Hey, Big Spender: Incumbents’ Strategy Differs

by Nathan L. Gonzales August 2, 2008 · 12:05 AM EDT

In a year when many GOP incumbents are considered vulnerable, there appear to be two classes of Republicans emerging when it comes to campaign cash: those who spent money early and forfeited their cash advantage and those who maintain their advantage by either saving their money or raising enough to compensate for early spending.

Alaska Rep. Don Young (R) has only a narrow cash-on-hand advantage over the likely Democratic nominee, former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, after blowing through more than $2.3 million through June 30. The bulk of Young’s spending has been on attorneys’ fees, and the Congressman is in serious jeopardy of losing renomination in the Aug. 26 GOP primary.

In Washington’s 8th district, Rep. Dave Reichert (R) spent $805,000 through June 30 and now has less cash on hand than his opponent, Darcy Burner (D). Reichert’s high-overhead fundraiser with President Bush and an expensive fundraising adviser were key factors. Through June 30, Burner had more cash on hand, $1.2 million to $916,000.

Florida Rep. Tom Feeney (R) has met his fundraising match in former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D). The Congressman raised $1.4 million through June 30, compared to $1.1 million for his Democratic opponent. But because Feeney, the former Speaker of the Florida House, spent $663,000 already, he trailed in cash on hand, $936,000 to $795,000.

Missouri Rep. Sam Graves (R) is essentially even in cash on hand with former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes (D) after spending heavily on early television ads.

Other GOP incumbents, such as Michigan Rep. Joe Knollenberg ($822,000), Nevada Rep. Jon Porter ($900,000), Pennsylvania Rep. Phil English ($745,000), and Virginia Rep. Thelma Drake ($661,000), have also spent heavily early and led their opponents in available funds.

A number of Republicans are perennial Democratic targets and spent money early in their effort to solidify their standing. They’ve also left themselves in a good cash-on-hand situation, despite their spending, heading into the home stretch.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) spent $693,000 through June 30, running a full campaign operation for months, but had almost $1.7 million in the bank. His opponent, Jim Himes (D), had more than $1.4 million. Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) spent $1.2 million, and still had almost the same amount on hand, and four times that of his opponent, Larry Kissell (D).

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) faces a tough re-election race in the heart of Barack Obama country. The GOP Congressman spent almost $1.1 million through June 30, but had more than $2.8 million on hand, the second most cash on hand for a Republican in the House, behind only Ron Paul (Texas), the erstwhile presidential contender. Kirk faces a rematch with 2006 Democratic nominee Dan Seals ($1.2 million cash on hand) this fall.

Freshman Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) also sits in a competitive, suburban Chicago district, but he does not appear to have a tough Democratic challenger. Roskam spent $684,000 through June 30. Pennsylvania Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) also spent a lot of money early, to the tune of $1.1 million. Despite paying a $120,000 Federal Election Commission fine, the Congressman still had almost a 3-1 cash advantage over his opponent.

And in Florida’s 13th district, Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) still maintains an almost 3-1 cash advantage, even after spending nearly $1.4 million through June 30.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) spent $947,000 on her race through June 30. But she still had an astounding $2.8 million in the bank, and appears to be slipping further down the list of GOP opportunities.

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) has already spent $750,000 on his re-election in California’s 11th district. But fortunately for him, his GOP opponent Dean Andal has disappointed as a fundraiser, and McNerney led in cash on hand, $1.4 million to $663,000.

Two other freshman Democrats have spent a considerable amount of money, but still don’t know their GOP opponents. Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney spent $1.35 million through June 30 on his re-election and Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota spent $841,000.

In Illinois’s 8th district, Rep. Melissa Bean (D) spent almost $1.2 million through June 30, but she still had more than $1.5 in the bank and the self-funding threat of her challenger, Steve Greenberg (R), has yet to materialize.