WASHINGTON — As 2014’s midterm elections begin to unfold, out-of-state spending — or lack thereof — and contributions give an early picture of the current state of Oregon’s races.
In recent weeks, the GOP has expanded the map of competitive Senate races to include Michigan, Iowa and Virginia, where former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie announced his candidacy to unseat Democrat incumbent Mark Warner.
Americans for Prosperity, a super PAC affiliated with conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, has already spent millions this month on advertising linking Democrat senators to the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Louisiana, states where the GOP hopes to pick up some of the six seats it needs to win to take back control of the Senate.
But thus far, outside groups have yet to jump into Oregon’s Senate race, where freshman Democrat Jeff Merkley is seeking his first re-election.
Last week, Portland pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby, who is vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Merkley in November’s general election, announced she had raised more than $500,000 in the last quarter of 2013.
Over the same period, Merkley raised $1.14 million, bringing his total cash on hand to more than $3 million.
Politicaladsleuth.com, a website run by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation that tracks campaign ads in markets across the country, reported no television or radio ad buys in Oregon for the 2014 cycle as of Friday.
Oregon is “on nobody’s radar right now, and there’s no reason for it to be,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan publication that monitors the competitiveness of political races.
Duffy places Oregon in the “solid Democrat” column for 2014, based in part on its recent history of electing Democrats in statewide races. Merkley “benefits immensely” from running in such a Democrat-friendly state, she said.
“Having said that, I also think if the environment turns really bad, that this might become more of a competitive race than people believe,” she said.
Democrats are largely playing defense during the 2014 cycle, which helps explain why they have already begun running ads against Republican Scott Brown in New Hampshire before Brown has even declared he will enter the race, she said.
“When you look at the map, there really aren’t other Republicans they can go after,” she said. “They are kind of hoping that Republicans don’t (further) expand the field, because it just gets expensive for them.”
Wehby’s fundraising announcement helps generate buzz around her candidacy, said Duffy, who said that she, like Republican strategists, will watch the Oregon race carefully.
“They’re going to sit back and wait, but they aren’t ignoring it, like they’re ignoring a place like Rhode Island,” she said of the GOP. “They are very interested in what happens (in Oregon), and they realize that nothing could come of it, or they could get lucky.”
Candidates must submit quarterly finance reports to the Federal Election Commission by Friday. Other Republican candidates, including state Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, and Portland businessman Sam Callahan, have not publicly announced their fundraising totals.
In the race for Congress in Oregon’s 2nd district, neither Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, nor his primary challenger, Klamath County Commissioner Dennis Linthicum, have touted their fundraising hauls in advance of the Friday deadline. Walden, an eight-term incumbent who listed more than $1.5 million cash on hand in his most recent FEC filing, starts with a large money advantage.
Walden’s fundraising filings paint a picture of the heightened national profile that comes with being part of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives. In November 2012, the GOP caucus selected Walden as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is responsible for electing as many Republicans as possible to Congress, making him the fifth-ranking Republican in the House.
This increased visibility, as well as his advancing seniority on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has allowed Walden to broaden his appeal outside Oregon. In 2000, the first time he ran for reelection, 86 percent of Walden’s contributions from individual donors came from inside Oregon, according to figures from watchdog organization the Center for Responsive Politics. This percentage has decreased steadily over time, to 84 in 2002, 82 in 2004, 78 in 2006, 75 in 2008, 73 in 2010, and 60 in 2012.
Over the same period, Walden’s haul from individual donors has ballooned from $265,000 to more than $903,000.
This campaign cycle, the in-state, out-of-state split is 50-50.
“As the members become more senior, the people who give become more eager to give to them,” said Michael J. Mablin, an expert on money in politics and a professor of political science at the University of Albany in New York. “There’s no question that in general, members’ fundraising sources do change as they gain power. Contributors who are seeking out power look for those members.”
By comparison, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, drew 93 percent of his $423,000 in individual contributions from within Ohio in 2000. By 2010, when he became speaker, only 36 percent of his $3.2 million haul came from Ohio donors. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has seen his in-state donor percentage drop from 66 percent in 2002 to 26 percent in 2012.
“Leaders in politics are bigger draws than rank and file,” said Paul Herrnson, executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut. “Rank and file are often not that visible in their district, and they’re not that visible on the national stage.”
The influx of out-of-state cash doesn’t mean a member of Congress has become out of step with the concerns of the voters that elected him or her, Herrnson said.
“Generally, someone who has made the party leadership has been re-elected many times, so they are in sync with their districts’ voters,” he said.
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