Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth finally is wresting campaign cash from supporters, but her pocketbook, to some, seems unseasonably light.
The Idaho Republican’s bankbook now boasts $139,000, according to new federal election reports. That’s seven times more than three months ago, but still $2,000 shy of her opponent, Democrat Dan Williams.
Non-partisan campaign finance gurus say that’s surprising for Chenoweth, who should easily raise more cash than the lesser-known Williams.
They disagree, however, on whether it matters in the long run.
“Oh she’s in big trouble if that’s all she’s got,” said Florence Heffron, director of the University of Idaho’s Bureau of Public Affairs Research.
Chenoweth should have at least $300,000 on hand and should be getting larger contributions from the GOP and business, she said.
The national GOP had given her about $5,000 as of mid-July. Only nine business political action committees since April had given her more than $1,000.
“Big industrial PACs like to give their money to sure things,” Heffron said, adding that a Wall Street Journal article last week listed Chenoweth among the most vulnerable of House freshmen.
But Sheila Krumholz, with Washington, D.C.’s, Center for Responsive Politics, was less apocalyptic. Chenoweth’s collections are “a little low,” she said, “but you have to consider what her competition is and how much time she has.”
Chenoweth campaign manager Jim Gambrell admits the campaign got off to a slow start, but said the fund-raising pace is on target - even if the race costs up to $650,000 as predicted.
“Politics is a cyclical thing,” he said. “People don’t jump into it until mid-August or Labor Day.”
The Republican Party, meanwhile, just kicked off a $10 million advertising campaign on behalf of 30 lawmakers, which includes a 30-second television ad for Chenoweth.
“And that’s not to say that there won’t be more later,” he said.
Williams, who benefited from controversial anti-Chenoweth ads paid for by the AFL-CIO, also expects to see more cash in coming weeks.
So far, most of Williams’ contributions have come from individuals, including Coeur d’Alene attorney Ray Givens and Post Falls resort owner Bob Templin (who has given to Chenoweth in the past).
He’s also collected thousands from traditional backers like labor - ranging from the National Education Association to train engineers. At least five Native American groups, from Mississippi to Spokane, have given him money since April.
Williams said that’s because Chenoweth “pokes them in the eye” at every available opportunity.
“I’m just surprised that I’d ever have more money than an incumbent member of Congress,” he said. But, he said, matching her “dollar for dollar” is less important than frugal spending.
During the same period Chenoweth collected cash from about 100 individuals, including Coeur d’Alene residents Roland Almgren, Jim English and Stephen McCabe. Out-of-state residents from Massachusetts, New Jersey and Texas also contributed.
“I just think she’s been a terrific conservative,” said Colorado donor Patricia Cannon, who first saw Chenoweth on a talk show.
Big bucks have come from farming and ranching groups ranging from Virginia’s American Meat Institute to the Florida Sugarcane League.
Her largest donations to date: $4,950 from the National Rifle Association’s political wing, and $6,000 from the National Beer Wholesalers Association.
But the Conservative Victory Fund, which gave Chenoweth $1,000 in 1994, has given her no cash this time.
Mike Matlack, an administrative assistant with the fund, said that was because Chenoweth joined Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash., in 1995 as sponsor on an anti-PAC bill. Smith eventually dropped the bill. Chenoweth explained her support of it was all a misunderstanding, Matlack said.
“Congresswoman Chenoweth was not given the whole story of what that bill was about,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Chenoweth leads money race
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