Politics & Poker: In Some Races, Cash Wall May Be Too High

Posted July 19, 2010 at 5:36pm

Yes, Robert Gibbs — and everybody else — there certainly are enough House seats in play this year to flip the chamber from Democratic control to the Republicans in November.

For additional proof, you need look no further than the fundraising chart we printed in Roll Call on Monday. In recent election cycles, we’ve spotlighted quarterly fundraising in about 50 competitive House districts. In the 2002 and 2004 cycles, we had a hard time finding 25 or 30 races that were truly competitive. On Monday, we listed 68 districts, which was all we could fit on one page of the newspaper. There are at least a dozen others that we could easily have included but didn’t.

But the question remains: Can Republicans actually take control? Can they net the 39 seats they need to regain the majority?

That Federal Election Commission chart contains some clues.

Certainly there is plenty of good news in it for the GOP. A lot of their candidates have a lot of money and seem poised to win.

But a lot of Democrats — including some of the Republicans’ top targets — have a lot of money, too. And while money may not be a substantial enough sea wall to withstand an electoral tidal wave, it could make Democratic incumbents a lot more buoyant in several key races.

Cash on hand is part of the story. There are several districts where Democratic Members have huge cash leads right now — which isn’t altogether surprising given the advantages of incumbency. But when we couple big bank accounts with solid fundraising quarters, that tells another part of the story. A good fundraising showing in the most recent period suggests a certain momentum. And if an incumbent has really dusted his potential challenger on the fundraising front in the past quarter, and has a huge cash advantage besides, that suggests that a race is increasingly out of reach.

With that in mind, can we take the races involving Reps. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.), Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.) and Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) off the boards?

These incumbents have all the fundraising momentum on their side, and huge war chests to boot. In Arizona, Republicans still face divisive primaries, Mitchell and Giffords are popular and proven vote-getters, and the districts’ 2008 presidential numbers are skewed by the fact that favorite son Sen. John McCain was the GOP nominee. If Barack Obama had been running against, say, Mitt Romney two years ago, he probably would have won those districts.

A freshman like Himes is always vulnerable, especially in a wave election, but his district in general has been trending Democratic, and state Sen. Dan Debicella is probably not as formidable a challenger as Republicans need there. And in Florida, funeral home owner Steve Southerland (R) has yet to show he’s got the chops to bury Boyd.

On paper, freshman Reps. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) and Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) should be at the very top of the most vulnerable House Members’ list. But both have conservative voting records and a commanding fundraising lead over their challengers — Minnick especially. And now even Republicans privately concede that the two are more likely to come back than not — again, Minnick especially.

Second-term Rep. Christopher Carney (D-Pa.) finished June with $793,000 in the bank compared with just $11,000 for his Republican challenger, former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino. That’s the kind of district where Republicans expect and need to do better this cycle — but that’s an awfully arresting disparity at this stage of the cycle.

There are several other districts where Democratic incumbents outraised their challengers from April 1 to June 30 and hold substantial leads in cash on hand but haven’t yet reached the same level of inevitability as the races involving Mitchell, Giffords, Himes and Boyd — because of the high quality of the challengers or the conservative nature of the districts, or both. These incumbents include Reps. Betsy Markey (Colo.), Alan Grayson (Fla.), Bill Foster (Ill.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Mark Schauer (Mich.), Ike Skelton (Mo.), Dina Titus (Nev.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Earl Pomeroy (N.D.), Zack Space (Ohio), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.), Patrick Murphy (Pa.), John Spratt (S.C.), Tom Perriello (Va.) and Steve Kagen (Wis.).

You’d have to throw into that category Washington’s open 3rd district, where former state Rep. Denny Heck (D), a wealthy broadcaster, is doing way better on the financial front — and has money of his own to spend — over the two leading Republicans, state Rep. Jaime Herrera and David Castillo. Some of these Democrats may lose — but they’ve kept themselves in a good position to win. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) is also in the same situation on paper — but she’s running against a self-funder, restaurateur Craig Miller (R), and may not be able to keep up financially going forward.

A baker’s dozen of Democratic incumbents continue to have significant leads over their Republican challengers in cash on hand but were outraised in the past quarter — a potential warning signal — though the size of the threat varies from district to district. These Democrats are Reps. Jerry McNerney (Calif.), Debbie Halvorson (Ill.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Ben Chandler (Ky.), Travis Childers (Miss.), John Adler (N.J.), John Boccieri (Ohio), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.), Chet Edwards (Texas), Glenn Nye (Va.) and Rick Boucher (Va.).

Of course, the FEC reports contained some really good news for Republicans, and if you’re an official at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, you’ve got to be especially worried now about Reps. Steve Driehaus, Betty Sutton and Mary Jo Kilroy in Ohio.

From the beginning of the cycle, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) exhorted his potentially vulnerable colleagues to be ready for battle, and most of them have taken that warning to heart. And it’s entirely likely that on the day after Election Day, we’ll be able to look at some races where money helped specific Democrats save their seats.

But in the end, it may not matter. Didn’t then-National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) urge his colleagues to be prepared for an onslaught in 2006, and weren’t they better-funded in many races as well? Money didn’t save the Republicans’ majority then, and it may not save the Democrats’ majority now.