is quickly obliterated when the more than $1.2 million the DCCC had spent on the race through Oct. 19 is factored in. The NRCC, by contrast, had only spent $234,000 in New Hampshire.

The DCCC is also investing heavily in highly competitive open-seat races. In Ohio’s 15th district, the committee had spent more than $1.2 million through Oct. 19, on top of the $1.7 million that Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D) had spent through Sept. 30, all but burying the more than $1.1 million that state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) and the $312,000 the NRCC had spent on the contest.

Both candidates finished the quarter with $570,000 on hand.

Similarly, in Minnesota’s open 3rd district, DCCC spending is making the race one of the most expensive in the country. Both nominees, state Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) and Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia (D), have been financial powerhouses on their own.

Madia raised almost $1 million from July 1 to Sept. 30 and still banked $995,000 after spending more than $1 million on the contest so far. Paulsen raised $844,000 in the period and had $1.1 million in the bank after spending more than $1.1 million so far.

But the DCCC had spent $1.2 million on the race through Oct. 19, while the NRCC had yet to spend a dime.

In the same way, the DCCC is supplementing the efforts of well-funded challengers, dropping $389,000, for example, in Missouri’s 6th district, where former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes (D) is trying to oust Rep. Sam Graves (R). Barnes spent $2 million on the race through Sept. 30, while Graves spent $1.7 million and the NRCC chipped in $161,000.

In at least one competitive race, the DCCC is keeping the challenger afloat financially. The committee has spent almost $1.3 million in North Carolina’s 8th district, where teacher Larry Kissell (D) is hoping to defeat Rep. Robin Hayes (R) in a rematch of their 2006 battle, which Hayes won by just 330 votes.

Through Sept. 30, Hayes had spent more than $2 million on his bid for a sixth term, and had more than $1.1 million in the bank; Kissell had spent $794,000 and had $250,000 on hand.

Several top races have become expensive, even with little or no DCCC involvement.

Topping that list is New York’s 20th district, where wealthy former New York Secretary of State Sandy Treadwell (R) is challenging freshman Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D). Fueled by $4.4 million from his own pocket, Treadwell had spent more than $4.5 million through Sept. 30 and finished the period with $855,000 on hand. Gillibrand, who has proven to be a fundraising machine, had spent $3.1 million and had almost $1.5 million in the bank.

In Illinois’ 10th district, Rep. Mark Kirk (R) had spent $3 million in his rematch with marketing consultant Dan Seals (D), and had more than $1.8 million left to spend as of Sept. 30. Seals had spent more than $2.6 million and had $240,000 on hand at the beginning of the month. The DCCC had spent $479,000 on the suburban Chicago race as of Oct. 19.

Another expensive race is in New Mexico’s 2nd district, where two wealthy candidates are vying to replace Rep. Steve Pearce (R), who is running for Senate. Harry Teague (D), a former Lea County commissioner and oil company executive, had spent almost $2.5 million through Sept. 30, and restaurateur Ed Tinsley (R) had spent almost $1.6 million. The DCCC had spent $747,000 on the race as of Oct. 19, while the NRCC had spent nothing.