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Dems Outraising GOP in Congressional Swing Districts

Dems Outraising GOP in Congressional Swing Districts

By Kyle Trygstad - July 29, 2009

As Democrats gear up for 2010, they face a daunting historical fact: since Abraham Lincoln, only two newly-elected presidents have seen their party gain seats in Congress in their first midterm election.

Aside from the weight of history, there are other ominous signs for Democrats, who now have complete control of the government and are laboring to govern through an ongoing economic recession: Obama's approval ratings are slipping, unemployment remains high, Congress is taking up a string of big-ticket items in health care reform and climate change, and the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia look favorable for the GOP.

A bright spot for Democrats, however, is the strength of their fundraising in congressional swing districts.

In Depth: Top 10 Vulnerable Congressmen Fundraisers in 2009

A RealClearPolitics analysis of fundraising by some of the most vulnerable incumbents shows Democrats in good shape. And the campaign finance reports released this month offer fresh data for the Democratic and Republican campaign committees as they refine their search for vulnerable incumbents in 2010.

Along with fundraising, the National Republican Congressional Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee look at each Member's winning percentage in the previous election -- an incumbent who won with 55 percent or less is likely to be targeted.

This cycle, that includes about one in six House members, split almost evenly between the two parties. RCP's analysis found that of the 10 incumbents who raised the least this year after winning with 55 percent of the vote or less, eight were Republicans. Of the 10 who raised the most, eight were Democrats.

Leading the way are Democrats John Adler of New Jersey, Jim Himes of Connecticut, and Gary Peters of Michigan -- all freshmen in districts previously represented by a Republican. Each potentially vulnerable Dem raised more than $900,000 in the first six months of the year, with Adler and Himes nearing one million.

The three smallest fundraisers were all Republicans. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a native of Southern California, has easily carried his Huntington Beach district since 1988, yet he won with the smallest winning percentage of his career in 2008 despite spending more than in any recent cycle. In the first six months of this year he raised just $56,000 -- the least of any other sub-55 percent winner.

Good news for the majority party -- in the House, at least -- is that the top fundraiser of the group had been Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), but he is jumping into the race for Senate. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), who has never been elected with more than 52 percent of the vote, is running for governor.

Both suburban districts are perennial targets of the DCCC, and President Obama won them both with more than 58 percent of the vote. As vacancies, they add to a limited list of offensive territory for Democrats, who after two successful election cycles are running out of places to expand. Still, Democrats admit the odds are against them in 2010.

"Despite facing a headwind this cycle, we are aggressively staying on offense by targeting Republicans who have proven themselves out of touch with their constituents," said DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer. "We recognize that the best defense is a strong offense and are staying aggressive, recruiting top notch candidates, and exposing Republican hypocrisy and their false attacks."

The committees also take into account district demographics, the quality of their own challenger and presidential results when creating the playbook for targeting incumbents.

Having lost more than 50 seats over the last two elections and currently down 78 seats in the House, Republicans have a much larger field to play offense than the Democrats. To that end, according to a CQ analysis of the presidential vote, John McCain won 49 congressional districts that also elected a Democrat to the House -- offering a wide array of districts where there is a natural GOP base.

"It may start with the presidential vote and the close races from last cycle, but there are a number of other factors that are considered when targeting Democrats," said NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay. "Whether it is Alan Grayson being Alan Grayson, or Tom Perriello and Zack Space blatantly voting against the interests of their districts for a job-killing national energy tax, Democrats have done a pretty good job of making their own re-election chances worse."

Grayson, who represents Florida's Orlando-based 8th District, has been on the GOP hit list since taking down Republican Ric Keller last year. George W. Bush won the district by 8 and 10 points, but Grayson and Obama both won it with 52 percent. Grayson's $300,000 fundraising total thus far places him in the bottom quarter of all Members who won with 55 percent or less.

Democrats are targeting districts like Nebraska's Omaha-based 2nd, which Republican Lee Terry has held since 1998. Although Bush won it with 60 percent in 2004, Terry's winning percentage has dropped each year, and Obama carried it in 2008. Terry's fundraising so far this cycle puts him just below Grayson.

Perhaps the most obvious Republican district on Democrats' wish list is in New Orleans, where Joseph Cao gave the GOP one of its few bright spots of 2008 by defeating the ethically-challenged Bill Jefferson in a heavily Democratic district. Cao has raised more than $500,000 this year, however, and has proven his independence on the House floor.

Money is the mother's milk of politics, of course, but the economy is king. Though well-filled war chests will be an advantage for Democrats in swing districts aross the country next year, ultimately it will be the economic climate in those districts that will play the biggest role in determining whether voters decide to return them to Washington.

In Depth: Top 10 Vulnerable Congressmen Fundraisers in 2009

In Depth: Top 10 Senators Who Snagged the Most Pork in This Year's Spending

In Depth: 10 Senators Who Switched Parties

In Depth: 9 Questions With Senator Jim Webb

In Depth: America's Top 10 Freest and Least Free States

Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: kyle@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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