Veteran Republicans redouble fundraising

Some Republicans who had been expected to retire this cycle raised more money in the second quarter of 2005 than they did in 2003, casting doubts on their supposed plans to leave Congress. The apparent shrinking pool of vacancies means Democrats have fewer opportunities to narrow the gap with Republicans in the GOP-controlled House. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has made open seats a top priority.

Some Republicans who had been expected to retire this cycle raised more money in the second quarter of 2005 than they did in 2003, casting doubts on their supposed plans to leave Congress.

The apparent shrinking pool of vacancies means Democrats have fewer opportunities to narrow the gap with Republicans in the GOP-controlled House. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has made open seats a top priority.

Reps. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) were both on a short list of possible retirees compiled earlier this year by a DCCC aide, and both raised more in the second quarter of this year than they did during the same period two years ago.

Young, who recently stepped down as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, reeled in $26,500 from April 1 through June 30 of this year, leaving him with nearly $330,000.

While the congressman had more cash on hand at the end of the same period in 2003 — just over $494,000 — he raised a little less than $18,000 during that time.

LaHood, for his part, raised $224,000 in the second quarter of 2005, compared to $138,000 in 2003. The congressman also has $762,000 in the bank, versus $338,000 two years ago.

But for now Democrats have more pickup opportunities than Republicans do. Nine Republicans are retiring, with at least three of those retirements certain to spark competitive races. Meanwhile, only six Democrats are retiring so far, and of those only one or two districts will be competitive.

Several of the House Republicans who had been expected to retire have either done so or are almost certain to do so soon, including gubernatorial hopefuls Jim Gibbons (Nev.), Mark Green (Wis.) and Tom Osborne (Neb.) and Senate contenders Katherine Harris (Fla.) and Mark Kennedy (Minn.).

Despite many Republicans’ stepped-up fundraising, Sarah Feinberg, a DCCC spokeswoman, said: “I think we feel very good about the money numbers that we’re seeing.”

Still, the list of potential GOP retirees looks to be waning.

Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), recently passed over for the House Appropriations chairmanship, took in $55,250 during the second quarter of this year, more than 10 times the $5,000 he raised in 2003. The congressman has $115,000 in his campaign fund; at the same point in 2003, that figure was just over $92,000. Regula stepped up his fundraising in the latter stages of the 2004 cycle for his bid for the Appropriations Committee gavel.

Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), who had been mobilizing for a Senate race, raised close to $1.5 million. But Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) announced she would seek a fourth term, and now Bonilla is two-thirds of the way to raising the $2.2 million total he reeled in during the entire 2003-2004 cycle.

And in Colorado, Rep. Joel Hefley (R) looks to be running for an 11th term: He raised $550 in the second quarter, down from $2,050 in 2003, but has more than $86,000 on hand, compared to $85,000 in 2003.

Given that President Bush won nearly 67 percent of El Paso County, the heart of Hefley’s 5th District, the seat looks solidly Republican. Still, Democrats made gains in Colorado in 2004, winning the state Legislature and a U.S. Senate seat.

One Republican who has been mentioned as a possible retiree, Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, did, in fact, raise less money in the second quarter of 2005 than he did in 2003, $95,000 this year, compared to $153,000 last time around. Leach also has much less money on hand than he did in 2003, with $94,000 now in the bank, as opposed to the $270,000 he had two years ago.

A Democratic aide said the diminishing number of possible open seats would have a barely discernible impact on the political landscape.

“Cox’s seat, Cunningham’s seat, these are places that have Democratic performance levels in the 30s,” the aide said of retiring Reps. Chris Cox and Duke Cunningham, both California Republicans.

To stem future retirements, many Republicans in safe districts have taken to raising money that they plan to dole out to vulnerable members.

Chris Paolino, a spokesman for Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), said that Jindal, the president of the freshman class of 2004, plans to give some of the $1.5 million he raised in the second quarter to fellow Republicans “to facilitate some of the things he wants to get done.”

According to politicalmoneyline.com, the only House member to raise more money in the second quarter than Jindal was Rep. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who could replace Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) if Corzine triumphs in his gubernatorial bid.