- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Looking to break out of the pack of Republicans vying to unseat Rep. Bart Stupak in this year’s election, Daniel J. “Dan” Benishek set a fundraising goal of $219,000 this month — $1,000 for every vote House Democrats cast for the health care bill.

Mr. Benishek is making headway toward that goal thanks mainly to Mr. Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who held out for stiffer pro-life language but ultimately voted for the health care bill after cutting a deal with President Obama.

The health care fight may be over in Congress, but it is still raging among fundraisers.

Republican candidates across the country have turned their appeals away from stopping the bill and now argue that they need money to win office and repeal it. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is in a primary battle, sent out two e-mails to his list last week simply titled “Repeal the bill.”

Meanwhile, Democrats have used reports of threats against lawmakers who voted for the bill to ask donors for money to fight attacks and misinformation.

“Everybody who knows anything knows repeal doesn’t have a chance in hell, but it might be a great way to raise money,” said Jim Spencer, president of the Campaign Network, a leading Democratic fundraising mail outfit. “That’s the pattern I’ve seen on the Republican appeals. They know people in their base are angry and they want to fill their coffers now.”

As for the Democrats, Mr. Spencer said, now that they have a finished bill they can defend against attacks, and that means they can ask for money to back up that defense.

“They’re saying, ‘I’m in for a big fight and they’re saying all these things that aren’t true, and I’ve got to be able to have your money so I can get the facts out,’” he said.

With the end of the first fundraising quarter of this year looming on Wednesday, candidates and political party committees are counting on the divisive issue to help boost their numbers in last-minute appeals. Saul Anuzis, a former state Republican Party chairman in Michigan who announced Mr. Benishek’s $219,000 appeal under the headline “Payback for Stupak’s betrayal,” said he’s talked with plenty of fundraisers and that health care has been working as a pitch for cash.

“Everybody who’s been involved in taking advantage of this vote has seen a bump in their online fundraising,” he said.

Mr. Anuzis said Mr. Benishek had raised nearly $100,000 in less than 72 hours and, just as valuable, gained exposure that helps solidify him as the top Republican in the crowded primary field.

“Without that vote, he would have been an obscure challenger running against a long-term incumbent. With this vote, he has become a nationally watched candidate by the [National Republican Congressional] Committee and pro-life activists all over the country,” Mr. Anuzis said.

Mr. Stupak for months led opposition to the Senate health care bill, arguing that it allowed taxpayer money to fund abortions. But after Mr. Obama signed an executive order reasserting existing federal laws, which bar the use of federal dollars on the procedure, Mr. Stupak reversed course and said he would support the Senate bill.

Pro-life groups said the move didn’t change the bill’s language. They say the bill leaves loopholes to fund abortion and have vowed to fight it in the courts.

Mr. Stupak’s campaign didn’t return a message seeking comment on his own fundraising since the vote.

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