Both Parties See Positive Signs in New Finance Reports

Posted April 19, 2010 at 7:11pm

Campaign finance reports just filed by House candidates point to a fall election in which the Democrats will have a huge fundraising edge — but Republicans should have sufficient funds to seriously compete in dozens of battleground races with the aid of favorable political winds.

Both Democratic and Republican strategists found much to like in the first-quarter reports, which cover the first three months of the year.

Democrats noted that their most politically vulnerable incumbents continued to stockpile huge campaign treasuries to gird against serious Republican opposition. The 41 “Frontline” Democrats — those whom the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has identified as most in need of added financial and logistical assistance — had an average of $1 million in cash on hand as April began.

“This fundraising quarter highlights that Democratic Frontline Members are strong and are building a solid foundation this cycle. Nearly every Frontline Member has significantly more cash on hand than their Republican opponents,” DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said.

House GOP officials know that in nearly every race their challengers will not be able to outraise the Democratic incumbents. But they insist their candidates will have enough money to win when they should benefit as the out-of-power party in a presidential midterm year. Seventy Republican candidates in Democratic-held districts had at least $250,000 in cash on hand as April began.

“Democrats have a huge advantage with the power of incumbency and control of Washington, but I think what these numbers show is that Republican challengers are seeing the same surge in fundraising that they’re seeing in polls,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Frontline Frontrunners

For Democrats, the most striking finding from the reports was the strong financial health of their incumbents. Some will certainly lose this fall, but none will be caught flat-footed.

Some House Democrats in tossup races easily topped the average of $313,000 that Frontline Democrats raised in the first quarter.

Rep. Alan Grayson (Fla.), a vigorous and high-profile critic of the GOP, topped all Frontline Democrats with $809,000 raised. Reps. Tom Perriello (Va.) and Betsy Markey (Colo.), who represent districts that voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election, raised $606,000 and $505,000 respectively.

Grayson, Perriello and Markey are among the 19 Frontline Democrats who had at least $1 million in the bank as April began. That list is topped by Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.) with $2 million, Gary Peters (Mich.) with $1.7 million and John Adler (N.J.), $1.7 million.

Not all vulnerable Democrats engaged in breakneck fundraising. Freshman Rep. Larry Kissell (N.C.) took in just $72,000 for the quarter and banked $326,000. Both totals were by far the lowest among the Frontline Members.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), never one of her party’s strongest fundraisers, took in $168,000 for the quarter and was outraised by her leading opponent, former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, whose $275,000 in receipts included a $100,000 personal loan.

While there are few opportunities for Democratic challengers in what should be a good Republican year, several are running well-funded campaigns.

California physician Ami Bera (D) outraised Rep. Dan Lungren (R) and began April with a cash-on-hand advantage of $977,000 to $650,000. In Washington, former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene (D) has more in the bank than Rep. Dave Reichert (R), $839,000 to $716,000.

GOP Resurgence

Republicans pointed to dozens of their candidates who have well-funded campaigns against Democratic incumbents or in Democratic-held open seats.

Among the best-funded Republicans are a pair of Ohioans, former Rep. Steve Chabot in the Cincinnati-based 1st district and former state Sen. Steve Stivers in the 15th district, who will face the same Democrats who beat them in 2008.

Chabot took in $247,000 for the quarter and began April with $802,000 in the bank — not significantly behind the $940,000 that his opponent, Rep. Steve Driehaus, had on hand. Stivers outraised Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, $367,000 to $308,000, and his $793,000 cash-on-hand total isn’t far behind Kilroy’s $878,000.

In some instances, Republicans are promoting wealthy candidates who were able to outraise their Democratic incumbents in the first quarter through a mix of personal money and funds raised from individuals and political action committees.

Virginia car dealer Scott Rigell (R) raised $135,000 from individuals and PACs in the first quarter and donated $273,000 in personal money to his campaign to unseat Rep. Glenn Nye (D). New York ophthalmologist Nan Hayworth, the likely GOP nominee against Rep. John Hall (D), augmented the $172,000 she raised in the first quarter with a personal loan of $150,000.

In contests for open Democratic seats, Republicans are pleased with the fundraising of Pat Meehan, a former federal prosecutor in Pennsylvania who has $875,000 in the bank. Tennessee gospel singer and farmer Stephen Fincher, long a favorite of the NRCC, added $356,000 in the quarter and began April with $829,000 in the bank — though he now faces a big-spending primary opponent in Ron Kirkland, a physician who raised $857,000 in the quarter and banked $780,000.

In some key races, Republican fundraising has lagged and the Democratic incumbents have overwhelming advantages in fundraising.

One of the most lopsided gaps in fundraising is in Ohio’s 18th district, where Republicans are again waging an underfunded effort against Rep. Zack Space (D). State Sen. Bob Gibbs, the NRCC-preferred candidate, raised just $90,000 in the first quarter, less than one-third of the Congressman’s take, and his $143,000 cash-on-hand total lags far behind the $1.3 million that Space had in the bank.

In Virginia’s 5th district, state Sen. Robert Hurt (R) raised just $101,000 during the reporting period — about one-third of what he raised during the fourth quarter of 2009 and one-sixth of what Perriello raised in the first quarter of this year.