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Defeated House Democrats outspent GOP in campaigns

By T.W. Farnam and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 9:38 PM

The vast group of House Democrats defeated Tuesday lacked many things, but money wasn't one of them.

In two-thirds of the House seats that Republicans picked up Tuesday, Democratic candidates had more money behind them than Republicans, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission.

Overall, Democratic candidates in the 63 races that flipped to the GOP had $206.4 million behind them, a tally that includes candidate fundraising and spending by parties and interests. That compares to only $171.7 million for their GOP rivals.

The pattern appears to contradict widespread complaints from Democrats that they were being unfairly overrun by wealthy Republicans, many of whom donated money to conservative groups to spend on political races - unencumbered by the limits and public-disclosure requirements that constrain most political fundraising. The data show that even in many races in which Republicans had more outside help, they still had fewer resources than their Democratic opponents.

"It sends a clear message that most Democrats couldn't buy their way out of bad spending and health-care votes," said Ron Bonjean, a GOP consultant and former top House and Senate aide. "It shows just how desperate the White House was in the final months of the campaign to make unsubstantiated claims that could easily backfire without the real facts."

In the run-up to the election, President Obama and other Democratic Party leaders decried the influx of outside money for Republicans, alleging that some of it may have come from overseas sources.

The data show that some Republicans were able to win despite being badly outspent in Democratic-leaning districts. Outside Philadelphia, Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D), the Democratic Party and groups backing them had about three times as much as conservatives and the campaign of former representative Mike Fitzpatrick (R), who Murphy unseated in 2006.

Murphy's campaign raised $3.8 million for the race, while Fitzpatrick brought in only $1.6 million. The Democratic Party spent $560,000 on independent expenditures on Murphy's behalf, about twice as much as the Republican Party spent for Fitzpatrick.

A raft of liberal interest groups spent an additional $2 million to aid Murphy. Six groups - three labor unions, as well as VoteVets.org, the American Worker and America's Families First Action Fund - all spent six-figure sums. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobby, spent $170,000 on behalf of Fitzpatrick. Overall, the Republican only got $282,000 from outside groups.

Fitzpatrick, an attorney, served one term in Congress before losing to Murphy in the Democratic wave of 2006. Murphy was the first Iraq veteran elected to Congress when he narrowly took the district in Bucks County northeast of Philadelphia.

Murphy's campaign used its financial advantage to run ads tarring Fitzpatrick as a job-killing free trader and a legislator who voted for tax hikes and supported privatizing Social Security while raising his own salary. On election night, Fitzpatrick triumphed regardless, bringing in 54 percent of the vote. Obama won the district with 54 percent in 2008.

Overall, Republicans were more reliant on interest-group spending. In the 63 races that switched to the GOP, Republicans benefited from $43 million from interest groups, compared to $32 million spent on behalf of Democrats.

"We're thankful for the contributions of everyone who helped us," said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Once we expanded the playing field and forced Democrats to play defense in 90 seats, many of the outside groups were able to see that and take advantage of it."

While both parties spent similar amounts on the races, Republicans went on the air with television ads much earlier in the fall, attempting to define Democratic candidates and move races early, according to campaign finance reports and party strategists. Democrats saved money for the end of the campaign, spending $40 million nationwide in the final two weeks.

In the Senate, Republicans had much more money than Democrats for the seats they captured in Pennsylvania and Illinois left open by retiring lawmakers. In Pennsylvania, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) raised $7 million, about half as much as former representative Pat Toomey (R). Toomey also benefited from $9.3 million in outside spending, compared to only $2.8 million on behalf of Sestak.

In Wisconsin, Sen. Russell Feingold (D) was outraised by businessman Ron Johnson (R), who invested $8.2 million of his own money in the race. Feingold lost, pulling in 47 percent of the vote to Johnson's 52 percent.

The most expensive congressional race was for the Senate seat in Connecticut, where businesswoman Linda McMahon (R) invested $46.6 million in her campaign. She lost to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) on Tuesday night after receiving 44 percent of the vote.

The Post analysis looked at fundraising by general election candidates through October 13 and independent spending reported by the parties and interest groups through Election Day. It did not include money raised by candidates in the final weeks before the election, or transfers from the parties to states for turnout operations. A full accounting won't be possible for another month, when new disclosure filings are due.

Not all of the losing Democrats outgunned their GOP challengers, of course. In New Hampshire, Democrat Carol Shea-Porter fell to GOP candidate Frank Guinta, who had $1.7 million more than the incumbent, along with help from his allies, including more than $800,000 in spending by outside conservative groups.

In the race to replace Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon in Louisiana, Republican Jeff Landry and his supporters had $2.7 million more than his Democratic opponent. Other defeated Democrats who faced war-chest deficits of $1 million or more included Reps. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.) and Glenn Nye (Va.).

farnamt@washpost.com eggend@washpost.com

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