If the Democrats suffer significant losses in House elections this fall, it won’t be because their incumbents weren’t ready for the fight.
In this era of big-money campaigns, there really is no such thing as an off election year, and House Democrats in politically competitive districts built well-stocked campaign treasuries in 2009 to brace for vigorous Republican opposition in what should be a far more challenging election year for their party than the past two election cycles.
The 42 Members to whom House Democratic leaders have provided added logistical and financial aid had an average of $800,000 in their campaign accounts as the election year began, according to a Roll Call analysis of updated reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by a Jan. 31 deadline.
Topping the list of these “Frontline— Democrats is Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), who had $1.6 million in cash on hand as she prepares to seek a third term. Eight other Frontline Democrats had at least $1 million: Rep. John Adler (N.J.), who had more than $1.4 million in the bank; Rep. Gary Peters (Mich.), $1.4 million; Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.), $1.3 million; Rep. Zack Space (Ohio), $1.2 million; Rep. Mark Schauer (Mich.), $1.2 million; Rep. Bill Foster (Ill.), $1 million; Rep. Michael McMahon (N.Y.), $1 million; and Rep. Dan Maffei (N.Y.), $1 million.
All but six Frontline Democrats had more than $500,000 in cash on hand as January began. The lowest total was reported by Rep. Bill Owens (N.Y.), who began the year with $241,000 just eight weeks after he won an upset victory in a special election in a district long dominated by the Republicans.
Frontline Democrats on average raised about a quarter of a million dollars in the final three months of 2009, with all of them topping six figures. The largest fourth-quarter haul for a Frontline Democrat was reported by Rep. Alan Grayson (Fla.), who took in $861,000; his fundraising has thrived because liberal activists love his frequent and cutting criticisms of Republicans.
Challengers Raise Fast Cash
Republican strategists know that challengers rarely outspend incumbents. But they are confident that dozens of their candidates will raise enough to unseat Democratic incumbents in a year when the GOP expects to be aided by a political tailwind at the midpoint of President Barack Obama’s term.
Some of the Republicans’ best-funded challengers include former House Members who have established fundraising networks and ties to political action committee money that less experienced candidates lack. They include Steve Chabot, who had $613,000 on hand for a rematch campaign against freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus (Ohio), who had $762,000 on hand, and Steve Pearce, who had $570,000 on hand for a campaign to unseat his successor, Rep. Harry Teague (N.M.), who had $886,000.
Some Republican challengers who narrowly lost open-seat races in 2008 are waging well-financed rematch bids this year. Steve Stivers, a former Ohio state Senator, had $514,000 on hand for his campaign against Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy ($695,000). Maryland state Sen. Andy Harris had $497,000 in the bank for his bid to unseat Rep. Frank Kratovil ($855,000).
Needing a net gain of 40 seats to win a majority, GOP strategists are trying to expand the playing field of competitive districts by fielding candidates in as many Democratic-held districts as possible, regardless of past political performance. Some of the GOP’s best-financed candidates are running in districts that the party didn’t seriously contest in 2008.
Businessman Randy Altschuler was the most cash-rich Republican challenger as the year began, with $778,000 on hand for a campaign against Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.). Altschuler was the source for $650,000 of the $1.05 million that he reported raising in 2009 — and he doesn’t have the Republican field to himself in the Long Island district.
GOP officials also took note that Allen West, a retired Army officer, began the year with $707,000 in the bank for a rematch campaign against Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), who had $2.4 million.
Republican challengers will be waging these campaigns mostly on their own and can’t expect much financial assistance from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which had just $2.7 million in the bank as the year began. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had $16.7 million — much lower than the $35.1 million that it had exactly two years ago, but more than six times the NRCC’s balance.
Although Democrats will be waging this fall’s House elections from a mostly defensive posture, they do have some well-funded challengers to Republican incumbents. They include Suzan DelBene ($773,000 in cash on hand), a former Microsoft executive who is challenging Rep. Dave Reichert (Wash.); Ami Bera ($740,000), a physician taking on Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.); and John Callahan ($630,000), the mayor of Bethlehem, Pa., who is taking on Rep. Charlie Dent.
In some contests, the challenger began the year with more cash on hand than the incumbent. North Carolina businessman Tim D’Annunzio (R), one of a handful of Republicans taking on Rep. Larry Kissell (D), has used his personal wealth to overtake the incumbent in cash on hand, $373,000 to $318,000. The NRCC has been promoting the candidacy of West Virginia engineer David McKinley (R), who led Rep. Alan Mollohan (D), $100,000 to $65,000, in cash on hand.
Open Seats, Open Checkbooks
Republicans have well-funded candidates in several districts that Democrats are giving up.
The GOP has a big head start in the central Tennessee district of retiring Rep. Bart Gordon (D). Republican activist Lou Ann Zelenik ($355,000 in cash on hand) and state Sens. Jim Tracy ($259,000) and Diane Black ($150,000) are the main GOP contenders in a district that has no declared Democratic candidate.
The GOP has a shot at wresting away the district of Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), a candidate for the Senate, in part because its preferred nominee, former federal prosecutor Pat Meehan, has thrived at fundraising. Meehan raised nearly twice as much in the fourth quarter as the likely Democratic nominee, state Rep. Bryan Lentz, and now has more in the bank, $694,000 to Lentz’s $460,000.
A big-spending race is on tap in the western Tennessee district where Rep. John Tanner (D) is retiring. The two likely November opponents are essentially even in fundraising, with state Sen. Roy Herron (D) banking $655,000 and farmer Stephen Fincher (R) reporting $628,000 on hand.
The Democrats have an obvious fundraising advantage in the at-large district in Delaware that Rep. Mike Castle (R) is giving up to run for the Senate. Former Lt. Gov. John Carney (D) raised $288,000 in the fourth quarter and began this year with $531,000 in the bank. Republicans lack a top-tier candidate but could narrow the fundraising gap if businessman Tony Wedo enters the race, as is expected, and uses some of his personal wealth to help underwrite his campaign.