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    Candidates For Investment

    By Dwight L. Morris
    July 22, 1996

    House Speaker Newt Gingrich may be down, but he certainly is not out. Quieted by a series of polls that revealed growing public displeasure with his leadership and shut out of a major role at the upcoming Republican national convention, Gingrich signaled his determination to see Republican control of the House and Senate continue by donating $250,000 of his own campaign funds to the Republican National Committee on June 24. Described in his most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission as a "transfer of excess funds" that single donation exceeded the amount spent by 119 of the 1994 Republican House challengers.

    Just as they did two years ago – when they donated a total of $3.8 million from their own campaign treasuries to help less well-funded challengers and open- seat contestants – the Republican House leadership has begun pouring money into candidate and party coffers. Other than Gingrich's massive donation, the largest single contribution found in the latest round of FEC reports was a $50,000 gift to the National Republican Congressional Committee from New York Republican Gerald Solomon.

    There are certainly plenty of candidates who could use the support. In West Virginia, for example, where two-term Democratic Senate incumbent John D. Rockefeller IV scored a two-to-one victory in 1990 and has amassed campaign cash reserves of $1,727,052, Republican challenger Betty A. Burks has failed to raise or spend even $5,000.

    In Delaware, where Democratic incumbent Joseph R. Biden, Jr. has nearly $900,000 in his campaign bank account and no debts as he embarks on the fourth defense of his seat, his probable Republican opponent, Raymond J. Clatworthy, has shown little aptitude for fund-raising. While his campaign had total receipts of $504,053 as of March 31, $400,000 of that total was the result of loans – $200,000 from his own bank account and $200,000 from a bank. Only half of that will ever find its way into real campaign activity, since one loan was taken out simply to pay off the other. Although at the time the loans temporarily inflated Clatworthy's cash reserves to $245,830, it was largely a paper charade.

    However, while they could clearly use the monetary help, it is safe to assume that neither Burks nor Clatworthy will receive more than token help from the national Republican party committees. In a state like West Virginia, where Republican victories happen only in party elders' dreams (both of the state's Senators, all three House members and the Governor are Democrats, and the state has gone Democratic in all but three presidential elections over the past 50 years) it would be irrational for party elders to waste resources on Burks. Rockefeller's 1990 challenger, who spent just $26,652 and collected only 32 percent of the vote, received nothing from the national party, and that will Burks' fate, as well.

    Similarly, Biden outspent his 1990 Republican challenger by nearly 10-to-one and captured 63 percent of the vote. In late May, his own internal polls were showing Biden with a 71 percent favorability rating and a 53 percentage-point lead over Clatworthy. Since the first of this year he has raised $1,198,282, increasing his cash-on-hand by $541,443 during the last three months alone. Seeing little chance of victory, Republican leaders are unlikely to pour much money into Clatworthy's effort.

    This seemingly cold calculation is nothing new. Every election both parties size up their chances of winning and choose to write off numerous campaigns, including Senate races. For 1996, the certain Democratic losers include former Santa Fe mayor Art Trujillo, who on June 30 had just $881 in his campaign bank account to do battle with New Mexico's four-term Republican Senator Pete V. Domenici. That same day, Domenici's campaign cash reserves stood at $1,427,938. All but $99,229 of Domenici's reserves had been raised in the first six months of this year. Domenici won reelection in 1990 with 73 percent of the vote; a poll by Mason-Dixon Political Research in late May showed him with a 63 percent favorability rating and an imposing 31 percentage-point lead.

    Democratic strategists will undoubtedly give a cold shoulder to Mississippi Senate challenger James "Bootie" Hunt, a retired farmer who has failed to cross the $5,000 fund-raising threshold that would require him to begin filing financial reports with the FEC. As of June 30, his Republican opponent, three-term incumbent Thad Cochran, had $940,500 in the bank. Cochran is so popular in the state that he won reelection without opposition in 1990, won 95 percent of the vote in this year's Republican primary, and is considered a shoo-in for reelection in November.

    These and other snooze-inducing Senate races will free both parties up to spend freely in states where the contests are actually in doubt, including New Jersey, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Montana.

    This article originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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