The new Republican members of the House are off to a slow start in raising money for their reelection campaigns.
On average, the GOP freshmen raised $176,000 for their campaigns during the first quarter, according to federal disclosure reports. That compares with $287,000 raised by freshman Democrats in the first quarter of 2009 and $242,000 in 2007 — both years when the Democrats were coming off big gains and looking to hold on to new seats.
At the same time, the overall amount of money raised by House incumbents in the first quarter increased by 22 percent, to $63.9 million, compared with two years ago.
Some Republicans with tough races ahead of them brought in surprisingly little cash. In New York, Ann Marie Buerkle raised $65,000, according to the reports filed by House candidates Friday. In 2010, she won by fewer than 1,000 votes.
In the 13 most vulnerable Republican seats — representing traditionally Democratic districts that were carried by Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry in his 2004 loss — the lawmakers brought in $204,000 on average.
“Cutting Washington’s spending is the top priority right now for these new members,” said Paul Lindsay, a Republican Party spokesman, “but the significant steps taken by many of them will go a long way toward building their campaigns and determining their opposition.”
In one stark example of the GOP freshman slump, Rep. Daniel Webster (Fla.) reported raising only $29,950 in the first quarter. That’s less than the $36,784 collected by the Democrat he defeated in 2010 — former representative Alan Grayson — who hasn’t asked for money or even said whether he intends to run again. Obama won Webster’s district by five percentage points in 2008, but it is less competitive than many that Republicans are defending.
Unlike Democrats in 2007 and 2009, many of the Republican freshmen are in safe seats, and party officials say they may not need as much money to defend them. That’s because many of the wins for the GOP in their 2010 wave came in conservative districts that Democrats had captured in recent elections. The GOP’s wave was also larger, with 87 Republican freshmen seated this year, compared with 41 for Democrats in the beginning of 2007.
A few Republican freshmen did stand out for their fundraising success. Rep. Patrick Meehan (Pa.) brought in $335,000 to run for reelection in his Democratic-leaning district west of Philadelphia. And Rep. Robert J. Dold (Ill.) raised $311,000 to run in his district north of Chicago.
Republican lawmakers had the advantage in small-dollar fundraising, which often indicates the enthusiasm of core supporters. Rep. Allen B. West (Fla.) raised $434,000, including $203,000 from donors who gave a total of less than $200.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) raised the most of any lawmaker, bringing in $2.4 million for his personal campaign and more than $1 million for other accounts. Boehner’s total included $770,000 from small donors. Other top fundraisers included Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), with $1.7 million, and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), with $1.4 million.
The top Democratic fundraiser was Rep. Shelley Berkley (Nev.), with $693,000. Berkley announced last week that she was running for the Senate seat that will open up because of Republican Sen. John Ensign’s decision to retire.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s fund for House races, raised more money than its Republican counterpart in the first quarter, a surprising development given that a loss of the majority usually means a reduced ability to bring in money. The committee raised $19.6 million, compared with $18 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee. The DCCC reported strong online fundraising, including its highest single-day total in history.
“Republicans’ radical agenda to end Medicare and play chicken with a government shutdown, while protecting taxpayer giveaways for Big Oil, is turning off independent voters and energizing our Democratic supporters,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the DCCC chairman. “As a result, the DCCC is back on sound financial footing and aggressively focused on holding Republicans accountable for their radical agenda.”
Democrats also got good news in the Senate, with some of the most-threatened Democrats bringing in substantial amounts last quarter. For instance, Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) raised $1 million, and Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) brought in $1.2 million. It will be more difficult for the party to maintain control of the Senate next year because many more Democratic seats are up for grabs.
Congressional redistricting — in which districts are redrawn to equalize population — could dramatically effect the 2012 congressional elections. Many states are set to lose seats, setting off a game of political musical chairs for the lawmakers who hold them.
In Iowa, for example, Rep. Tom Latham (R) announced last week that he would challenge Rep. Leonard L. Boswell (D) after the state released a new congressional district map. Latham had a big advantage in fundraising in the first quarter. He raised $414,000, compared with Boswell’s $145,000.
Staff writer Aaron Blake contributed to this report.