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Some Recruits Fall Short on the Financial Front

The first fundraising quarter ends in just a week, and some challengers and Members may soon find themselves on the hot seat depending on how well they’ve fared in the money chase over the past three months.

Among the House campaigns that will be the most scrutinized this time around are highly touted recruits who have so far failed to impress on the fundraising front.

At the top of that list on the Republican side is Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby, who is challenging Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.). Roby was hailed as a key recruiting success by the National Republican Congressional Committee in early 2009 and has since become one of only 10 GOP challengers to earn the highest ranking in the NRCC’s “Young Guns” campaign infrastructure and fundraising program.

But even with that hype, Roby failed to break the $100,000 fundraising barrier during the third and fourth quarters of 2009. She brought in a little less than $77,000 between October and December.

As of Dec. 31 Bright held a 3-to-1 lead in cash on hand, and Roby will have to at least keep him from widening that gap if she doesn’t want to be considered a hot recruit who flamed out early.

Even though there are other Republicans in the race, the NRCC is standing by Roby.

“Martha Roby is a top Republican recruit who will have the resources she needs to win this fall,” committee spokesman Andy Sere said on Monday.

The Democratic version of Roby may well be Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards.

After Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) announced in January 2009 that he planned to leave Congress to run for state agriculture commissioner, Edwards emerged as a favorite of national party leaders. In showing their support for Edwards, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officials passed over the party’s 2008 nominee, Doug Tudor, who took 43 percent against Putnam in 2008.

But after DCCC Vice Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and a handful of Democratic Members and political action committees helped Edwards break the $100,000 fundraising barrier in the second quarter of 2009, Edwards fell off the fundraising map. She raised just $39,000 in the third quarter and $35,000 in the fourth quarter of 2009. Many campaign-watchers have written Edwards off as a bust, but the DCCC continues to stand by her.

Earlier this month the committee named Edwards as one of 13 candidates for its “Red to Blue” program, which targets GOP-held districts.

“Red to Blue is not just a measure of strength in fundraising, it’s also strength politically,” Wasserman Schultz said last week. The Congresswoman said Edwards has poll numbers that show she is well-positioned in her race against former state Rep. Dennis Ross (R).

In what is certainly a function of Republicans simply having more places to play offense in the current political climate, the list of GOP recruits with a lot to prove this quarter is much longer than the Democrats’.

Idaho Republican Vaughn Ward is another highly touted recruit who has reached the top tier of the Young Guns program but has yet to have an especially impressive fundraising quarter.

Ward, who is challenging freshman Rep. Walt Minnick (D), needed help from GOP leaders and his own checkbook to raise $105,000 in the fourth quarter. He ended December with about $208,000 in the bank compared with Minnick’s $816,000.

This quarter, Ward’s fundraising probably won’t be helped by the fact that former Rep. Bill Sali (R), whom Minnick beat in 2008, just endorsed one of Ward’s GOP primary opponents.

Further east, Republicans continue to believe that despite his lackluster fundraising so far, Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta will mount a strong challenge against Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) in New Hampshire’s 1st district.

Guinta is one of 21 candidates to have achieved the second-highest tier of the NRCC’s Young Guns program. He’s achieved that rank despite the fact that he raised just $61,000 in the fourth quarter and had $173,000 in the bank. Guinta has several GOP primary opponents.

California Assemblyman Van Tran (R), who is challenging Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D), was also recruited to expand the GOP playing field. But after jumping out of the gate last spring by raising an impressive $254,000 from mid-May to June, Tran fell back to earth. He raised $92,000 in the third quarter of 2009 and about $105,000 in the fourth quarter.

It’s not just challengers who have a lot to prove in the coming fundraising report. There are several targeted Members who were out-raised by their top challengers in the fourth quarter of 2009 and will be the subject of increased scrutiny if they let it happen again this time around.

A key Republican example is Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.), who has been out-raised by physician Ami Bera (D) every quarter since Bera filed last spring. Bera was named to the DCCC’s Red to Blue program this month.

But in another sign of the political times, the list is much larger on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Among the targeted Democrats who were out-raised by challengers in the last three months of 2009 are Reps. John Boccieri (Ohio), Travis Childers (Miss.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Frank Kratovil (Md.), Glenn Nye (Va.), John Spratt (S.C.) and Harry Teague (N.M.).

But even if their challengers do out-raise them again this quarter, it would be hard to imagine a scenario in which targeted Democrats won’t have money to compete this fall. For any Member struggling for funds, the DCCC, which had a $13 million cash-on-hand advantage over the NRCC as of Feb. 28, provides a safety net.

And while a challenger may get a short-term public relations boost from out-raising an incumbent such as Spratt, the chairman of the House Budget Committee has an almost $650,000 campaign war chest at his disposal and won’t have to worry about having enough money when the campaign season heats up.

Other incumbents whose bank accounts bear watching this fundraising period include Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), who had just $210,000 in cash on hand at the end of last year and continues to be a top GOP target, and Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), who reported $372,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31 while his challenger Edward Martin Jr. (R) was nipping at his heels with $336,000 in cash on hand.

First-quarter fundraising reports will also give race-watchers their first look at how the money chase is setting up in what could be a very competitive South Florida district that came open when Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) decided to run for the Miami-based seat of his brother, retiring Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R).

State Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla and state Rep. David Rivera are expected to meet in the Republican primary. Rivera announced his candidacy in late February and has been working to make a strong financial showing before the entrance of de la Portilla, who appears to be waiting until after the state legislative session ends to formally jump in.

On the Democratic side, party officials have been working hard to persuade 2008 nominee Joe Garcia to take another shot. Some insiders expect that Garcia will jump into the race in early April, at the beginning of the second fundraising quarter. But Garcia said in an interview last week that he still hasn’t made a final decision on the race.

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