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    The Democratic Party's Rising Stars

    By Dwight L. Morris
    September 9, 1996

    From the moment they lost control of the House of Representatives for the first time in forty years, Democratic strategists have been plotting their rebound. The Democrats need to pick up 20 seats to regain control of the house this fall – and if they succeed, it will not be because a host of "citizen politicians" rode to victory on a tidal wave of anti-incumbent sentiment. If Minority Leader Dick Gephardt retakes the Speaker's gavel, it will be due in large part to candidate recruitment efforts that have brought in a bevy of professional politicians with proven fund-raising track records into the race.

    In Michigan's 8th District, former Democratic state Senator Deborah Ann Stabenow – a 20-year political veteran who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1994 – reported campaign cash reserves of $451,399 as of June 30. While she will be hard pressed to match Republican freshman Dick Chrysler's spending if he chooses to tap his considerable personal assets (he invested nearly $1.8 million of his own money in a losing bid against former Democratic Rep. Bob Carr in 1992), Chrysler garnered just 52 percent of the vote in winning his 1994 open-seat contest and is considered vulnerable. At the very least, Stabenow will certainly have more than enough money to get her message out.

    In New Jersey's 8th District, Bill Martini's 1,833 upset vote victory in 1994 over Democratic Rep. Herb Klein earned the Republican freshman a spot high on the Democrat's 1996 hit list. Martini is the first Republican to represent the district in 34 years, and to make sure his tenure is short, Democratic party elders successfully recruited state Representative William J. Pascrell Jr. Pascrell, who also serves as the Mayor of Paterson, the district's largest city, had $411,302 in his campaign treasury at the end of June. While that was $154,600 less than the cash reserves reported by Martini, Pascrell's high name recognition may make the revenue gap less important.

    After winning 65 percent of the vote to secure a fourth term in 1992 in North Carolina's 4th District, Democrat David Price fell victim to the Republican landslide of 1994, losing to former Raleigh police chief Fred Heineman by just 1,215 votes. Price is back in 1996 with a campaign treasury that, on June 30, contained $382,153 – $71,051 more than Heineman. In a district that heavily favored Democrat Harvey Gant over conservative Republican Senator Jesse Helms in 1990 and gave Clinton a 6-point victory in 1992, Price is well positioned to make a strong run at recapturing his seat.

    In Ohio's 4th District, former Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland, who won his seat in 1992 by 3,468 votes over then-Republican incumbent Bob McEwen and promptly lost it two years later by 3,402 votes to Republican Frank A. Cremeans, is back for a rematch in 1996. While his $255,299 bank balance at the end of June was $173,605 less than Cremeans' reported, Strickland has enough cash to be competitive, particularly if Clinton can carry the district as he did in 1992.

    Democrats are counting on Texas State Senator Jim Turner to hold the seat vacated by Rep. Jim Chapman Jr. in the 1st District, who made an unsuccessful bid for the his party's Senate nomination. Turner had cash reserves of $210,715 as of June 30. That same day, his Republican opponent, dentist Brian Babin, had $85,737 in the bank.

    In Ohio's 19th Congressional District, Republican freshman Steven C. LaTourette rode the 1994 Republican surge to a 5-point victory over then-freshman incumbent Eric D. Fingerhut. However, with minor party candidates taking 9 percent of the vote, LaTourette failed to top 50 percent. That dubious distinction placed his seat near the top of the Democrat's 1996 wish list. Between April 1 and June 30, Brook Park mayor Tom Coyne Jr., the 1996 Democratic standard bearer, raised $175,414 more than he spent, increasing his campaign cash reserves to $192,600. During that same stretch, LaTourette raised $111,874 more than he spent, allowing Coyne to close the cash-on-hand gap to just $29,162.

    Of the twenty challengers and open-seat candidates with the largest cash reserves on June 30, sixteen are Democrats. Among the thirty-one non-incumbents who had at least $150,000 in their campaign bank accounts, twenty-three are Democrats. Among this group of well funded Democratic challengers and open-seat candidates, fourteen have held either an elective office or a key position in a state or local party organization.

    Among the other nine Democrats in this elite group, Bob Etheridge, the party's standard bearer in North Carolina's second District, reported cash reserves of $259,223. Etheridge currently works as a state construction official. Larry Lerner, an attorney who secured the Democratic nomination in New Jersey's 7th District, had $259,062 in his campaign account at the end of June, giving Democrats seven of the top ten positions. Overall, the Democratic challengers and open-seat candidates reported an average cash-on-hand total of $55,243; their Republican counterparts reported bank balances averaging $39,671.

    And cash-on-hand was not the only measure of Democratic fund-raising success, particularly by those with strong political credentials. State Representative Tommy Stephenson raised $504,355 and spent $472,899 on his way to blasting truck driver Vince Litterman to secure the Democratic nomination in Georgia's 11th District. Michela A. Alioto, a former aide to Vice President Al Gore and the granddaughter of a former San Francisco mayor, parlayed those connections into a $657,198 bankroll, $461,245 of which had been spent by the end of June. Her Republican opponent, Rep. Frank Riggs, had $302,238 in the bank.

    While not as well-healed on average as their Democratic counterparts, a number of Republican challengers and open-seat candidates have shown an ability to raise and spend huge sums. But again, professional politicians and political operatives dominated the list of those who could boast of highly successful fund-raising operations.

    In his successful bid to oust party-switcher Greg Laughlin in the Republican primary, former Rep. Ron Paul – who was also the Libertarian presidential nominee in 1988 – raised $1,215,506 and spent $1,107,065. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr., a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, was forced to spend $639,497 of the $765,757 he had raised to secure the Republican nomination in Mississippi's 3rd District.

    As of June 30, Kentucky state Representative Anne Meagher had the most cash-on-hand of any Republican challenger or open-seat contestant. Her $333,942 bank balance was the fourth highest among non-incumbents.

    When it comes to raising money, practice clearly makes perfect.

    This article originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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