Sunday, August 20, 2006

Democratic Challengers Filling Coffers

Democrats who are challenging incumbent Republicans in House races are filling their coffers to a much greater degree than expected for the upcoming midterms.

The traditional fundraising advantage held by incumbent lawmakers -- which Republicans have regarded as a safety wall in their effort to keep control of Congress -- has eroded in many closely contested House races, as many Democratic challengers prove competitive in the race for cash.

In a year of bad omens for the GOP, the latest batch of disclosure forms filed with the Federal Election Commission offers one more: Incumbency no longer means that embattled Republican representatives can expect to overwhelm weakly funded Democratic challengers with massive spending on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts....

For political finance experts, the data are striking because they show that the usual fundraising advantage of incumbents -- who tend to have more access to special-interest money -- is durable but not impervious to competing trends. This year, these include a highly motivated base of Democratic activists and low approval ratings for President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress....

There are 27 Republican incumbents classified by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report as the most vulnerable to losing reelection this fall....

The problem for Republicans is that only eight Democratic incumbents are in seats considered highly competitive by Cook, meaning they are considered "toss-ups" or may "lean" a certain direction, but no candidate has sufficient advantage to be deemed a "likely" winner.

"There's not many opportunities for Republicans to be taking seats from Democrats," said Michael J. Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan research center affiliated with George Washington University. "There's plenty of races to make up the 15 [that Democrats need]. There's not that many places for Republicans to make the hill steeper."

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