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Open-Seat Races Heating Up

While some open-seat House races remain relatively sleepy affairs six months into the 2006 election cycle, others are already intense battles quickly becoming awash in campaign cash.

An analysis of second quarter fundraising shows that Illinois state Sen. Peter Roskam (R) raised more money than any other candidate in an open-seat race from April 1 to June 30: $395,000.

Roskam, who has cleared the Republican field in his quest to replace retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in the suburban Chicago 6th district, was sitting on $370,000 at the end of June — a figure that is sure to delight national Republicans.

Technology consultant Christine Cegelis, Hyde’s Democratic challenger in 2004 who is seeking the seat again, had just $43,000 in the bank on June 30 after raising $63,000 in the period. Some Democrats are privately hoping that they are able to find a more potent candidate, but time may be running short.

The Illinois 6th district race is one of the few open-seat battlegrounds between the two parties where one side has a decided financial advantage over the other. Some districts that are expected to be competitive have Republicans and Democrats close in cash on hand. And in other districts, where the results of the primary will essentially dictate who the next Member of Congress is, intense scrambles for money are well under way.

Democrats have high hopes of winning the swing 7th district in Colorado, where two-term Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) is running for governor. There, the fundraising leader so far is Rick O’Donnell (R), the state’s higher education commissioner, who collected $269,000 in the last quarter and reported $262,000 on hand.

But former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D) was not far behind O’Donnell, raising $215,000 and banking $211,000. Perlmutter must first win a Democratic primary against ex-state Rep. Peggy Lamm (D), who had $83,000 in the bank June 30 — a figure that most political observers considered surprisingly low.

A wild and woolly five-way Republican primary in Minnesota’s 6th district could also provide an opportunity for Democrats. State Rep. Jim Knoblach led the GOP field with $152,000 on hand, though he raised just $40,000 in the quarter. His colleague, state Rep. Phil Krinkie (R), raised the most among the Republican contenders, $73,000, and reported $114,000 on hand.

But former state Transportation Secretary Elwyn Tinklenberg, the leading Democrat, collected more money since April than any of the GOP contenders, $110,000. He had $103,000 in the bank June 30.

There will be wide-open primaries for both parties in Iowa’s swing 1st district, where Rep. Jim Nussle (R) is running for governor. Among Democrats, the leading fundraiser is attorney Bill Braley, who had $191,000 in the bank, though Dubuque economic development official Rick Dickinson wasn’t too far behind, with $145,000 on hand.

On the Republican side, all three candidates seem competitive financially. State Rep. Bill Dix raised $84,000 in the period and had $173,000 on hand; former state GOP Chairman Brian Kennedy raised $110,000 and had $94,000 in the bank; and restaurant chain CEO Mike Whalen took in $106,000 and banked $69,000.

Meanwhile, the Republican primary in Nevada’s 2nd district, where Rep. Jim Gibbons (R) is leaving to run for governor, seems likely to be an expensive contest, and all three candidates had very similar quarters.

State Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) led the way, collecting $159,000 during the three months — a figure fueled in part by an early endorsement from the Club for Growth. She had $157,000 in the bank.

Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller (R) was next, raising $135,000 and banking $247,000.

Former Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons (R) — the Congressman’s wife — raised $131,000 and reported $149,000 in the bank, thanks in part to contributions from her husband’s Capitol Hill colleagues. Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.), former Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah), former Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) and ex-Sen. Al D’Amato (R-N.Y.) are among those who contributed to Dawn Gibbons in the last quarter.

While all these races appear well developed, several open-seat contests are largely unformed. While at least five Republicans are expected to battle to replace Rep. Butch Otter (R-Idaho), who is running for governor, fundraising in the race has barely begun. The same is true of the five-way Democratic primary to replace Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), who is running for Senate, and the three-way GOP primary to replace Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.), who is running for governor.

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