Primaries Will Decide Some Open Seats

Posted April 21, 2010 at 6:39pm

It’s getting to be crunch time in several open-seat races in safe districts where the November general election may not be in doubt but the primary is a wide-open and crowded affair.

That fact has campaign observers especially interested in the latest round of Federal Election Commission reports.

South Carolina is one of 24 states with primaries scheduled in the next two months, and in the state’s two open seats this cycle the Republican elections on June 8 are expected to be the ones that determine the Palmetto State’s next Members of Congress.

Both of those primaries are wide open at the moment.

In the western 3rd district of Rep. Gresham Barrett (R) — who is leaving Congress to run for governor this year — state Reps. Jeff Duncan and Rex Rice are the frontrunners in the crowded GOP primary. The two state legislators have been battling it out since last year in a contest that had been a relatively low-dollar event by the standard of most Congressional elections.

As of March 31, Rice had raised about $326,000 for his bid over the course of the cycle while Duncan had raised about $230,000.

The contest has long appeared ripe for a self-funder to step in and make himself relevant with the power of his own checkbook. And that’s what happened in late March.

Air Force veteran and wealthy businessman Joe Grimaud filed for the race at the end of March and announced his presence by loaning his campaign $300,000.

Grimaud — who changed his residency from the 2nd district to the 3rd district in March when he decided to run — makes no apologies for being a self-funder.

“I have had the fortunate good business experience that I can support my own campaign,” said Grimaud, who previously self-funded a losing special election bid in 2001 against now-Rep. Joe Wilson (R). “I am able and I am perfectly willing to do that.”

But Duncan’s campaign, which was endorsed by former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) last week, said Wednesday that it’ll take more than just deep pockets to win the primary.

“I really think the voters of the district expect to have the opportunity to get to know their future Congressman,” Duncan’s campaign manager Allen Klump said. “It makes it very difficult to come in and spend some money when we’ve had a year to establish a pretty solid ground game in all 10 counties” in the district.

In South Carolina’s 1st district, state Rep. Tim Scott (R) got off to a strong start in the first quarter in the race to replace retiring Rep. Henry Brown (R).

Scott, who dropped his bid for lieutenant governor in early February to run for the newly open seat, raked in about $246,000 in less than two months of campaigning. After spending just $20,000 of that, Scott reported the most cash on hand of any of the candidates in the crowded primary.

That’s particularly impressive because he bested a pair of candidates with well-known names in South Carolina politics. Carroll Campbell III, the namesake son of a late former governor of South Carolina, reported $87,000 in the bank, and Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond, the son of the legendary late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), had a little more than $128,000 in cash on hand.

Arkansas is home to three open-seat races this cycle, and two of them will take place in seats that aren’t in much danger of switching hands this fall. As a result, the real race in the 1st and 3rd districts will take place in the May 18 primary.

Rogers Mayor Steve Womack (R) won the money chase in an abbreviated fundraising quarter in the heavily Republican 3rd district.

After Rep. John Boozman (R) suddenly announced in early February that he was forgoing re-election to run for Senate, Womack threw his hat into the ring and raised $142,000 in less than two months. State Sen. Cecile Bledsoe raised $106,000 with the help of about $33,000 of her own money. Three other GOP candidates — former state Sen. Gunner DeLay, attorney Steve Lowry and Gravette City Councilman Kurt Maddox — raised about $75,000 for their campaigns. Lowry and Maddox achieved that mark mostly with their own money.

Farther east in the 1st district, retiring Rep. Marion Berry’s (D) former chief of staff Chad Causey (D) narrowly won the first-quarter fundraising battle in the race to replace his old boss.

Causey, who entered the race shortly after Berry announced his retirement at the end of January, raised $270,000 in a little over two months. It appears his top competitor will be former state Sen. Tim Wooldridge (D), who raised $240,000 during that time. Causey had $212,000 to spend with seven weeks to go in the primary while Wooldridge had $181,000.

The winner of the Democratic primary will be strongly favored in this historically Democratic district, but the Republican candidate, farm broadcaster Rick Crawford, will at least have money to try to make it competitive. Crawford raised $200,000 in the first quarter.

California’s primary will take place on June 8, and the GOP race in the safely Republican 19th is shaping up to be an expensive affair.

State Sen. Jeff Denham (R) raised $493,000 and spent $185,000 in the first quarter in the race to replace retiring Rep. George Radanovich (R). Former Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) wasn’t too far behind. He raised $465,000 and spent more than a quarter of a million dollars in the first quarter.

Florida’s primary won’t take place until August, but first-quarter reports show that physician Rudy Moise (D) is drowning the competition in a flood of cash in the safely Democratic 17th district seat which Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) is leaving to run for Senate.

Moise raised $302,000 in the first quarter, with $200,000 of that coming in the form of a personal loan to his campaign. That was good enough to beat his closest primary challenger by more than $275,000.

He ended March with $251,000 in the bank, but Moise, who is making his first run for office, will likely need that cash advantage to defeat the better-known state and local elected officials he’s facing in the primary, including state Sen. Frederica Wilson and Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson.