All incumbent money leads are not created equal

Mike Glover of the Associated Press bureau in Des Moines wrote a piece this week on the huge money advantage that Senator Tom Harkin and Iowa's five U.S. House incumbents have over their opponents.

I'll have more to say on this topic in future posts, but for now I want to note one thing: although nearly all incumbents are able to outspend their opponents, that is not always enough to overcome a national tidal wave toward the other party.

Bruce Braley (D, IA-01), Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (D, IA-03) all represent districts with a Democratic tilt (of varying degrees) in what is likely to be a very big Democratic year.

The odds-makers might favor Tom Latham (R, IA-04) and Steve King (R, IA-05) now, but in a big year for the challenger's party, money and the other advantages of incumbency are not always enough to win.

Just ask Neal Smith, who was an 18-term incumbent and had more clout in 1994 than any Iowan currently serving in the U.S. House. I can't find campaign finance statistics going back that far, but I would bet that he spent more trying to keep his seat (IA-04) than Republican Greg Ganske spent in taking him down.

Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley spent "what aides say may total $1.5 million to $2 million, a staggering amount for a House race" in 1994, but he still lost to George Nethercutt in Washington's fifth district.

Chris Bowers had the most accurate final House forecast in 2006. But following several states' primaries in September of that year, he wrote:

NH-01 drops off the board since upset winner Shea-Porter has only 3% of her opponent's cash

And in his final House update, published on November 6, 2006, Bowers still had Shea-Porter's race in the "likely Republican" category, commenting, "If she wins, Carol Shea-Porter will become a legend."

Her shocking victory in New Hampshire's first district over an entrenched Republican incumbent was indeed legendary.

Obviously, it's better for a challenger to have as much money to spend as possible, which is why I've been encouraging Democrats to donate to our good Democratic candidates like Rob Hubler, who is taking on King in IA-05, and Becky Greenwald, who is running against Latham in IA-04.

Also, I would like to see another "Use it or lose it" campaign to encourage our ultra-safe Democratic incumbents giving more to the DCCC and DSCC. That would help reduce the money disparity faced by our challengers in many districts.

But I strongly disagree with the contention that a big lead in cash on hand makes Latham and King as safe as Iowa's Democratic incumbents this year.

There's more...

We need another "Use It Or Lose It" campaign

On Saturday a fundraising solicitation arrived in the mail from Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. It asked me to confirm delivery of the enclosed "supporter card" within ten days, and also to "help keep my 2008 re-election campaign on the road to victory" with a special contribution.

Funny, I wasn't aware that Harkin needed any extra help. Everyone in the election forecasting business has labeled this seat safe for him. The available polling shows Harkin with a comfortable lead.

According to Open Secrets, Harkin had $4.1 million cash on hand at the end of the second quarter. His little-known Republican opponent, Christopher Reed, has raised a total of $11,765 for his Senate campaign and had $292 (two hundred and ninety-two dollars) on hand as of June 30.

Harkin's letter got me thinking that we need a "Use It Or Lose It" campaign for 2008.

In 2006, MyDD and launched a "Use It Or Lose It" campaign to contact "ultra-safe Democratic House Representatives and ask them to help fully fund all of our competitive challengers this cycle." The project spurred at least $2.3 million in additional major donations from House incumbents (click the link to read details).

A similar project targeted at safe incumbents in the House and Senate has the potential to raise even more money this year.

The Democratic House and Senate campaign committees have been crushing their Republican counterparts in fundraising. At the end of the second quarter, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had about $46.2 million cash on hand, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had $54.7 million cash on hand. As of June 30, the DSCC had about twice the cash on hand as the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the DCCC had six times the cash on hand as the National Republican Congressional Committee.

But we should be able to outspend the Republicans even more if our Democrats in safe seats donate more to the relevant committees.

Everyone agrees that the Democrats have an unusually large number of solid pickup opportunities. Here's the Swing State Project list of competitive Senate races. All them are Republican-held but one (Louisiana), and that one is "lean Democratic." Only one Democratic-held seat (New Jersey) is even on the "races to watch" list.

