TX-07: Michael Skelly is the Real Deal

Reading The Politico last night, this really jumped out at me:

Businessman Michael Skelly is positioned to be at the top of the Democratic fundraising list for the year's first quarter, according to a Democratic operative, raising about $750,000 from individual donors without even tapping into his substantial personal wealth. Another Democratic operative said it could be the "best first quarter ever" for any House Democrat in his first filing period.


By contrast, [the incumbent Republican Congressman John] Culberson reported only $82,200 in his campaign account in mid-February but claims to have worked over the past month to quickly refill his coffers. Culberson estimated he raised $250,000 in the past 45 days -- largely in response to Skelly's strong early fundraising and his ability to self-fund. [emphasis added]

Raising $750,000 in a quarter without a personal check is what a decent candidate for the Senate in a smallish-medium state does, not what a Democratic candidate in a very red district does. I was really floored by the numbers and started calling and emailing around. This is what I found out from folks in Texas, as well as Oregon Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer:

Texas 7 would be a fun district to play in, let alone to win in -- it was once held by George Herbert Walker Bush and has been in Republican hands ever since. Looking at the topline demographics from the district, one might come away with the conclusion that there's no way a Democrat, Skelly or someone else, could win. According to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, the district tends to lean about 16 points more Republican than the nation as a whole in presidential elections. However, those numbers were weighed against elections in which a Texan, George Walker Bush, headed the GOP ticket, so that number might be a bit lower in reality. Indeed, last fall Culberson won with 59 percent of the vote -- not bad, but not overwhelmingly great, either. The Politico adds a bit more on the demographics:

Texas Democrats point to a state legislative race within the district, where a Democratic state legislator unseated a two-term Republican by 10 points. And they are encouraged by the roughly 88,000 districtwide Democrats (out of 410,000 registered voters) who participated in the Democratic presidential primary in March, with one Democratic operative calling the voter information a "gold mine."

Via Texas über-blogger Charles Kuffner also comes a bit of internal polling (.pdf) from the Skelly team. Skelly, who was largely unknown at the time the poll was taken in January, trailed only 52 percent to 33 percent in a named head-to-head against Culberson. The incumbent's favorable rating stood at just 32 percent, while his approval and re-elect numbers, at 46 percent and 44 percent respectively, weren't much better. The survey also found that the current President's disapproval rating stood at 54 percent in the district.

Taking one more step back, I'd like to pass on some thoughts from my old boss Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who has been keeping an eye on this race and whom I spoke with about Skelly this morning. Blumenauer calls this "one of those intriguing districts," one "that the Republicans can't afford to throw a lot of resources to." While Culberson has "ruffled lots of feathers back home" by "hewing the Tom DeLay line," Skelly is a really attractive candidate. As an entrepreneur, Skelly became a real innovator in the area of wind energy, a sector of the economy that is bringing a lot of growth to the state of Texas. What's more, Skelly isn't yet drawing a whole lot of institutional support, so the remarkable fundraising numbers that he has been posting truly reflect "grassroots support," according to Blumenauer.

I don't think anyone should kid themselves: This is a tough district for the Democrats. Nevertheless, the Democrats already hold one district in the state that's even more red that the 7th (Texas 17, which is home to George W. Bush, is represented by Democrat Chet Edwards), and the nearly neighboring 22nd district now represented by Democrat Nick Lampson (and formerly represented by Tom DeLay) is nearly as Republican-leaning as Culberson's. And with a candidate as strong as Skelly, who knows, maybe this one could jump out of nowhere, a la the race against Richard Pombo last year, and cause real headaches for the GOP.

There's more...

Dem Committees Continue Their Financial Dominance

Well, it's the 20th of the month, so that means it's time to take a peak into the finances of the two parties three main fundraising arms -- the main party committee and the committees for each house of Congress.

CommitteeFebruary ReceiptsFebruary DisbursementsFebruary Cash-on-HandFebruary Debts & Obligations
DSCC (est.) $4,800,000.00$2,500,000.00$32,800,000.00$500,000.00
NRSC (est.)$3,900,000.00$1,900,000.00$15,300,000$0

A few things are worth noting out of these numbers. First, the Democratic committees have better than a $28 million net cash-on-hand advantage over their GOP rivals. This works out to a rather remarkable 65 percent advantage just nine months out from election day. Would it be preferable to see the Democratic National Committee do as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, both nominally and relatively? No doubt. But these numbers, along with the numbers from presidential and congressional candidates alike, show that overall the Democratic Party as a whole is on extremely strong footing at this point.

Looking a little more narrowly, the DCCC appears to have successfully head faked the National Republican Congressional Committee into spending way too much money on its losing effort in the special election in Illinois 14th congressional district, which was vacated by former House Speaker Denny Hastert. Over the month of February, the NRCC, which already trailed the DCCC by about $30 million in net cash-on-hand, spent 38 percent more than the DCCC while raising 27 percent less. Combined with the hundreds of thousands of dollars the committee believed it had but in fact didn't, the financial situation at the NRCC probably could not get worse.

Finally, one cannot leave out the DSCC, which has better than a net 2-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over the National Republican Senatorial Committee. With the DSCC on offense in well over half a dozen races -- and perhaps even a dozen or more -- the situation over at the NRSC is fairly dire, as well.

House Dems Have Another Great Special Election Pick-Up Opp.

Nice catch from The Daily Kingfish (via Breaking Blue): The Cook Political Report (subscription required) now rates the May 3rd special election in Louisiana's 6th congressional district as a "toss-up."

