Cherilyn Anderson is a $45-a-month, small-town council member in southwestern Pennsylvania with no appetite for the partisanship of national politics. She won’t even set aside $1 in her tax returns to help pay for presidential campaigns.
But when she won $400 at the slots in Wheeling, W.Va., this year, she made her first ever political contribution, to Tammy Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war veteran and Democratic congressional candidate in the Chicago suburbs.
“What happens in the 6th District of Illinois impacts the 4th District of Pennsylvania,” Anderson said.
That sentiment is helping Democrats draw money from a national donor pool that is keeping them financially competitive in some of the most closely contested races for the House.
It also illustrates the broad dynamics of this year’s congressional elections as Democrats seek to regain control by exploiting national themes such as the war in Iraq, rising gas prices and wage inequities.
The ability of Democrats to raise individual contributions from outside their state is especially evident in close, open seat races, where Democrats are seeking to win in formerly Republican-held districts. That fundraising outreach has helped make Democrats in these contests among the best financed candidates in this election, second only to Republican incumbents.
Data compiled by watchdog organizations and a review of Federal Election Commission records by The Associated Press show that in the most competitive open seat races in Illinois, Colorado, Iowa and Arizona, Democrats raised more out-of-state money than Republicans by greater than a 4-to-1 margin.
Such an edge is a blessing and a curse.
In tight contests, any fundraising advantage is welcome. But Republicans are using the Democrats’ bounty against them, labeling them out-of-touch with their districts and incapable of finding financial support in their own backyard.
In no race is the discrepancy as evident — and as much of an issue — as in Illinois’ 6th Congressional District, where venerable Republican Rep. Henry Hyde is retiring after 32 years.
Duckworth, a National Guard major who lost both legs in a grenade attack on her helicopter outside Baghdad, has one of the highest national profiles among congressional candidates.
Party officials embraced her as a heroic symbol of the war’s toll on the United States and put their money operations at her disposal. One of her biggest fundraising successes was a California tour in May arranged by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Duckworth’s Republican opponent is Peter Roskam, a state senator and former congressional aide. Roskam, a member of the GOP leadership in the Illinois Senate, has raised most of his money locally, with help from visitors such as Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the president’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove.
As of June 30, Duckworth and Roskam each had raised nearly $1.9 million. Of that, Duckworth got $536,982 from individual contributors outside Illinois, according to Political Money Line, a nonpartisan clearing house for fundraising and lobbying data. Roskam raised only $84,650 outside the state.
One-third of Roskam’s total fundraising and one-quarter of Duckworth’s comes from political action committees. But Roskam takes in more from Illinois-based PACs than does Duckworth.
“The national handling and the national attention is ultimately an albatross around my opponent’s campaign,” Roskam said. “What she will do is she’ll get on a plane, go to San Francisco, and Nancy Pelosi will have an event. The difference is I have national folks coming into my district.”
Duckworth said she has many individual contributors in her district. “But they’re all $5, $10, $50 contributions and that’s a lot of work,” she said. “I’ve traveled across the country to raise funds. I haven’t had a Laura Bush, or Dick Cheney or Karl Rove come in like he has.”
Her national appeal has been lucrative. She has attracted donations of $1,000 to $2,000 from Barbra Streisand, “The West Wing” actor Bradley Whitford, Playboy magazine chief executive Christie Hefner and entertainer Rosie O’Donnell.
EMILY’s List, a political organization that directs money to candidates who support abortion rights, bundled more than $160,000 in donations from across the country for Duckworth.
The money reflects the two parties’ distinct approaches to this election. Democrats play up national issues that have hurt President Bush’s public standing; Republicans focus on matters of local interest and tax cuts.
At a recent ice cream social in a supporter’s backyard in Elk Grove, Duckworth spent most of her time discussing Iraq. She accused the administration of profligate spending on the war and declared that she believed the war was wrong from the start. But she distanced herself from other Democrats demanding a quick exit for Iraq. “I can’t support an arbitrary time line,” she said.
A day later and just a few miles down the road, Roskam held a news conference to call for more federal money to fix a dangerous local intersection. He portrayed Duckworth as politically naive for opposing earmarks, the special bits of constituent funding that members of Congress can slip into major spending bills.
Roskam said he wants members of Congress to attach their names to earmarks to discourage abuses, but argued that earmarks often are the only way communities can get money for worthy projects.
In a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats and where Bush beat Democratic Sen. John Kerry in 2004, Duckworth is trying to appeal to independent and moderate Republicans. She credits former Sen. Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican who was injured in World War II, for inspiring her to pursue public service during visits while she recuperated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Back in the small borough of Delmont, Pa., council member Anderson wishes Duckworth and Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is seeking re-election in Connecticut as an independent, would help form a third party. A Republican for 37 years, Anderson switched this year to the Democratic Party, but still does not feel she fits in there, either.
Anderson bristled when told that her Duckworth donation put her in the company of famous Hollywood liberals.
“The Democratic Party in going left; the Republican Party is going right,” she said. “Please, people — the majority of this country is right smack dab in the middle.”
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press