In determining who among the crowded field of seventh district Republican congressional candidates is the frontrunner, the question may be what counts more: money or county lines.
From the moment state Sen. Leonard Lance entered the race, the conventional wisdom has been that he leads the pack. And, without so much as acknowledging that he is the frontrunner, Lance has done much to reinforce that status, winning the party line in his native Hunterdon County, along with Somerset County.
The combination of those two counties accounts for about 70% of the district’s Republican primary vote, and Lance’s win in Somerset is particularly compelling because it’s home turf for his chief rival, Kate Whitman, along with several other lower-profile candidates.
Whitman has managed to win the line in Middlesex County – which comprises the smallest portion of the district and an even smaller portion of its Republican primary vote.
But while Whitman has been upfront and proud of her fundraising totals, exclaiming that she’s raised $440,000 so far, Lance has remained quiet on that front. Voters may have to wait until later this month to learn the numbers, when each campaign files with the Federal Election Commission.
Even if fundraising isn’t everything for a congressional race, Whitman’s campaign believes that, when you’re taking on Democrat Linda Stender in the general election — who has raised $1 million so far — the numbers matter.
“To have gone through the entire convention season without putting out any hard numbers, obviously the county committee didn’t have the full knowledge as far as the viability (of Lance) is concerned,” said Whitman Campaign Manager Anthony Attanasio.
Not all of Whitman’s $440,000 is for the primary election, however. Whitman’s Republican adversaries are quick to point out that a quarter of the roughly $200,000 she raised during her first quarter had to be set aside for the general election, since it came from donors who each contributed $4,600 – maxing out the limits for both the general and primary.
Attanasio said that a “large majority” of the $240,000 she’s raised since then can be used in the primary election.
And critics on the liberal Web site Bluejersey.com point out that Whitman, harnessing her mother’s campaign contacts, received donations from entire families – including many donor offspring who probably did not have the financial resources themselves to donate thousands to the campaign.
“Let’s say to this point we’ve had over 700 donors, so if they want to focus on friends and family they’re more than welcome to, but Kate’s family isn’t that big,” said Attanasio. “The reality is that when any candidate runs for office — whether its town council, U.S. Congress, whatever office you run for — the first place you run to look for support is what they call the Christmas Card list – the friends and family who believe in you and invest in you as a private citizen and believe and invest in you as someone running for public office.”
Meanwhile, Lance’s campaign insists that they will release their totals soon and the numbers will be “very healthy.” And his supporters insist that, even if filings do show that Lance is out-raised, his county convention victories trump any fundraising disadvantage.
“Fundraising has been very healthy, and we will be extremely competitive,” said Lance.
But while Lance acknowledged that fundraising is important, he touted his record of victories.
“I’m very pleased that I prevailed at the Somerset convention when there were six Somerset county candidates – and it was upset victory for me,” he said.
Lance has never been known as a prolific fundraiser during his years in the state Senate, where he’s developed a reputation as a policy wonk but not the most apt politician. But he disputed the charge, noting that he has $140,000 in his current state Senate account, even if he can’t use that money for his state Senate race.
“Certainly I’ve been able to raise funding in legislative races in the past,” he said.
While the bulk of 7th district coverage has focused on Lance and Whitman, five other Republican candidates filed yesterday.
Former Summit Councilwoman P. Kelly Hatfield, a microbiologist, says she can’t be counted out – she does have the line in her home county of Union.
Hatfield has raised about $103,000 so far, and has about $93,000 cash-on-hand. She continues to make fundraising calls, but noted the state Sen. race in which Republican Jennifer Beck beat Ellen Karcher, despite being outspent 5-to-1.
“I think money is always important but it’s a combination of things,” she said. “I think that the Beck-Karcher showdown tells you that it’s not all about money.”
Scotch Plains Mayor Marty Marks, a dentist who’s running as a “true Conservative”, said that as of April 1st he had raised about $130,000, but has raised an additional $20,000 since the deadline.
“It is what it is,” said Marks. “If in my next life I come back as the son of a former Governor, it will make my life easier in terms of raising money as well.”
Tom Roughneen, an Iraq vet and former prosecutor who’s running largely on his military record, said he’s raised about $50,000 so far – partially from the Web site iraqvetsforcongress.com.
“As (John) McCain says, it’s not about money, it’s about message. And I think he’s proven everybody wrong,” he said.
According to Ingrid Reed, Director of the Eagleton Institute’s New Jersey Project, the field is too crowded to point to a clear frontrunner right now. But Whitman, she said, is smart to tout her fundraising edge.
“It’s a very good signal as a campaign tactic. ‘We’ve got all this money and support.’ – that makes you look strong,” she said. “Particularly if you don’t have the endorsements.”
Two other candidates, A.D. Amar and Darren Young (who’s running on Senate candidate Murray Sabrin’s alternate slate) could not be reached for comment.