Rep. Helen Chenoweth raised 39 times more campaign money last year than Republican challenger Tony Paquin.
Chenoweth staffers say it’s a sign that Paquin isn’t building a winning campaign. Paquin counters that his fund raising is just getting started and that Chenoweth is beholden to political action committees and other special interests she once denounced.
As of Dec. 31, Chenoweth had raised $353,205 - much of it in the last six months. More than $94,000 came from PACs, ranging from tobacco companies to timber and mining groups.
Chenoweth, a two-term Republican incumbent from Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, spent $246,295 campaigning last year and ended 1997 with $109,727 in the bank.
Chenoweth’s campaign also is $57,766 in debt. About $50,000 of that debt is money Chenoweth loaned to her campaign four years ago.
Paquin, a Coeur d’Alene computer consultant, reported raising $8,981 while spending $29,305 during the same time frame. That leaves him $21,950 in debt.
Democrat Dan Williams, who challenged Chenoweth in the 1996 general election, was doing much better at this same point in his unsuccessful bid for Congress. As of December 1995, Williams had raised $74,000. Only $1,600 was his own money.
Williams benefited from a nationwide push among Democrats to try to reclaim Chenoweth’s House seat. Paquin, on the other hand, is trying to defeat Chenoweth within her own party.
“We’re on track for the campaign strategy that we’ve laid out,” Paquin said this week. He is in far better shape now than Chenoweth’s last primary election challengers were at the end of 1993, which is the fairest comparison, he said.
But campaign finance records show Paquin isn’t doing as well as most of the 1993 Republican contenders for the 1st District Congressional seat.
During the 1993-94 campaign season, three Republicans squared off in the primary race. By the end of 1993, Ron McMurray had raised $13,375 without digging into his own pockets or taking out a loan.
Chenoweth had $49,422 - $1,750 of it was a loan. David Leroy, the third contender, had not formally announced his candidacy by the end of 1993.
Paquin noted that he has done only a little direct mail soliciting and has not used telephone banks to raise money. Chenoweth has spent considerable money raising money, he said.
Expect the Paquin camp to rocket forward during the first quarter of 1998, he added.
“My campaign is now going into the retail stage,” Paquin said. “If I’m able to raise $150,000 to $200,000, I’ll be able to get my message out.”
He also will continue to use his own money. “I’m not going to let the campaign suffer for a lack of cash,” he said.
Paquin and his brother, Gary, sold their computer software company in 1993 but stayed with AMS Services until April 1997. He reported more than $510,000 in salary and stock options during the past two years.
Paquin is not taking any money from political action committees, while 27 percent of Chenoweth’s contributions so far came from PACs.
“This is just proof that Helen has learned to raise money in classic Washington, D.C., fashion - by going to PACs and hiring fund-raisers,” Paquin said.
Out-of-state contributors also gave generously to Chenoweth - $30,629 from large donors alone. Those donors include a California trucking company executive, Alaskan oil executives, a Nevada rancher and a Wisconsin logging contractor.
Graham Paterson, one of Chenoweth’s campaign strategists, said the outside money doesn’t mean Idaho voters aren’t getting good representation.
“Many people outside the 1st District share the same concerns as her constituents,” Paterson said. “The people of Idaho and many people in Washington, D.C., share the same concerns.
Paquin’s poor fund-raising showing, meanwhile, shows “he has not established a viable campaign organization,” Paterson said.
“Helen believes governance is about people and ideas,” Paterson said. “It seems to me Tony Paquin thinks it’s about Web sites and e-mails” - a slam on Paquin’s announcement last year that he would use the Internet to reach voters.
Still, “we take him seriously,” Paterson said.
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