Fundraising Key in Close House Races

Posted February 3, 2004 at 6:56pm

If money is the mother’s milk of politics, then year-end fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission last weekend give the first public picture of the 15 most competitive House races on the 2004 election map.

Among incumbents, both parties have narrowed the point on their pyramid of targeted races.

Most of the Republican opportunities appear to be geographically confined to Texas, where newly redrawn district lines have set up two Member-versus-Member contests and created several other races where Democrats are vulnerable. [For more details on Texas, see tomorrow’s Roll Call.]

Topping the list of targets for Democrats are GOP Reps. Max Burns (Ga.), Rick Renzi (Ariz.) and John Hostettler (Ind.).

In Georgia, Burns ended the year with $623,000 in the bank, giving him a healthy leeway over his leading challenger, Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow (D), who had $364,000. Burns raised just less than $1 million for the year, while Barrow raised about half that.

Democrats Tony Center and Doug Haines (D) are also vying for the chance to face Burns, and as of Dec. 31 they had $97,000 and $60,000 in the bank, respectively.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Arizona were able to clear the field for their desired challenger, former Flagstaff Mayor Paul Babbitt (D), in the 1st district race against the freshman Renzi.

Renzi ended the year with a little more than $400,000 in his campaign account. Babbitt, the brother of former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt (D), did not file an FEC report. But national Democrats remain confident that resources will not be a problem for either candidate in this race.

Funding does appear to be more of an issue in Indiana, where Hostettler’s staid fundraising pace throughout 2003 has given his Democratic opponent a 2 to 1 cash-on-hand advantage over the incumbent.

The five-term Republican raised just $60,000 last year and as of Dec. 31, he had $46,000 in reserve. Former Boston Celtics scout Jon Jennings, the candidate Democrats have coalesced behind, raised $280,000 in 2003, but had only $109,000 left in the bank at the beginning of this year.

Hostettler has never been a strong fundraiser, Republicans contend, though he spent $573,000 and $744,000 on his last two races, respectively.

Also dotting the list of this cycle’s top races are several perennial targets for both parties. GOP Reps. Heather Wilson (N.M.), Anne Northup (Ky.) and Rob Simmons (Conn.) are once again among the leading prospects Democrats have pegged as pick up opportunities.

Wilson, a regular target for Democrats since winning a special election in 1998, ended the year with $744,000 in her campaign coffers. She faces a rematch with 2002 Democratic nominee Richard Romero, who had $219,000 in cash on Dec. 31.

The funding gap is even greater in Kentucky’s 3rd district, where Democrats are again trying to retire Northup.

After raising more than $1 million last year, the Congresswoman showed $881,000 in cash at the start of January. Democrat Tony Miller, who only entered the race toward the end of the fourth quarter, had $61,000 in the bank.

Democrats are also especially high on their chances of knocking off Simmons this year, although the sophomore Congressman won a convincing victory in 2002 despite being heavily targeted.

Simmons began 2004 with $518,000 in his campaign account, while both of his potential Democratic opponents were just beginning to ramp up their fundraising efforts. Former state Rep. Shaun McNally (D) showed $35,000 in cash on hand, while former Norwich City Councilman Jim Sullivan (D) had $76,000 on hand.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Reps. Dennis Moore (Kan.) and Jim Matheson (Utah), both of whom represent very Republican-friendly territory, face likely rematches of their close 2002 election battles.

Moore began the year with a substantial cash-on-hand advantage over his 2002 opponent Adam Taff (R), who must battle his way through a three-way primary. Taff showed $352,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31, compared to Moore’s $621,000.

Republicans also face a primary in the race against Matheson, who had $590,000 in his campaign coffers at the start of the year. His 2002 opponent, former state Rep. John Swallow (R), had $279,000, while venture capitalist Tim Bridgewater (R) had $200,000. Swallow defeated Bridgewater in the 2002 primary before losing to Matheson by 1,641 votes.

But the most cumbersome primary for Republicans this cycle appears to be the crowded free-for-all in Pennsylvania’s 17th district. Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.) was the lone Democrat to emerge from four Member-versus-Member general election races created by redistricting last cycle, and as such he entered this cycle a marked man.

But after Republicans failed to entice a top-tier challenger into the race, seven candidates are now vying to take on Holden, who showed $350,000 in campaign cash on Dec. 31.

Accounting consultant Frank Ryan (R), billed as the early frontrunner in the race, began the year ahead of his GOP opponents in cash-on-hand. Ryan had $134,000 in the bank, while realtor Sue Helm (R) had the next best cash total with $102,000. Scott Paterno (R), the son of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, ended the year with $86,000 in the bank after raising a little more than $100,000 in the fall of last year.

New to the list of GOP targets this cycle are Reps. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.), both of whom have highly touted GOP challengers.

In Florida’s 2nd district, Boyd faces state Rep. Bev Kilmer (R), who raised an impressive $500,000 during the year. Still, she ended December with less than half of Boyd’s $826,000 cash-on-hand total.

Boucher, who has hardly seen a competitive race since first being elected to Congress in 1982, is being challenged by political newcomer and ex-NASCAR executive Kevin Triplett (R).

After a strong third quarter, Triplett raised $76,000 from October through December and ended the year with $190,000 in his campaign account. Boucher showed $868,000.

In the battle for competitive open seats, both parties began the year with almost equal footing in most races. The most notable exception is the contest in Washington’s 5th district, where millionaire hotel developer Don Barbieri (D) has far outdistanced his GOP opponents in the race to replace Rep. George Nethercutt (R), who is running for Senate.

Barbieri showed $242,000 in the bank on Dec. 31, while the leading GOP fundraiser, attorney Shaun Cross, showed $80,000.

But as far as fundraising goes, the race to watch for both parties is the open seat contest in Pennsylvania’s 13th district. The four primary candidates in the race (two Republicans and two Democrats) have raised a combined total of almost $2 million, only $175,000 of which comes in the form of a personal loan.

Leading the pack is state Sen. Allyson Schwartz (D), who raised $357,000 in the fourth quarter and ended the year with a whopping $847,000 in the bank. Joe Torsella, former president of the National Constitution Center and Schwartz’s leading opponent for the Democratic nomination, showed $583,000 in his campaign account.

The fundraising totals are just further proof that a costly, bloody battle will likely unfold in the Philadelphia-area district.

On the GOP side, state Rep. Ellen Bard and ophthalmologist Melissa Brown are battling for their party’s nomination. Brown led Bard in cash on hand at the end of the year, $376,000 to $152,000.

Brown spent heavily from her personal fortune in her closer-than-expected 2002 race against Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.), who is vacating the seat in order to run for Senate.

In another competitive open Democratic seat, Republicans Geoff Davis and Kevin Murphy have a wide fundraising lead over Democrat Nick Clooney in Kentucky’s 4th district.

Both Davis and Murphy had a head start in padding their coffers because they were in the race months before Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Ky.) announced his retirement last fall. Davis leads in cash on hand with $503,000.

Meanwhile, in two other open seat races that are expected to be competitive in November, each party has one candidate with a clear advantage.

In Pennsylvania’s swing 15th district, state Rep. Charlie Dent (R), the leading contender in the race to succeed Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), began the year with $350,000 cash-on-hand, while Democrats only last month recruited a candidate into the race.

And with Rep. Jennifer Dunn’s (R-Wash.) surprise retirement announcement last weekend, Republicans are just now beginning the search for candidates in the 8th district. Millionaire Democrat Alex Alben, meanwhile, ended 2003 in good position with $228,000 in his campaign reserves.