Yeah, I know most of you are focused on today’s Super Duper Tuesday contest, but with both the Times and the P-I ignoring Rep. Dave Reichert’s pathetic fundraising report (Really? It wasn’t worth a single mention?) it is apparently left to me to cover what could be the biggest local story of the election season: Reichert and the Republican’s slow-motion collapse in Washington’s 8th Congressional District. And while Seattle’s two dailies haven’t seemed to notice yet, the inside-Beltway media certainly has, with first The Hill placing Reichert amongst the most vulnerable GOP incumbents, and now The Politico warning that Reichert may not be able to count on the NRCC to pull his ass out of the fire this time around.
Six House Republicans holding seats that are being eyed by the Democratic majority are confronting the new, brutal reality of their party’s fundraising slump. They are limping into highly competitive reelection races with less cash than their Democratic challengers.
The latest fundraising reports are a gut punch for this six-pack of GOP incumbents: Reps. Christopher Shays (Conn.), Dave Reichert (Wash.), John R. Kuhl (N.Y.), Tim Walberg (Mich.), Jean Schmidt (Ohio) and Bill Sali (Idaho). With the exception of Sali, all represent swing districts.
But it’s also a blow to a House Republican conference that for years has prided itself on using aggressive fundraising tactics and mandates to make sure all of its incumbents held a significant money edge for their reelection.
A senior aide to a prominent House Republican requested anonymity to explain the significance of this fundraising downturn. “You’re going to see all these members in tough shape,” the aide said. “You have all these seats out there that are so expensive because of the money we’ve put in in the past. We might not be able to save some of these guys that we brought back last time.”
In the deft political hands of the late Rep. Jennifer Dunn, WA-08 was a cash cow for the national party, a safe seat in a wealthy suburban district that reliably pumped dollars directly into the NRCC and other campaigns. But over the past two cycles, Reichert has transformed his district into a congressional money pit, a political fixer-upper in constant need of expensive repair and maintenance. That “anonymous” comment from a “senior aide” to a “prominent” House Republican…? That was meant as a warning to Reichert and the others: either get your house in order and start paying your own bills, or prepare to find yourself out on the street, sleeping under bridges with our nation’s veterans.
It seems inconceivable that the GOP would abandon a district that has never elected a Democrat, but facing a structural disadvantage that makes 2006’s Big Blue Wave look like a swim at the beach, Republicans are going to have to resort to triage.
These latest fundraising numbers, combined with a raft of Republican retirements, explain why many top Republicans are bracing for the possibility of losses in November that could stretch into double digits.
At a time when the cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee needs incumbents to raise as much money as possible, members who fall behind financially cannot count on receiving assistance in the crunch.
The NRCC emerged in the black this month for the first time this election cycle and had $5.5 million at the end of the year. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with over $35 million on hand, still has a sixfold cash advantage.
And the GOP committee, which traditionally spends money to protect its incumbents first, also will have to spend money in many of the 28 open seats where Republican incumbents have retired or resigned.
The first group of members who may not be able to count on NRCC support are the ones who posted weak fundraising numbers for the year. In the past, the committee has funded members with notoriously weak fundraising, such as former Indiana Republican John Hostettler. But given the party’s fundraising woes, that same support is unlikely to come this cycle.
In the final weeks of the 2006 campaign the NRCC focused its dwindling resources almost exclusively on “second tier” races like WA-08, winning most of them, but in the process losing almost every single first and third tier race. Unless Reichert reverses his fortunes and manages to keep pace with Darcy Burner, WA-08 could end up being one of those first tier races the GOP abandons. That is, if Reichert doesn’t abandon the race first.