Look at the most recent Senate forecast by Chris Bowers. He's projecting a pickup of six seats. He also lists ten "Democratic held, uncompetitive locks":

Arkansas (Pryor), Delaware (Biden), Illinois (Durbin), Iowa (Harkin), Massachusetts (Kerry), Michigan (Levin), Montana (Baucus), Rhode Island (Reed), South Dakota (Johnson), West Virginia (Rockefeller)

I haven't added up the cash on hand numbers for all those incumbents from the latest FEC filings, but it must total many millions of dollars.

In the past six weeks, the DSCC has sent out many fundraising e-mails touting "11 battleground states" (Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Virginia).

How many more Senate races could become more competitive if the DSCC were able to put significant resources behind our candidates? Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia immediately come to mind.

The netroots are already working hard to promote Democratic challengers for Republican-held seats. Daily Kos has featured 10 House and four Senate candidates in its "Orange to Blue" ActBlue page. MyDD is raising money for five Senate candidates on its "Road to 60" ActBlue page. SenateGuru even went "on strike" until readers donated enough to three of eleven candidates on SenateGuru's ActBlue page.

But it's likely that Tom Harkin alone could donate more to the DSCC than all of the donors to all of those ActBlue pages combined.

Not only that, but safe Democratic incumbents sitting on huge war chests could do a lot for legislative candidates in their home states. A few thousand dollars can go very far in a statehouse race.

I don't mean to pick on Harkin. (After all, he was the only senator to have the guts to vote against confirming Gen. David Petraeus as the new chief of U.S. Central Command last month.)

More to the point, I know Harkin is already helping other Democrats. He has reportedly donated to the Iowa Democratic Party's GOTV efforts. Over the weekend he held a joint event with Becky Greenwald, the Democratic candidate for Iowa's fourth Congressional district. Earlier this summer, he gave $2,000 each to five Iowa House and five Iowa Senate candidates, plus an extra $5,000 to two candidates who received the most votes from constituents in Harkin's "Building Blue" contest. I hear rumors that Harkin will hold fundraisers for other Democratic candidates in key Iowa statehouse races, or perhaps donate substantial amounts to the Iowa House and Senate Democratic leadership funds.

For all I know Harkin has already donated a substantial amount to the DSCC as well. I couldn't find a list of Senate incumbents who have given to that fund.

But still--Harkin had more than $4.1 million in the bank at the end of June, which is more than 14,000 times the amount his Republican challenger had in the bank. Couldn't Harkin dig a little deeper to help the DSCC get behind Scott Kleeb, Jim Slattery, Andrew Rice and other good Democrats?

While I've talked primarily about Senate races in this diary, of course a potential "Use It Or Lose It" 2008 campaign should also focus on some House incumbents. The DCCC has reserved ad time in 51 districts so far, and only 17 of those are Democratic-held. (Click here for the first wave of DCCC ad buys and here to see the 20 districts targeted in the second wave.) I take that to mean that the DCCC feels confident about holding more than 200 of our House seats.

There have to be at least 150 House Democrats who meet the "ultra safe" standard and should be putting more of their campaign funds into the DCCC pot.

Look at Swing State Project's list of competitive House races. Four Republican-held seats are in the "lean Democrat" category, another 11 are "tossups", another 17 are "lean Republican," and at least two dozen more could become competitive with more money for Democratic challengers to spend. Meanwhile, no Democratic-held seats are in the "lean R" category, and only two are even rated tossups.

How many of those Lean R or Likely R races can we break open with more money for challengers to spend? How many races not even on Swing State Project's list right now could become surprise wins for us, along the lines of NH-01 in 2006?

For instance, Swing State Project's list does not currently include the two Republican-held seats in Iowa, but in my opinion both Becky Greenwald in IA-04 and Rob Hubler in IA-05 have a chance to win in a strong Democratic year. (I explain why here and here.)

I look forward to reading your thoughts and suggestions on a possible Use It Or Lose It campaign.

There's more...

IL-13 What Can Happen in Four Days

Crossposted at DK, TPM, Prairie State Blue, and Swing State Project

Last Monday July 21st Sarah Topy and her staff at the Scott Harper campaign were looking forward to a week of data processing, fundraising and preparing for a big push in August after the immensely successful event they organized called "13 for the 13th" on July 13th, the single biggest Dem canvass ever held in IL-13.

