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For Richer, for Poorer

Some Potentially Vulnerable House Members Are Already Sitting on Bulging 2006 Campaign War Chests; Others Are Broke

Several freshman House Members who just won costly, hard-fought elections begin their 2006 re-election battles with almost no money left in their campaign accounts, while others appear to have quickly started to replenish their re-election funds.

The same dichotomy holds true for more senior incumbents who can expect to be targeted by the other party in 2006.

These conclusions come from an analysis of the latest campaign statements that candidates and officeholders were required to file with the Federal Election Commission this week.

Roll Call looked at the 38 House Members who received 55 percent of the vote or less on Election Day. Most, though not all, can expect relatively vigorous challenges in 2006.

Using cash-on-hand figures — that is, the amount of money candidates had left in their treasuries at the end of 2004 — it would seem as though freshman Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.) is in the most dire financial straits. Her campaign had just $139 left in the bank on Dec. 31 after spending about $800,000 to win a late-starting competitive race to replace retiring Rep. Ed Schrock (R).

It remains to be seen whether Democrats will seriously contest the Republican-leaning southeast Virginia district in 2006. Drake’s opponent last year, highly touted attorney David Ashe, had $33,000 in the bank on Dec. 31.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Russ Carnahan (Mo.) had the least money on hand among freshmen in the 55 percent-or-less club, with just $7,700 in his bank account as of Dec. 31. Carnahan, who spent $1.3 million in 2004, could face a Democratic primary challenge next year from college professor Jeff Smith, one of the candidates he defeated in the race to succeed veteran Rep. Richard Gephardt (D). But the St. Louis-area seat is considered relatively safe for whomever is the Democratic nominee.

Among freshmen who had close races in 2004, Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who represents a highly competitive Philadelphia-area district, reported $226,000 cash on hand. Fitzpatrick, like Drake, won a late-developing race and is likely to face major Democratic opposition in 2006. He spent just under $1 million on his November victory.

Freshman Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who defeated then-Rep. Nick Lampson (D), had $149,000 in the bank. But because of re-redistricting that benefited the GOP, his seat is probably safe.

Among Democratic freshmen who ran close races in 2004, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.) appeared to be in the best shape financially. Cleaver, a former Kansas City mayor who defeated a free-spending Republican millionaire, had $58,000 left in his campaign treasury after spending about $1.4 million.

In the meantime, two veteran Members who are perennial targets started the 2006 cycle in shaky financial shape.

Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), a notoriously weak fundraiser, had just $1,600 in the bank. Hostettler took 53 percent of the vote in 2004 against former Boston Celtics scout Jon Jennings. Despite the conservative profile of his Evansville-based district, he has never won more than 53 percent of the vote in six elections.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Chet Edwards (Texas) — the only one of five Lone Star State incumbents targeted for defeat by a Republican re-redistricting plan to survive in November — had just $4,500 on hand. Edwards, who spent almost $2.7 million last time around, is likely to be targeted again as Republicans continue to flex their muscles in the home state of President Bush and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R).

But some veteran incumbents who won re-election by narrow margins were in fine shape financially, with powerful House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) leading the pack.

Dreier, who took an unexpectedly low 54 percent of the vote against a relative unknown in November, showed $2.4 million in his campaign account. Although Dreier’s Inland Empire district is slowly becoming more Democratic, his influential role as House Rules chairman should provide him with a measure of protection from serious challenge in the next few cycles.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who took 54 percent of the vote in a Member-vs.-Member contest with then-Rep. Martin Frost (D), was sitting on $479,000 at year’s end after spending $4.3 million on the cycle’s most expensive House contest. Frost, who dropped his campaign to be Democratic National Committee chairman on Tuesday, does not appear to be seeking a rematch in 2006. He had $23,000 in campaign cash on Dec. 31 after spending $4.8 million last cycle.

Other incumbents who could be targeted in 2006 but start the cycle in relatively strong financial shape include Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.), with $302,000 in the bank; Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.), with $252,000; Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.), with $197,000; Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.), with $129,000; Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), with $126,000; and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), with $121,000.

Of that group, Gerlach seems likeliest to face a tight re-election contest in 2006. He could end up in a rematch with attorney Lois Murphy (D), whom he defeated 51 percent to 49 percent in 2004. Murphy had $37,000 in the bank on Dec. 31.

Also carrying a substantial amount of money in his Congressional account is Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), who reported $289,000 on hand. Nussle, however, is expected to run for governor in 2006. Thanks to a rule change adopted by Congress late last year, and because Iowa does not have limits on campaign contributions, he will be able to transfer all of his Congressional funds into his statewide account.

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