Close Calls Spur House Democrats to Focus on Fundraising

U.S. Representative Tim Walz
U.S. Representative Tim Walz. Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. Representative Tim Walz estimates at the beginning of each new House term how much money he thinks he’ll need to win re-election the following year and when he plans to raise it.

This year, after a barrage of ads from outside groups almost cost him his seat last November, the Minnesota Democrat accelerated his fundraising. He raised $207,373 during the first three months of 2011, a 32 percent increase from what he took in during the same period two years earlier, Federal Election Commission records show.

Some Democratic lawmakers such as Walz, who is in his third term, have increased early fundraising to protect against advertising attacks by Republican-leaning independent groups that didn’t exist at the beginning of the 2010 election cycle.

“We want to have the resources to get our message out,” said Walz, 47. “I would rest a little easier if the hay was in the barn” well before next year’s election, he said.

Republican-leaning groups such as American Crossroads and related Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, both founded by former Bush White House aide Karl Rove, spent $184 million on the 2010 elections, about $100 million more than Democratic organizations, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a Washington-based research group.

House Majority

The spending helped Republicans win 63 House seats and a majority in the chamber. It also helped erode support for Democratic House incumbents such as Walz and Maurice Hinchey of New York.

Neither was among those rated politically vulnerable a month before Election Day, according to the three Washington-based publications that tracked the 2010 congressional races -- the Cook Political Report, the Rothenberg Political Report and Congressional Quarterly. Each ended up in tight races, though. And both are among those Democrats taking steps earlier than in the past to fortify their political position in the 2012 election.

Walz polled 49 percent of November’s vote to win a four-candidate race in which Republican leaning groups spent $410,832 on ads opposing him. Two years earlier, he was re-elected with 63 percent.

The ad attack on him continued this year. Crossroads GPS in February paid for spots criticizing Walz’s vote against Republican budget proposals.

Tax-Cut Issue

Crossroads GPS also ran radio ads in Hinchey’s district in December, shortly after he had won his 10th term, urging him to support extending Bush-era tax cuts. He opposed the measure, which passed.

American Crossroads spent $533,584 in the 2010 campaign against Hinchey, who won with 53 percent of the vote after receiving 66 percent in 2008.

Preparing for another battle in 2012, he took in $55,573 in the first quarter of the year, a 40 percent increase from his total for the comparable period two years ago. “I’m hoping we’ll be able to raise more,” Hinchey said.

While Republicans will push to expand their House majority by going after Democrats such as Walz and Hinchey who survived tough races in 2010, Democrats have set their sights on potentially vulnerable Republican freshmen at it tries to win back a majority in the chamber.

Republican Fundraising

To try to blunt this effort, some first-term Republicans are outpacing their 2009 fundraising. Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said strong early fundraising may deter some Democrats from challenging the incumbents.

“These reports go a long way in determining their opposition,” Lindsay said.

Republican Representative Allen West, who defeated Democrat Ron Klein in a Florida district, raised $456,873 during the first three months of 2011, more than 10 times the $42,970 he took in during the same period two years ago. He had $242,614 in the bank compared with $52,504 in 2009.

“I think I’ll be able to do all right,” West said. “If you do what’s right for the American people, they’ll want you to come back here.”

Republican Representative David McKinley of West Virginia, who won an open seat that had been held by a Democrat, took in $539,736 and had $500,557 in the bank as of March 31. Two years ago, he wasn’t running yet. He paid himself back $85,000 that he lent to his 2010 campaign. A member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, McKinley received $10,000 from the political action committee of Allegheny Energy Inc., owned by Akron, Ohio-based First Energy Corp., and $8,000 from Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp.’s PAC.

Party Figures

Other fundraising figures for 2011’s first quarter showed that the parties’ House and Senate political committees took in comparable amounts.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it raised $19.6 million during the year’s first three months, more than in any first quarter in a non-election year. The National Republican Congressional Committee said it raised $18.1 million, more than double its haul during the same period two years earlier.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said it raised $11.6 million, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee said it brought in $11.2 million.

Democrats control the Senate 53-47. DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil said the committee expected to have enough money “to not only protect our majority next year, but also play offense in 2012.”

Rob Jesmer, the NRSC executive director, said the committee’s goal was “to ensure that not a single Republican candidate loses on Election Day because of a lack of financial resources.”

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