There was a lot of file updating yet to do and wouldn't you know Monday was the day the state guys finally had the new voter file ready to download. The new VAN basically updated and transformed all our files to new software and it was an all day procedure installing it. The files were still offline Monday night when I showed up at campaign HQ to make some calls. Rich Caparrell the field director was in Maryland for a much deserved long weekend off. We had another canvass scheduled for Saturday but volunteer turnout was expected to be light in the middle of vacation season and especially so soon after the big effort on July 13th. It wasn't downtime but it's as close as they'll get in the next few months on Harper's campaign.

Well that was the plan anyway, but it wasn't to be. Read on for how those best laid plans went out the window in an instant and what happened next.

There's more...

DCCC Expands List of Reserved Ad Buys

A couple weeks ago, the DCCC revealed the 31 races they're targeting with $35 million worth of ad buys this fall (so far the time is just reserved, not bought.) The list consisted of 11 Democratic incumbents and one Dem open seat where the committee would be going on defense; the rest are seats currently held by the GOP.

We really have an embarrassment of riches this year, especially considering how many seats we took last cycle, but thanks to a plethora of GOP retirements and a favorable political environment for Democrats, whereas the DCCC's 2007 goal was to put 35-40 GOP seats in play, the 2008 reality is that there are actually 62 seats the DCCC considers competitive. So, it is not surprising to see the list of races where the DCCC is reserving ad time expand by 20 seats for a total of $53 million in 51 districts.

From Swing State Project:

AL-02 (Open): $598K
AL-05 (Open): $678K
AZ-08 (Giffords - D): $705K
CA-04 (Open) & CA-11 (McNerney - D): $2.03M
FL-18 (Ros-Lehtinen - R), FL-21 (L. Diaz-Balart - R) and FL-25 (M. Diaz Balart - R): $1.4M
ID-01 (Sali - R): $349K
IL-10 (Kirk - R): $1.4M
IL-11 (Weller - R): $1.6M
IL-14 (Foster - D): $1.02M
LA-04 (Open): $714K
MO-06 (Graves - R): $798K
MS-01 (Childers - D): $1.06M
NJ-03 (Open): $1.7M
NY-25 (Open), NY-26 (Open), NY-29 (Kuhl - R): $2.7M
WA-08 (Reichert - R): $949,000

Chris Cilizza breaks it down:

When examining all 51 districts in which the DCCC has so far reserved ad time, 34 of the districts (66 percent) are Republican held while the remaining 17 are controlled by Democrats.

Unlike elections past, however, House Democrats are focusing as much on incumbents as open seats. Of the 34 Republican seats, 17 are open while 17 are held by members. That speaks to the treacherous national environment in which the GOP currently finds itself with a far larger number of incumbents in jeopardy than previous elections.

Great to see they intend to compete hard for Darcy, Charlie Brown and Eric Massa among others. And it's good to see the DCCC is as bullish on those 3 southern Florida seats as I am after meeting Annette Taddeo and Joe Garcia at Netroots Nation.

There's more...

Democratic Cong. Campaign C'tees Hit $100 Mil. On-Hand

With the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee now fully part of the two parties' presumptive nominees' campaign efforts and likely to spend the great bulk of their cash on the race for the White House, I'm splitting off the two national committees from my monthly tally of the finance filings of the parties' congressional committees to write about them instead in tandem with posts on the fundraising of John McCain and Barack Obama. So on their own, here are the latest numbers on the parties' congressional campaign committees:

CommitteeJune ReceiptsJune DisbursementsJune Cash-on-HandJune Debts & Obligations
DSCC (est.) $10,800,000.00$3,000,000.00$46,300,000.00$0
NRSC (est.)$6,000,000.00$3,000,000.00$24,600,000.00$0

Right now the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has close to a 2-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over the National Republican Senatorial Committee, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's edge over the National Republican Congressional Committee on the House side is roughly 6.5-to-1. Overall, the two Democratic committees have a 3-to-1 lead in cash in the bank, as well as an astonishing $100 million available.

These numbers again underscore the fact that although the punditry can try to make it seem that the race for control of Congress, or even Democratic efforts to significantly increase their majorities in both Houses, are closer than they actually are, the money race makes it exceedingly difficult for the Republicans to do much to defend themselves this year. Coupled with the generic congressional ballot polling showing the Democrats maintaining a wide advantage within the electorate, these fundraising numbers show again that the Democrats maintain a real opportunity to bring sweeping change this fall -- a situation that can only occur, however, if the party remains diligent and energized through election day.


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