The House Democratic fundraising committee heads into the remaining months of the midterm campaign with more than twice as much as cash as its Republican counterpart after a series of victories in special elections.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has seen candidates it backed win seven straight special House elections during President Barack Obama’s term; the latest victory occurred May 18 in a Pennsylvania district that Republican presidential candidate John McCain carried in 2008.
The DCCC began this month with $27.3 million in cash, compared with $11.4 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee, spokesmen for the groups said.
Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, who leads the DCCC, said the group’s fundraising efforts have benefited from strong candidates. Others praise Van Hollen’s efforts.
“You’ve got to give Van Hollen and his guys credit,” said Peter Fenn, a Democratic strategist who works on congressional races. “They have really dug in their heels and they’re playing hardball. They have done the money piece, they have done the opposition research piece, they have helped these candidates with serious messaging.”
The winner in the Pennsylvania House race, Mark Critz, was sworn into office yesterday. That gave Democrats 255 House members to 177 for the Republicans.
Other parts of the Democratic political apparatus have been less successful. The party lost governorships last year in Virginia and New Jersey, states that supported Obama in 2008. The victory by Republican Scott Brown in a Massachusetts special election in January deprived Democrats of their 60-vote majority in the Senate.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee backed Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter in his losing primary race on May 18 to Democratic Representative Joe Sestak. The same day, Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln failed to get enough votes to avoid a June 8 runoff with primary challenger Bill Halter, a fellow Democrat.
The two seats are among those Republicans have targeted as strong pickup possibilities in November. Democrats currently control the Senate, 59-41.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele described Specter’s loss as a “blow” to Obama. “Arlen Specter’s loss should strike fear in the hearts of congressional Democrats who choose to embrace the president’s reckless liberal agenda,” he said in a statement.
Yet in the Pennsylvania House district that didn’t support Obama, Critz won the seat vacated by the late Democrat John Murtha. Republican attempts to paint Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “bogeymen” and link Critz to them didn’t work, Van Hollen said.
“This was like a reality check on the Republican hype about running the table” in the November congressional elections, Van Hollen said in an interview.
Pelosi, a California Democrat, yesterday called the race’s outcome a “big, big victory” for Democrats. She told reporters that the lesson was that “nationalizing the election, talking about Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, was not as appealing to the voters there as Mark Critz talking to them about their jobs.”
She also cautioned that it was best not to “read too much into any election results, even when they’re in your favor.”
‘60 Other Seats’
Republicans said Critz’s success doesn’t hurt their prospects in November for big gains in the House. “There are 60 other seats better than that for us to play in,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who is in charge of recruiting Republican House candidates.
McCarthy said he hopes the Pennsylvania race “lulls” Democrats “into a false sense of security.”
While Democrats face a “challenging political environment,” Van Hollen dismissed Republican claims that they can capture a House majority.
Van Hollen also said he knows the president’s party typically loses seats in Congress in the first mid-term elections. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said in a May 19 speech that the party that occupies the White House has lost an average of four Senate seats and 28 House seats in the last 17 midterm elections.
The DCCC’s winning streak in special elections may come to an end tomorrow in a special House election in Hawaii. Party leaders failed to prevent two Democrats from seeking the seat that fellow party member Neil Abercrombie vacated. A split Democratic vote may result in a Republican winner.
“The math is very tough,” Van Hollen said. His committee is focusing on the November contest for a new House term in that district, which is heavily Democratic, he said.
In 2009, the committee spent $3 million on independent expenditures to help candidates, according to Federal Election Commission records. That’s compared with $1.7 million spent by the Republican committee.
The NRCC did raise more money in April, taking in $7.1 million and spending $5.7 million, according to spokesman Paul Lindsay. DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said his committee brought in $5.1 million last month and spent $3.9 million.
In the Pennsylvania special election, the DCCC and NRCC spent similar amounts, just under $1 million, according to FEC records.
Though the money race is a key component in political battles, the fight for control of Congress isn’t all about fundraising or about voter opinion of Obama and other national political leaders, strategists in both parties say.
“Voters are discerning enough to know when someone is not up for the job,” said Eddie Mahe, a Republican consultant. “If there’s a flawed candidate involved, voters will vote accordingly. That overrides parties, Tea Parties, Obama or everything else.”