Reichert, Burner running expensive congressional race
It will be months before any votes are cast, but Congressman Dave Reichert and his Democratic challenger Darcy Burner are locked in a fundraising...
Seattle Times staff reporter
It will be months before any votes are cast, but Congressman Dave Reichert and his Democratic challenger Darcy Burner are locked in a fundraising duel that is turning their rematch into one of the most expensive congressional races in the country.
As in 2006, Burner has a slight edge over Reichert in raising money, adding to the image of the Republican incumbent's vulnerability after two terms representing the 8th Congressional District in eastern King and Pierce counties.
At the end of March, Burner had raised $1.39 million and had more than $900,000 in unspent campaign cash. Reichert had raised $1.37 million and had about $700,000 on hand.
The money translates into more than television ads and mailers: It shows momentum and competitiveness, and underscores the two candidates' markedly different styles.
Usually, incumbent members of Congress don't have any trouble raising more money than their challengers, but Burner has outraised Reichert three of the past four quarters.
While Reichert got a head start at the beginning of 2007, Burner raised nearly twice as much as he did in the first three months of 2008, the most recent reporting period. And Burner's fundraising prowess has scared off all but one Democratic primary challenger. In most swing congressional districts around the country, incumbents are raising more than their challengers.
In California's 11th District, for example, freshman Democratic Congressman Jerry McNerney is considered vulnerable. But he has raised $1 million more and has twice as much cash on hand as his opponent, Dean Andal.
There are districts where the opposite is true. In New York, Republican Congressman John Kuhl lags behind challenger Eric Massa, a Navy officer who nearly beat Kuhl in 2006.
Reichert's campaign managers are quick to point out that you don't need more money to win. Burner lost a close race to Reichert in 2006 after raising $3.06 million — about $20,000 more than Reichert did.
New money strategies
As they ramp up their campaigns this year, both candidates have changed their fundraising strategies.
In November, Reichert cut ties with his longtime fundraiser, Bruce Boram. Instead, his campaign now employs an on-staff fundraiser.
Reichert campaign spokesman Mike Shields said the switch is part of a "strategic change." Boram was expensive, collecting a monthly paycheck plus a percentage of the money he raised, according to election-finance filings.
In July 2007, the month before President Bush visited the state to help the congressman raise funds, Reichert paid Boram and his company, Catalyst Consulting, a total of $24,750, not counting Boram's cellphone allowance or rent. That month, the campaign raised $15,275 from individuals. In October 2007, the campaign wrote Boram checks totaling $27,489 to raise $25,910.
Those discrepancies leveled out over time, and some months, Boram raised more than he collected.
Overall, though, Reichert was paying nearly 25 cents to Boram for every dollar he raised. Some quarters, he averaged about 40 cents per dollar raised. Most fundraisers try to spend closer to 15 to 20 cents per dollar raised.
Boram said sometimes you just don't raise as much as you expect. He said that Reichert is busy working as a congressman, and that as a former cop Reichert is reluctant to ask for money.
Raising money is Reichert's least favorite part of the job, said Mike Shields, Reichert's campaign spokesman. He doesn't fit in at high-dollar fundraisers at fancy hotels and doesn't like asking for things, Shields said.
"When you're a law-enforcement officer, you spend your entire life being told, 'Don't even take a cup of coffee from somebody,' " Shields said, "and now you're going around asking for thousands of dollars. It's not a comfortable thing to do. He does it because he has to."
Burner, on the other hand, embraces the money chase. At a recent gathering in Puyallup, she asked supporters who had already written one check that evening to write another.
"Feel free to buy another share of Darcy Burner," she joked. "I'm not that expensive."
Her campaign also hired a fundraiser instead of contracting with consultant Colby Underwood, who helped her raise money in 2006. Her campaign spokesman said she spends about 10 hours a week on the phone with potential donors.
No magic formula
"Darcy has clearly demonstrated that she is a good fundraiser, but there's not some magic formula or magic style," said Sandeep Kaushik, her spokesman. "The reason she's a good fundraiser is that she reaches out to people [and] she has a message that resonates with people."
A spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said that group also watches fundraising closely. But Reichert's name recognition and reputation as a two-term incumbent mean he might not need as much money as Burner does.
"For someone who doesn't have as much name ID and someone that outspent him last time — I think those kind of candidates, they'll need every penny that they raise," said Julie Shutley, a National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman.
But candidates struggling to raise money might be out of touch with their constituents or the issues, said Yoni Cohen, a press secretary with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"Fundraising testifies to the level of support, enthusiasm and momentum a candidate is generating," he said in a statement. "A candidate's fundraising is one of many factors we consider when evaluating a race. We also consider a district's makeup, what local groups are saying about the race and the strength of the candidates."
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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