Dem Congressmen raising money, just in case

Frank Pallone has the biggest war chest of any Congressman in the country.

Pallone has $2.9 million in the bank – more cash-on-hand than any of his 434 colleagues. Not coincidentally, he’s interested in becoming Frank Lautenberg’s successor should the 83-year-old U.S. Senator decide not to run again in 2008 or retire early.

“I certainly would like to run statewide. I guess that’s no surprise to anybody, whether it would be for Senate or Governor at some point. But I fully support Senator Lautenberg,” said Pallone, who added that he didn’t set any specific fundraising goal. “It wasn’t my intention to be number one, but I’m happy it worked out that way.”

Pallone credited his national visibility as Communications Chair of the Democratic Policy Committee for getting him some national recognition, as well as his work on the Health Subcommittee.

Also not by coincidence, Rob Andrews and Steve Rothman — the second and third New Jersey Congressmen with the most money in the bank – also want to succeed Lautenberg. The two have $2.25 million and $1.87 million, respectively. That’s a lot of cash considering neither of them is likely to face a serious challenge by Republicans come November, 2008.

While Lautenberg intends to run again in 2008, the three Congressmen are jockeying for position over who will be in the best place to succeed him should he not serve his full-term. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to amass millions of dollars to fend off potential Republican challenges in their own districts.

All three congressmen had previously thrown expressed interest in taking over Gov. Corzine’s senate seat. Menendez was picked partly because he had amassed the most money, said Joe Marbach, a Professor of Political Science at Seton Hall.

“When Corzine’s seat became vacant, it was really a contest between Menendez, Andrews and Pallone. At that time Menendez had the cash advantage.” said Marbach. “So I think Pallone has learned from history and he’s really attempting to position himself that should Lautenberg decide not to run or retire early.”

But don’t expect any of the Congressmen to muscle Lautenberg out of office, even if a recent poll said that the majority of voters think he’s too old to successfully serve another term. There won’t likely be any primary fights, since Gov. Corzine made it clear that he wanted to avoid an intra-party bloodbath. So impressions count for a lot, and big money makes a big impression.

The Republican Congressmen aren’t slacking. The fourth biggest war chest of the state delegation belongs to Frank LoBiondo, who has a little over $1.5 million. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has identified him as one of their targets, and whomever they field against him will have a steep hill to climb.

Mike Ferguson, who will likely face a competitive rematch against Linda Stender for his Seventh District seat, had an impressive showing. Last quarter, he raised almost $800,000 before disbursements and outstanding debts– more than any other Congressman. He has banked about $603,000.

On the other extreme is Albio Sires, who ranks at the bottom of the New Jersey congressional delegation for fundraising, with only $57,464 in the bank. While Sires is in Democratic controlled Hudson County, he could find himself a victim of the local party’s civil war, having supported Brian Stack for State Senate against the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s Sal Vega. Sires, however, is a freshman, and could not be expected to compete with candidates like Pallone, who haven’t faced a tough challenge in some time. For now, said Marbach, his political future may rest on keeping the support of Bob Menendez.

“I think Bob Menendez still casts a long shadow over Hudson County,” said Marbach.

Dem Congressmen raising money, just in case