Fourth-Quarter Reports Give Open-Seat Clues

Money Stars Rise to Top in Crowded Primaries

Posted February 3, 2010 at 6:17pm

Like a strong cup of coffee, a slap to the face or a cold shower, campaign fundraising reports have a way of bringing instant clarity to a cloudy situation.

And that sort of lucidity is especially helpful to campaign observers when it comes to open-seat races in safe districts, where the general election may not be in doubt but the primary is a wide-open and crowded affair.

Take, for example, Florida’s overwhelmingly Democratic 17th district where 11 candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination in the race to replace Rep. Kendrick Meek (D), who is running for Senate. In a district where President Barack Obama took 87 percent of the vote in 2008, the winner of the primary will cruise to victory in November.

Fundraising reports from October to December clearly delineate a top tier of Democratic candidates that includes state Sen. Frederica Wilson, Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson and physician Rudy Moise.

While Gibson and Wilson have been in the race since last spring, Moise entered the primary in early December and made a statement by raking in $213,000 in less than a month. That was enough to put him at the head of the pack in fundraising for the quarter and it helped him win the cash-on-hand race.

Moise, whose campaign team remains active despite the fact that he was deployed to Haiti with his Air Force Reserve unit in mid-January, reported $161,000 in the bank on Dec. 31. Wilson reported $111,000 in cash on hand and Gibson reported $96,000. The next two closest Democratic candidates had cash-on-hand totals in the mid-$30,000 range.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee’s safely Republican 3rd district, fourth-quarter reports show that six-way race to replace Rep. Zach Wamp (R), who is running for governor, is really coming down to a two-person battle.

The open-seat race doesn’t include any state elected officials, but Robin Smith, a former state Republican Party chairwoman, appears to be the candidate with the best connections among Volunteer State political insiders. Smith used those connections to bring in $91,000 from October to December, leaving her $180,000 in cash on hand at the end of the year.

Unless the field changes before the April candidate filing deadline, Smith’s top competitor in the GOP primary appears to be Chuck Fleischmann, an attorney and former radio talk-show host who is proving to be one of the top self-funders of the cycle. Fleischmann has already loaned his campaign $380,000 since filing in May, and he reported $451,000 in cash on hand as of Dec. 31.

Both Smith and Fleischmann hail from Hamilton County, which contains Chattanooga, along with half the district’s population. Their next-closest competitor in the money chase is attorney Art Rhodes, who raised just $4,000 during the fourth quarter but had more than $100,000 in cash on hand on Dec. 31 in large part because of the $75,000 loan he gave his campaign in June.

Initially, some state Democrats expressed some optimism about a possible takeover of the 3rd district seat this cycle. But as the national political environment has grown more favorable for Republicans — and as the Democrats’ top potential candidates passed up or dropped out of the contest — the district, which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried with 62 percent in 2008, quickly dropped off Democratic target lists. Democrats are without a candidate in the race, and the general election is setting up to be a mere formality.

Farther west, in southwest Missouri’s open 7th district seat, auctioneer Billy Long (R) is running away from a pair of well-known state Senators and a handful of other GOP candidates when it comes to fundraising in the race to replace Rep. Roy Blunt (R), who is running for Senate.

Long raised $129,000 in the fourth quarter. That was more than twice the $63,000 that state Sen. Jack Goodman (R) raised and well ahead of the $75,000 that state Sen. Gary Nodler (R) brought in.

Long has an even greater advantage when it comes to cash on hand. He reported $479,000 in the bank on Dec. 31 to Nodler’s $180,000 and Goodman’s 163,000.

Long, a political novice, certainly wasn’t a leading candidate when he entered the race.

Goodman, who has served in the state Legislature since 2002, is the former chairman of the 7th District Congressional Republican Committee and boasts strong roots in the local political community.

Nodler has twice run for the 7th district seat when it has come open. He’s won two state Senate races and has served as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee in the state Senate.

But Long’s impressive fundraising abilities have helped establish him in the top tier of Republicans in a contest where the GOP primary is pretty much the only race that matters.

Other notable fundraisers in open-seat contests include state Rep. Mike Thompson (R), former state Rep. Kevin Calvey (R) and State Corporation Commissioner Jeff Cloud (R) in the crowded race to replace Rep. Mary Fallin (R) in Oklahoma’s safely Republican 5th district.

Thompson’s $151,000 in fundraising pushed his cash-on-hand total to an impressive $369,000 seven months before the July primary. Calvey, who has snagged the endorsement of the anti-tax group Club for Growth, showed $188,000 in receipts during the quarter and $528,000 in the bank on Dec. 31. Calvey has loaned his campaign just over $200,000 this cycle. Cloud, who declared his candidacy in December, posted a hefty $175,000 in receipts and $160,000 in cash on hand as of Dec. 31.

In Georgia’s open 9th district race, cardiologist Chris Cates (R) made a splash by raising $276,000 for the quarter, a total that put him on par in terms of cash on hand with a pair of state legislators who have been in the race for months. Cates was able to achieve that total with a $200,000 bank loan and $6,000 of his own money.