- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 25, 2010

In some key races that may decide control of Capitol Hill this fall, it’s coming down to a battle of Democratic money versus Republican momentum.

With candidates and party organizations reporting their second-quarter fundraising totals to the Federal Election Commission last week, some top Democratic incumbents have run up big money advantages over their GOP opponents, but the polls suggest that may not be enough to save them in November.

In Arkansas, for example, embattled incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat, reported raising $2.7 million in the second quarter and had $1.9 million in the bank as of June 30, compared with $623,000 raised and $484,000 cash on hand for Republican challenger Rep. John Boozman.

But that bankroll edge hasn’t helped Mrs. Lincoln’s cause — an average of four recent polls puts her down by 20 percentage points against Mr. Boozman.

Republicans argue that the Democratic money edge isn’t surprising — incumbents typically have a clear fundraising edge, and Democrats now control the White House and both houses of Congress — and won’t be decisive in the fall.

“We learned in 2006 that money isn’t everything,” Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican and the party’s point man for House races this fall, told reporters last week. He noted that GOP candidates and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which he now heads, had a sizable fundraising edge over Democrats that year but still lost control of the House of Representatives after 12 years in the majority.

Still, in state after state, the 2010 midterm elections present an almost clinical test of the power of money to affect the results at the ballot boxes. With history, punditry and a rising number of polls pointing to major Republican gains, money may prove the last line of defense for Democrats.

“Democrats continue to hold a healthy cash-on-hand advantage in many key states,” said J.B. Poersch, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

• In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has rebounded in the polls while reporting a $7.1 million cash-on-hand advantage ($8.9 million versus $1.8 million) over former GOP state legislator Sharron Angle. Many in Nevada see Mr. Reid’s cash edge as the key reason he has kept the race competitive despite plunging popularity ratings in the state earlier this year.

• Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, reported $11.3 million to spend in her FEC filing, compared with $950,000 for Republican Carly Fiorina, who was just emerging from an expensive primary battle. But even with the money deficit, Mrs. Fiorina is within three percentage points of Mrs. Boxer in a survey of polls by the political website RealClearPolitics.

• In Wisconsin, Sen. Russ Feingold finds himself in an unexpectedly tough re-election fight despite a $4.3 million to $940,000 cash-on-hand advantage over Republican Ron Johnson, a relatively unknown businessman from Oshkosh making his first bid for public office. Polls show the two essentially tied in one of the country’s more liberal states.

• The dynamic also is playing out in House races, such as Virginia’s 5th District. Freshman Rep. Tom Perriello, a Democrat, on June 30 reported $1.7 million in the bank, compared with $216,000 for state Sen. Robert Hurt, the Republican nominee. But a poll last week by SurveyUSA gave Mr. Hurt a massive 58 percent to 35 percent lead in the race.

Campaign fundraising numbers create a notorious source for spin by the political parties. But Democrats insist they spied a genuine ray of hope in the most recent FEC reports, which showed most of the party’s main campaign organizations holding their own or even surpassing their GOP counterparts.

The Democratic National Committee, benefiting in part from widely publicized woes at the Republican National Committee, outraised its GOP counterpart slightly in June. The Democratic Senate and House campaign committees have a combined $55.4 million to spend on the fall races, while the Republican congressional campaign organs report $36 million.

Republicans counter that their fundraising pace has picked up significantly in recent months, reflecting surging GOP voter enthusiasm, disaffection with the economy and the Obama administration’s agenda, and the growing prospects of a “wave election” that could restore Republican control of Capitol Hill.

The outlier is the Republican Governors Association, which shattered its own previous marks by raising $18.9 million in the second quarter of 2010 — more than 50 percent higher than its previous quarterly record. The RGA has $40 million to spend on races this fall, even after spending $10 million already in the first half of the year.

The RGA boasts an $18 million cash-on-hand edge over the Democratic Governors Association.

While some Democratic incumbents claim a big money edge for now, Republicans can point to a number of critical open-seat races in the Senate where the GOP candidate is winning the money-chase race. No incumbent is running in 42 House seats and 14 Senate races, and a bigger bank account can make a huge difference in advertising and logistical support.

“The big story this month has been the tremendous fundraising success enjoyed by our Senate Republican candidates,” said NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer, “particularly in open seats, where Republicans raised more money in virtually every race.”

GOP Senate hopefuls who outraised their Democratic opponents in the latest FEC numbers include Rep. Mark Steven Kirk in Illinois, Rep. Roy Blunt in Missouri and former Rep. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. All three races are rated as “toss-ups” by CQ Politics.

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