Republicans in tight House races on top in the money game

Incumbents in big (and expensive)races, L-R: Reps. Judy Biggert, R-Ill; Chip Cravaack, R-Minn.; Bobby Schilling, R-Ill.; Allen West, R-Fla.

Republicans vying for House seats have the money edge in tossup races as the campaign enters its home stretch. The latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show that GOP candidates have at least $5.65 million more than the Democrats in 23 tossup races as identified by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Republicans in the group had about $17.64 million cash on hand, compared to the Democrats' $12 million. 

The report, which covers the third quarter, show that candidates running the House seats this year raised a total of $976 million as of Sept. 30 and had $352 million cash on hand. Unlike some outside groups spending money on ad buys and other forms of electioneering, campaigns actually have to disclose the cash they are holding onto, which can predict where there can be an onslaught of ad buys and get-out-the-vote operations such as a mailings and door to door campaigning.

Rep. Steve Israel, the New York Democrat shepherding his party’s effort to win a majority of House seats, is talking a good game but most political observers think his mission is near-impossible. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that Republicans will be able to hold onto all 63 seats they took in the Tea Party tidal wave of 2010.  The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which Israel heads, has made $36 million in expenditures on behalf of the party's House candidates, Sunlight's Follow the Unlimited Money shows. But the National Republican Congressional Campaign has given $48 million.

Some highlights from the reports of candidates in close races:

Several Illinois races are in play this election, thanks in part to a redistricting process that Democrats controlled and used to advantage their party. In the state's 11th Congressional District, veteran Republican Rep. Judy Biggert is fighting to retain her seat against Bill Foster, a Democrat who served two terms in a different district before losing his bid for reelection two years ago. Both have raised more than $2 million so far, which is high for House candidates but not unheard of, considering both congressional veterans.

Another Illinois race gaining attention is race between freshman Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling and Democrat Cheri Bustos. Each candidate has released memos touting their lead in polls conducted by their campaigns. This 17th Congressional District race is another case of redistricting which favors Democrats and is a key to the party's strategy of winning back the House. 

Schilling and Bustos each have spent more than $1.2 million each so far, impressive for any House candidate but especially so for challenger Bustos, who entered politics as a local councilwoman. On an average, House members have raised about $585,000 so far this cycle. Outside groups have also dumped some $5.8 million in the race with the two party committees spending liberally to oppose the rival candidate.

The House races are also a test of political resilience for freshmen who arrived on a wave of opposition to President Barack Obama's health care law and with the support of the Tea Party two years ago.  Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., and Allen West, R-Fla.,  are two freshmen in competitive races. Both candidates have outraised their opponents by at least a million and can burn through that cash if need be in the next few weeks.

In the Minnesota race, Democratic challenger, Rick Nolan, actually outraised the incumbent in the third quarter, taking in $450,000 to Cravaack's $412,000. But Cravaack went into the last month of the race with a far bigger bankroll. He reported $1.13 million in cash on hand compared to $464,000 for Nolan.  

In Florida, the fundraising prowess of the nationally known West has swamped Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy. West raised five times as much as his opponent in the third quarter, taking his tally to a whopping $15 million. As if that weren't enough, West's press secretary insisted the gap is even larger and accused Murphy of using accounting tricks to inflate his third quarter total. We've contacted the Murphy campaign for comment and will update this post when we get it.

West has taken in as much as most others in leadership positions (Majority Leader John Boehner has raised about $20 million), and the Tea Party conservative has been spending liberally on ads, especially some scathing ones against Murphy.