Meanwhile, the special election to replace GOP Rep. Richard Baker's seat in Louisiana continues to give national Republicans heartburn. Less than three weeks away from the April 5th primary runoff, competitive primaries are playing out in both parties. Insiders on both sides agree the nomination of the current favorites - moderate Democratic state Rep. Don Cazayoux and GOP newspaper publisher Woody Jenkins - would present something akin to a perfect storm for Democrats in the May 3rd special general election.

The results of the March 8th special primary illustrated Republicans' problems in this race. Like many in the South, this Baton Rouge-based district's track record at the federal level (it gave President Bush 59 percent in 2004) flies in the face of its party registration breakdown (49.6 percent Democratic to 28.1 percent Republican). But in the special primary, turnout appeared much more reflective of party registration than federal-level performance. The fact that 47,632 Democrats and just 29,875 Republicans turned out to vote is evidence of a serious enthusiasm gap between the parties. Of course, it is difficult to gauge how the district's fundamentals have changed since Hurricane Katrina added tens of thousands of new residents to the Baton Rouge area.

I've written about this race before, and it's worth noting once again that Cazayoux is a very conservative Democrat who, if elected in a month and a half, would likely find himself on the far right of his caucus in the chamber. However, it's also worth explicitly stating that Cazayoux would almost undoubtedly be a better member than Jenkins, both because he would caucus with the Democrats rather than the Republicans and because for as conservative as he is, Jenkins is that much more conservative.

Taking one step back, this race is good news for the House Democrats more broadly. The House GOP simply cannot afford to have to invest serious dollars defending another open seat special election -- particularly one that they should be able to win without an investment by the National Republican Congressional Committee (which sent out more money than it took in last month). If the Republicans keep on having to pour money into safe districts like Illinois 14 (which leans about 5 points more Republican than the nation as a whole in presidential elections) and Louisiana 6 (which tended to lean about 6 points more Republican than the nation as a whole before Hurricane Katrina shook things up in the state), there's simply no way they're going to be able to defend even more vulnerable seats come November -- let alone go after potentially vulnerable Democratic seats.

There's more...

Yet Another House GOPer from Marginal District Retires

This one makes 30 by my count (counting seats left open during the middle of the campaign cycle, including IL-14):

GOP sources confirm that Rep. Tom Reynolds, a Western NY Congressman since 1999 and ex-NRCC chairman, will announce around noon tomorrow in Buffalo that he will not seek re-election this fall. Reynolds spokesman LD Platt did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

Reynolds, who is also a former Assembly minority leader, has been pushing back against retirement rumors for some time now.

But the recent NRCC fraud scandal - some of which took place on his watch - has made his re-election effort that much more difficult in an already tough year (increasingly Democratic state, presidential election etc).

Reynolds' district, New York's 26th, tends to lean about 3 points more Republican than the nation as a whole in presidential elections. But as we've seen over the last several cycles (and 2006, in particular), the Northeast is becoming increasingly hostile territory for Republicans, and specifically Republicans in the House. With at least one strong Democratic candidate already in the race -- Iraq War veteran Jon Powers, who had already raised a respectable $370,000 as of the end of December -- this seat very much could swing blue this fall.

Moreover, this is the 15th district that leans 6 or less points more Republican than the nation as a whole in which the GOP is on the defense without an incumbent in the race, and the 10th that leans 3 or less points more Republican than the nation as a whole. At a time when the National Republican Congressional Committee may have just a net $3 million in the bank, having so many competitive open seats in play is simply a nightmare.

There's more...

NRCC Actually Has $740,000 Less In the Bank It They Reported

As of the latest campaign finance filings, the National Republican Congressional Committee reported having a net $4.1 million in the bank. This number compared with the net $33.8 million held by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at last tally.

It's worth noting that although the NRCC faced worse than an 8-to-1 net cash-on-hand disadvantage against the DCCC as of the end of January, that spread does not include the nearly $1.3 million the committee spent in an unsuccessful effort to save the seat vacated by former House Speaker Denny Hastert (as much of that spending occurred in February and thus will be reported in about a week). What it did apparently include, however, was a whole lot of money that the NRCC didn't actually have.

In what had to be a painful press release to write, the National Republican Congressional Committee -- representing the party taking some hits in recent years for its record on fiscal management and competence -- acknowledged today that Chris Ward, a longtime employee and NRCC treasurer since 2003, had been fabricating financial statements to the bank and handing in "bogus audit reports" from 2002 through 2006.

This story broke last month ...but this latest news is grim.

NRCC chairman Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla, said that "evidence we have today indicates we have been deceived and betrayed for a number of years by a highly respected and trusted individual. From the moment we learned that bogus financial statements had been submitted to the bank on our behalf, we took decisive and speedy action by contacting the FBI, which opened a criminal investigation."

Cole said that an external review found that at the end of 2006, "the NRCC's actual cash on hand was approximately $990,000 less than the amount reported to the FEC. The actual cash on hand as of the NRCC's most recent FEC report for January 31, 2008 (filed on February 20, 2008) was $740,000 less than the amount reported to the FEC." [emphasis added]

Taking this stunning new revelation into account, this would mean that the NRCC is actually in a significantly bigger hole than previously projected. Specifically, the NRCC actually has $30.4 million less than the DCCC, and faces greater than a 10-to-1 disadvantage. With numbers like these and serious questions remaining about the way that the committee handles its finances, it's getting hard to see how it would be able to make up much of that difference.

There's more...


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