Targeted House Democrats Roll in Cash

Posted February 1, 2008 at 6:47pm

Correction Appended

As they chart a political course for the months ahead, House Democratic strategists are becoming increasingly convinced that their most vulnerable incumbents are largely on secure footing.

Campaign finance reports released late last week reveal part of the reason: Many of the potentially shaky House incumbents whom Republicans are targeting have been accumulating huge war chests that will make it difficult for even the most well-situated GOP challengers to beat them.

The list is topped by freshman Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who had more than $2 million in cash on hand as of Dec. 31, and it also includes: Democratic Reps. Tim Mahoney (Fla.), who had more than $1.4 million in the bank; Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), $1.3 million; Melissa Bean (Ill.), $1.3 million; Jerry McNerney (Calif.), $925,000; Jason Altmire (Pa.), $911,000; Jim Marshall (Ga.), $900,000; Baron Hill (Ind.), $862,000; Christopher Carney (Pa.), $763,000; Zack Space (Ohio), $756,000; and Nick Lampson (Texas), $716,000.

A solid financial position doesn’t guarantee victory, because a variety of factors are always at play in individual districts. But the relative strength of these Democrats — most of whom are freshmen — has emboldened the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to focus much of its attention and resources on winning Republican seats rather than defending vulnerable incumbents.

With such a huge fundraising advantage over the National Republican Congressional Committee, confident Democrats believe they have the money to put more than 40 GOP House seats in play.

The DCCC’s cash-on-hand advantage over the NRCC remained stark at the end of 2007.

House Democrats closed the year with a $30 million cash lead over the NRCC, on the strength of $67.5 million raised overall. The Republican committee raised a respectable $49.5 million for the year but closed out 2007 with a meager $5.4 million in the bank. The NRCC raised $12.4 million in the last quarter of the year, while the DCCC raised $6.6 million in December alone.

The DCCC finished 2007 with $35.1 million in its war chest.

The DCCC also looks better than the NRCC in the debt column, closing 2007 with just $1.3 million owed to its creditors, compared with $2.9 owed by its Republican competitor. DCCC officials contend that its superior fundraising compared to the NRCC is more than a function of its newfound majority status.

“Over the past five years, [Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.)] and House Democrats have worked aggressively to grow and broaden our grass-roots, online and Member support,” DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell said. “Our success in 2007 was largely a function of this effort — although we still have more work to do given the 527 activities on the Republican side.”

Not that the fundraising news was all bad for House Republicans. In financial reports turned in to the Federal Election Commission last week, several Republican incumbents whom the Democrats are targeting also were in sound financial shape.

That list included Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.), who ended December with almost $1.8 million on hand; Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Joe Knollenberg (Mich.) and Steve Chabot (Ohio), who each topped $1 million; Don Young (Alaska), $948,000; Robin Hayes (N.C.), $793,000; and Jon Porter (Nev.), $785,000.

Two other vulnerable House Republicans also are flush with cash, but their challengers are in highly competitive positions.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) finished 2007 with $868,000 in the bank. But his challenger, former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes (D), wasn’t far behind with $743,000. Barnes raised $345,000 in the final three months of the year compared with Graves’ $204,000.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), a frequent DCCC target who routinely raises money at a steady clip, had $797,000 on hand on Dec. 31 after raking in $316,000 in the last quarter of the year. But Shays’ challenger, former investment banker Jim Himes (D), outraised him from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 — collecting $334,000 — and finishing the year with $800,000 on hand.

Some vulnerable House incumbents — Democrats and Republicans alike — are lagging on the financial front.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) raised $153,000 in the final quarter of 2007 and finished the year with $438,000 on hand. His likely Democratic challenger, state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer, raised $200,000 more in the same period and banked $501,000. That disparity may explain why the Club for Growth, which was instrumental in Walberg’s victory in the previous cycle, announced in late January that it was endorsing his re-election.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) was outraised by his 2006 challenger, Darcy Burner (D), who is seeking a rematch. Burner finished 2007 with $607,000 in the bank after raising $343,000 in the final quarter. The incumbent raised a full $100,000 less in the final three months of the year and finished 2007 with $463,000 on hand.

Similarly, Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.) was outraised by retired Navy Cmdr. Eric Massa (D), who finished just 2 points behind the Congressman in 2006. Massa took in $276,000 in the last three months of 2007 and finished the period with $415,000 on hand. Kuhl raised $157,000 and banked $327,000.

On the Democratic side, freshman Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.) was outraised by one of the two Republicans seeking to take her on. While she took in $118,000 in the final quarter of the year and banked $466,000, former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R), who Shea-Porter ousted in the previous cycle, took in $156,000 and had $423,000 in the bank. A second Republican, former New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen, raised $81,000 and banked $203,000.

Meanwhile, the financial news was mixed for both parties in competitive open-seat races — some of which are just starting to develop following a spate of recent Republican retirements.

Correction: Feb. 4, 2008

The article incorrectly said the DCCC raised $6.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2007. That total was raised in the month of December.