About a quarter of the 28 most endangered House incumbents have an unusual common problem: well-funded opponents.
“To have challengers at that level of funding this early in a race, everybody knows they’re likely to make this a battle,” Democratic consultant Glenn Totten said.
In 13 of those 28 districts, voters supported a presidential candidate of one party and a House member of the other in the last election. That baker’s dozen of districts are all at the top of the parties’ target lists and challengers in four of the 13 races have established well-funded starts.
The early maneuvering indicates the high stakes in next year’s midterms. In the House, Republicans hold a 233-200 edge with two vacancies. Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to retake control of the chamber in the 2014 elections. While the number may seem small, the task is made harder because mostly Republican-controlled state legislatures redrew district lines before the 2012 elections to their partisan advantage.
“The odds are very low of the Democrats winning back the House because of redistricting and a midterm president that traditionally experiences loss of his party’s seats,” said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington.
Still, Congress has an approval rating of 14 percent and a disapproval rating of 81 percent, according to a Gallup poll conducted Aug. 7-11.
Republicans in Congress had a 19 percent job approval rating and a 73 percent disapproval rating last month, according to a July 28-31 Quinnipiac University survey. For Democrats, 31 percent approved and 61 percent disapproved.
Early fundraising will help the Democrats take advantage of any opportunity to win back the House, if one emerges, said Paul Herrnson, executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and a political science professor at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. “If it turns out to be a nationalized election, that could help a challenger who can ride a wave to victory,” Herrnson said.
The targeted districts were identified by two nonpartisan Washington-based political analysts, Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, as the most competitive. A review of Federal Election Commission reports covering the period from Jan. 1 to June 30 shows the fundraising trends.
Some incumbents are seeking to limit the odds of drawing a strong challenge by banking cash now.
Republican David Valadao, running for re-election in a California district that backed President Barack Obama in 2012, raised $464,095 through June 30. He has yet to draw a top-tier challenger.
“Early money helps scare away opponents,” Republican consultant Eddie Mahe said. “Unless they can see a reasonable path to victory, I think they will stay out.”
In other districts, it’s as though last year’s elections never ended for some members.
Republican Representative Mike Coffman defeated Democratic challenger Joe Miklosi by 2 percentage points in 2012, and immediately was put back on the target list for this season.
Now, both candidates in the Obama-backing 6th District in Colorado, Coffman and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, the 2014 Democratic challenger, reported raising more than $1 million apiece. Romanoff entered July with more money than Coffman in the bank, $918,417 to $854,854.
New York Races
Romanoff was one of three Democratic challengers with more money to spend than the Republican incumbents. The other two were in New York.
In the 11th District, which takes in Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, New York City Councilman Domenic M. Recchia Jr. had $666,072 in the bank as of June 30, compared with $576,733 for two-term Republican incumbent Michael Grimm, who also had debts of $455,649, most of it for legal fees. He faces Justice Department and House Ethics Committee investigations into his fundraising, including allegations he accepted illegal campaign donations.
In a district primarily located south of Albany, Democrat Sean Eldridge reported raising $747,943, including $215,000 from his own pocket, and had $639,255 in the bank. Republican Representative Chris Gibson, seeking a third term in Washington, raised $452,894 and had $430,987 cash on hand.
Republican challengers keeping pace financially with Democratic incumbents include Mia Love in Utah, back for a rematch against Democratic incumbent Jim Matheson, who retained his seat by 768 votes in the second-closest House race of 2012. Love, who was given a coveted opportunity to address last year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, had $455,540 in the bank, compared with $460,356 for the incumbent.
In California, Republican challenger Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego City Council member, entered July with $469,645 to spend, close to the $525,891 that Democratic Representative Scott Peters had in his campaign bank account. And in Illinois, Republican Robert Dold had $615,773 cash on hand as he tries to win back the seat he lost last year to Democrat Brad Schneider, who had $531,166 to spend.
Freshmen who squeaked out wins with small electoral margins are trying to create bigger ones in campaign accounts.
Democratic Representative Patrick Murphy of Florida, who ousted anti-tax Tea Party favorite Allen West in 2012, raised $1.1 million this year through June 30, more than any other candidate representing a congressional district whose voters preferred the presidential nominee of the other party. Another freshman Florida Democrat, Joe Garcia, raised $990,561.
In those competitive districts where significant financial imbalances exist, the two parties are stepping in to fill gaps.
The National Republican Congressional Committee funded ad campaigns against some vulnerable Democrats, such as Murphy, John Barrow of Georgia and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, all of whom also represent districts where voters backed Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
McIntyre, who won by 654 votes in 2012 in the closest House contest nationwide, had $383,068 in cash. He is facing a rematch against Republican David Rouzer, a former state senator, who had $168,270 in his campaign account.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran radio ads against Republican incumbents in four districts Obama carried, including Gary Miller in California and Joe Heck in Nevada; and a separate Spanish-language ad targeted Coffman, Miller and Heck.
“If you have the opportunity to define your opponent early, it’s always advantageous,” said Ian Prior, an NRCC spokesman.
-- Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Robin Meszoly