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Wilson: Under Fire But Raising Cash Fast

Two House Republican incumbents under fire over alleged ethics violations have taken different approaches to stockpiling early campaign cash, with one raising money at her fastest clip ever and the other falling behind his fund-raising clip from previous cycles.

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), who is fighting allegations she pressured a federal prosecutor to charge local Democrats with corruption in order to tar her opponent last fall, raised $325,000 in the first quarter of 2007 -- almost $100,000 more than she collected in the same period two years ago. In addition, she has $250,000 remaining in her campaign account, about 35 percent more than she had at the same point two years ago.

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who is battling allegations about land deals under investigation, raised just $117,724 from Jan. 1 to March 31 -- which is about a third of the amount he raised in the same period two years ago. In addition, Renzi ended the quarter with just $80,561 in his campaign account, a sharp drop from the $441,704 he had in his war chest at this point in 2005.

Moreover, Renzi is still holds debts of more than $144,000, which means he has negative net balance in his campaign account. The bulk of that debt, more than $100,000, is to Patton Boggs, the law firm that is helping defend him from a federal investigation into allegations that he promoted a land deal that benefited a former business partner.

Both Wilson and Renzi filed their fund-raising reports with the Federal Election Commission late this week, a few days before the Sunday deadline for doing so.

Wilson and Renzi have long been in Democratic cross-hairs, but have survived tough challenges in the past. Wilson, in particular, has proven to be a steely fund-raiser and campaigner, having spent more than $4.7 million -- more than her mentor, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), ever spent in a statewide Senate race -- to win by 861 votes in 2006. (Domenici is also under a cloud over his alleged connections to the U.S. Attorneys scandal.)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has Wilson clearly in its radar again. A quick stop at its Web site would lead one to believe that the committee's entire purpose was defeating Wilson: the top half of the home page is dominated by a link to a new radio ad attacking Wilson and a previous radio ad attacking her, as well as a link to the "Heather Wilson Watch" and a petition to demand Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resign because of the firings of the U.S. attorneys.

Despite those attacks, Wilson's early fund-raising pace demonstrates that, for now at least, she intends to take her race seriously. There has been talk that, should Domenici retire rather than seek a seventh six-year term at the age of 76 next year, Wilson would run in his stead. This fund-raising base would help her in such a campaign.

Renzi, however, appears to have opened the door for Democratic challengers to step into the race in the next few months and not start far behind financially at all. Compared to Wilson's skin-of-her-teeth margin, Renzi won his re-election last year by a veritable "landslide" -- more than 13,000 votes, a 52-44 margin.

He was able to outspend his opponent, Democrat Ellen Simon, by almost $1 million: $2.3 million for Renzi, to a little more than $1.4 million for Simon.

By Paul Kane  |  April 13, 2007; 4:24 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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