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Cash Flows Freely in Open Seats

It’s a long way to go to the 2010 election, but a few candidates who have already jumped into open-seat House races this cycle flexed some early fundraising muscle, according to first-quarter Federal Election Commission reports.

Three candidates surpassed the $100,000 fundraising mark, and while Kansas 1st district candidate Tim Barker (R) achieved that milestone with the help of an early $100,000 loan to his campaign, attorney Terri Sewell (D), who is seeking Alabama’s 7th district seat, and former state Rep. Dennis Ross (R), who has his eye on Florida’s 12th district seat, demonstrated an impressive early fundraising ability that will surely be noted by any potential opponents.

Sewell, who raised $124,000 in the first quarter, is hoping to replace Rep. Artur Davis (D) in his overwhelmingly Democratic southwest Alabama district. The race for the Democratic nomination is sure to be crowded, and several candidates, including state Rep. Earl Hilliard Jr. (D), the son of the district’s former Congressman, have already thrown their hats into the ring. Sewell, a longtime associate of Davis’ who attended Princeton University at the same time as first lady Michelle Obama, has become an early darling of Democratic activists. She raised more than $48,000 through the Web fundraising organization ActBlue.

Ross raised about $101,000 for his effort to earn the seat of GOP Rep. Adam Putnam, who is leaving Congress to run for state agriculture commissioner in 2010. Ross, who has hired most of Putnam’s campaign team — including the Congressman’s Washington, D.C., fundraiser — filed Feb. 12 and began raising money later that month.

He loaned his campaign $25,000 at the end of March. In recent weeks, Ross has begun securing endorsements from Republican members of Florida’s Congressional delegation, including Reps. Tom Rooney, Mario Diaz-Balart and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

On the Democratic side in the 12th district race, Democratic insiders on Capitol Hill are high on former state Rep. Lori Edwards, but 2008 nominee Doug Tudor is running again.

Whoever emerges on the Democratic side, party operatives believe they have a good shot at flipping the 12th, which has been trending more Democratic in recent years.

After former President George W. Bush won the 12th by 10 points in 2000 and 16 points in 2004, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) eked out a much closer victory in the 2008 presidential race. McCain won 50 percent to President Barack Obama’s 49 percent. Democrats held a registration advantage in the district of about 28,000 voters at the end of 2008.

Out in the safely Republican 1st district of Kansas, Barker, a businessman, isn’t the early cash-on-hand leader despite his hefty personal loan and about $24,000 in additional fundraising.

In the race to replace Rep. Jerry Moran, who is running for Senate in 2010, state Sen. Tim Huelskamp reported $172,000 in cash on hand. Rob Wasinger, a former chief of staff to Sen. Sam Brownback (R), checked in with $125,000 in the bank at the end of the first quarter. Huelskamp and Wasinger’s campaign committees have been around since 2006, when they began raising money in the 1st district when it looked like Moran might run for governor. Also in the Kansas 1st district race this cycle is businessman Tracey Mann (R).

Another notable cash-on-hand total was the $150,000 reported by Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou (R) in Hawaii’s 1st district.

Djou formed his fundraising committee in November 2007, although he was not the Republican nominee in the 1st district last cycle. But now that Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) is running for governor, Djou hopes to earn that distinction, and he appears to be a strong candidate in what is generally considered a reliably Democratic district.

On the Democratic side, former Rep. Ed Case, who held the 2nd district seat for four-plus years, entered the race March 28 and raised $21,000 by the March 31 filing deadline. Other potential Democratic candidates in the district include state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Honolulu City Councilman Duke Bainum, former state House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell and state Democratic Party Chairman Brian Schatz.

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