Ney, Doolittle hold money edge over rivals

Two House Republicans linked to former GOP superlobbyist Jack Abramoff finished the year with significant cash reserves, which may dampen Democratic hopes of taking their seats.

But Democrats appeared to do better elsewhere, with a number of challengers for Republican-held seats raising significant amounts of money to mount a charge, according to fundraising totals released yesterday.

Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who is identified as the “Representative #1” in the plea deal Abramoff struck with the Justice Department, set a fundraising record in 2005, spokesman Brian Walsh said.

Ney finished the year with $582,066 after raising $276,499 in the fourth quarter. The end-of-the-year total represents the “highest level of financial support” that Ney has experienced “at this point in the election cycle,” Walsh said.

Meanwhile, Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), an eighth-term congressman who has come under fire for using Abramoff’s skyboxes for fundraisers, finished the year with $300,976, after raising $183,503 in the fourth quarter, according to the campaign’s filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Doolittle’s final 2005 tally is around $40,000 more than the congressman had at the end of 2003, according to campaign-finance records. Richard Robinson, Doolittle’s chief of staff, said the campaign is on pace to meet its fundraising goal of raising $1 million, adding that the congressman has not been hurt by the scandal.

Potential rivals to Ney and Doolittle, running relatively nascent campaigns, are far behind in fundraising, a fact downplayed by Democratic Party officials who argue both lawmakers remain vulnerable.

Ohio state Democratic Party spokesman Brian Rothenberg said: “No amount of money in the world can outspend the cloud that is following him around right now.”

Ney’s two main Democratic challengers are Joe Sulzer, the mayor of Chillicothe, and Zack Space, a Dover city official.

In California, Charles Brown, one of two Democrats running to unseat Doolittle, said his campaign had principally focused on defeating several initiatives put forward by Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger, only recently turning its full attention to the 4th District race.

Brown, whose end-of-the-year fundraising totals had not been posted to the FEC by press time, said he had raised around $36,000 in the fourth quarter, his first reporting period in the nascent campaign. Brown estimated he had about $24,000 in cash on hand.

Democrats fared better elsewhere in their fundraising efforts, with a number showing strong end-of-the-year cash balances.

Tammy Duckworth, a major in the Illinois Army National Guard who was severely wounded in Iraq, raised nearly $200,000 since declaring herself a candidate in the race for Republican Rep. Henry Hyde’s Illinois 6th District seat only last month, according to one Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spokeswoman.

Duckworth — the favored candidate of the Democratic Washington establishment — faces Christine Cegelis in a primary race. Cegelis finished the year with $39,363, according to her filing.

Democrats also got a strong showing from Lois Murphy, who lost a close race against Rep. Jim Gerlach in the last election for Pennsylvania’s 6th District.

The DCCC source said Murphy would finish the year with more than $600,000 on hand.

Gerlach looks prepared for a tough race, though. He finished 2005 with more than $1 million in the bank, according to campaign officials.

In Connecticut, Chris Murphy, running to unseat GOP Rep. Nancy Johnson, finished 2005 with more than $380,000 in cash, which is more than Johnson’s other opponents at this time, the DCCC spokeswoman said.

Democrats hope to use the controversial Medicare drug bill, which Johnson helped push through, against the incumbent.

Democratic efforts to unseat Rep. John Kline in Minnesota’s 2nd District appear to be going less well. The once favored candidate, former FBI official Colleen Rowley, continues to struggle with fundraising. She ended the year with $84,193. Her campaign manager, Joe Elcock, noted that Rowley’s numbers were better than previous Kline challengers.

In South Carolina’s 5th, GOP challenger Ralph Norman, a successful local businessman, is off to a strong start in his bid to unseat Rep. John Spratt (D), who is serving his 12th term. Spratt has been a longtime target of South Carolina Republicans who now dominate politics in the state.

His candidacy, not long out of the gates, Norman nevertheless finished the year with $345,000 on hand, all of which was raised in the fourth quarter.

Spratt, the ranking member of the powerful Budget Committee, is sitting on an even bigger pile of cash. His campaign has $736,272, after raising just a shade under $210,000 in the fourth quarter. An aide in Spratt’s office also downplayed Norman’s totals, noting that $148,000 of his final tally came from House leadership PACs.

But Nathan Hollifield, Norman’s campaign manager, noted that the majority of money raised has come from within the district.

“We have been very encouraged with the support thus far,” he said.