Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Candidates Battle for Cash in House Open Seats

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Some of the biggest battles in the fight for the House this year will be in open seats, vacated by members running for higher office or retiring. With the power of incumbency, open seats often provide better opportunities for takeover. And now that year-end Federal Election Commission reports are past due, we can get a glimpse at how the candidates are faring financially in these extremely competitive seats.

Colorado 7. GOP Cong. Bob Beauprez was first elected in 2002 in this newly-drawn, suburban Denver district, in the closest race of that cycle. Now, Beauprez is running for governor, leaving Republicans with a difficult seat to hold. John Kerry defeated President Bush 51%-48% in the 7th District in 2004.

Rick O’Donnell (R), the likely GOP nominee, raised $652,000 last year and finished December with $517,068 in the bank. He will face either former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter or former state representative Peggy Lamm (D) in the general election. Perlmutter showed $401,061 on hand at the end of the year compared to Lamm’s $139,370.

Iowa 1. Republicans are defending this seat, because Cong. Jim Nussle (R) is also running for governor. The seat itself leans Democratic (Kerry won 53%-46% in 2004), but Nussle always proved to be a difficult target.

The Democratic nominee will likely be either former Iowa Trial Lawyers Association president Bruce Braley ($289,324 in the bank through the end of the year) or Greater Dubuque Development Corporation director Rick Dickinson ($118,451 on hand through December 31). 2004 nominee Bill Gluba is also in the race, but he only had $28,046 through the fourth quarter.

State Rep. Bill Dix is setting the pace on the Republican side, raising almost $380,000 and finished the year with $256,901. Businessman Mike Whalen raised about $270,000 and chipped in $66,000 of his own money, but his spending left him with $84,304 in the bank. And former state party chairman Brian Kennedy finished December with $164,105 on hand after raising $285,091.

Ohio 6. Cong. Ted Strickland (D) is running for governor, leaving the Democrats with a seat of their own to hold. President Bush won the district narrowly 50%-49% in 2004, but because of Gov. Bob Taft’s (R) abysmal job ratings, the Ohio landscape favors the Democrats.

State Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) raised over $200,000 last year, dumped in another $257,000 of his own money and finished December with a considerable $436,674 in the bank. His likely opponent, state House Speaker Pro Tem Chuck Blasdel (R) showed $296,614 on hand after raising over $370,327. A January 11-12 Cooper & Secrest Associates poll for the Wilson campaign showed the Democrat leading 42%-24%.

Arizona 8. Cong. Jim Kolbe (R) is retiring leaving a headache for Republicans. Kolbe announced in November that he was leaving at the end of his term, so the candidate field is still very fluid. President Bush won the 8th District 53%-46% in 2004, but the seat is very competitive.

State Sen. Gabrielle Giffords (D) raised almost a quarter million dollars and had $242,123 in the bank at the end of the fourth quarter. Her Democratic opponent, former television news anchor Patty Weiss, just announced her candidacy. On the GOP side, former state Rep. Randy Graf (who lost in a primary to Kolbe in 2004) is in the race, but showed only $25,861 on hand on December 31. State Rep. Steve Huffman (R) just announced his candidacy, still more candidates are possibilities, and some Republicans are still hoping U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona will get in.

Illinois 6. Long-time Cong. Henry Hyde (R) is retiring in a suburban Chicago district that President Bush carried only 53%-46% in 2004. State Sen. Peter Roskam will be the GOP nominee and he is off to a strong start, raising over $1 million and finishing the year with $835,113 in the bank.

But neighboring Cong. Rahm Emanuel (D), who is also chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D) are putting all their chips behind Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth (D). Duckworth only started raising money late in the year ($105,073 in the bank on December 31), but should have a very strong first quarter. Duckworth faces 2004 nominee Christine Cegelis ($39,363 on hand on 12/31) and Wheaton College professor Lindy Scott ($79,033 on hand on 12/31) in the Democratic primary.

Overall, Democrats have at least an even shot at winning four out of these five races, with Republicans currently holding a clear advantage in Illinois.

This piece first appeared on Town Hall on February 2, 2006.