House and Senate races pull in big bucks during campaigns

Most of the hubbub and hoopla is over Oregon’s gubernatorial race, but hundreds of thousands of dollars are also pouring into key state House and Senate races this election cycle, underscoring hopes by Republicans and Democrats alike to take control of both chambers.

Democrats are gunning for the House, where Republicans currently have a 33-27 advantage. Future PAC, the House Democrats’ fundraising arm, reported an eye-popping $420,611 in contributions through the end of last month, according to reports filed this month with the Secretary of State’s office. A second round of reporting is due in early May.

The amount is well above the $294,600 raised by Majority 2006, the House Republicans’ political action committee, and nearly double what the Democrats had raised at this point in the 2004 election cycle.

“There are up to eight Republican seats that we can take this time, and in order to do that, you need the resources,” said Jon Isaacs, executive director of Future PAC. “This puts us in a really good spot to do that.”

But Nick Smith, communications director for Majority 2006, said GOP fundraising is easily outpacing the Democrats, once the totals raised by PACs run by House Speaker Karen Minnis of Wood Village and Majority Leader Wayne Scott of Canby are factored in.

Minnis, the Democrats’ top target, reported raising $282,666 toward her re-election between September 2005 and March 2006. That is more than some top gubernatorial candidates have risen.

Though donations from national groups had been expected to flow into the state in the quest to topple the powerful Minnis, the speaker herself has been drawing her share of out-of-state contributions, including $12,000 from Missouri-based Anheuser-Busch Cos., as well as local contributions like $26,000 from the Oregon Nurses’ Association.

Her opponent, Democrat Rob Brading of Fairview, reported raising $57,487 – more than many incumbents from the House, but only about one-fifth of Minnis’ total.

Over in the Senate, contribution totals raised by the two major parties are running closer – $212,384.50 for the GOP Leadership Fund, versus $140,615 for the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund. And a few hotly contested Senate races are already showing signs of being high-priced come fall: Top Democratic target Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, for example, reported having a cash balance $108,318, while her competitor, former Monmouth Mayor Paul Evans, raised more than $43,553, but had a cash balance of just $17,879 by March 31.

And in Eugene, where former Mayor Jim Torrey, a Republican is challenging state Sen. Vicki Walker, both candidates reported raising more than $70,000 by the end of March.

Campaign donations also provide early clues about the sprinkling of contested legislative primaries that will be decided on May 16. In the state Senate, the Washington-Marion County corridor has the hot primary races, including the contest between incumbent Republican Charles Starr and GOP challenger Larry George, the former leader of a property rights group who owns hazelnut-packing and political-advertising companies. George has the clear fundraising edge in the contest, with a reported $129,261 raised, versus Starr’s $87,075.

In the House, it’s the Democrats who have more primaries to watch, including two contests in Portland to replace departing legislators that together have attracted nine Democratic hopefuls, who report fundraising total between $3,700 and $41,000.