February 8, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Gay House, Senate candidates running strong

U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay and lesbian candidates for the U.S. House and Senate are competitive with — and in some cases besting — their straight opponents when it comes to raising money.

Fundraising numbers for the fourth quarter of 2011 and the year in total became public earlier this month after candidates submitted their campaign filings in accordance with federal election law.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who’s seeking to become the first openly gay U.S. senator, made a particularly impressive showing in the final quarter in her bid to represent Wisconsin in the Senate by taking in $1.16 million.

The fourth quarter haul means the Democrat and seven-term House member raised $2.5 million last year for her Senate campaign. She has $1.8 million in cash on hand.

Phillip Walzak, a Baldwin spokesperson, said the number demonstrates the strength of her campaign.

“These figures demonstrate the strength of Tammy’s grassroots campaign, and the depth of support for her message to stand up for our shared values, and put the people ahead of right-wing radicals and corporate special interests,” Walzak said.

Nathan Gonzales, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said Baldwin won’t “lose the Senate race because she doesn’t have enough money,” although it remains a toss-up and could be ”one the top general elections in the country.”

Gonzales added he doesn’t think Baldwin’s sexual orientation will factor into the race heading into the general election.

“I see Republicans talking about her just being from Madison and how being a liberal Democrat from Madison puts her out of touch with the rest of the state rather than making her sexuality an issue,” Gonzales said.

Republican candidates in the race don’t come close to Baldwin in fundraising. Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson raised $657,000 and has $544,000 in cash on hand. Former congressman and gubernatorial candidate Mark Neumann raised $826,000 and has $552,000 in cash on hand.

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Baldwin has “lapped everybody in the field” of Republicans.

“They’re going to be spending that money in the primary,” Dison said. “This is going to be a pretty ugly primary on the Republican side. They’re really going to have to spend all the way to win their nomination.”

Democrat Mark Takano, a gay public school teacher and member of the Riverside Community College District’s Board of Trustees, is also on top in fundraising for the race to represent California’s newly created 41st congressional district — although by a much slimmer margin.

Takano has raised $288,000 in total and has $212,000 in cash on hand. The Republican in the race, Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione has raised $275,000 and has $177,000 in cash on hand.

Gonzales said he thinks the race will be “competitive” in the general election, but added that Takano has the advantage.

“I think Republicans looking at numbers think there may be an opportunity there in a mid-term election,” Gonzales said. “In the presidential race where the president is going to do very well in the state, overall, I think, Takano has the edge.”

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rep. David Cicilline, whom many thought would face a tough re-election campaign because of his unpopularity in the polls, is also outraising his Republican opponents and faces no Democratic challenger.

The Rhode Island Democrat has raised a total of $949,000 and has $518,000 in cash on hand. Republican businessman and former law enforcement official Brendan Doherty has raised $617,000 and has $482,000 in cash on hand.

Cicilline nose-dived in the polls last year because he was seen as less than forthcoming about the troubled finances of Providence, R.I., during his tenure as mayor prior to his election to the U.S. House.

The city of 178,000 faced a $110 million projected budget deficit and the rainy-day fund diminished from more than $22.3 million three years ago to less than $221,000, according to a report last year from Politico.

Gonzales said Cicilline’s problem in the general election won’t be money, but his approval rating, and predicted the race will be competitive even though Rhode Island is considered a Democratic state.

“If voters are focused on Cicilline’s record in Congress, then he’ll probably be fine for re-election, if they’re focused on his time as mayor and how they feel about how he described his tenure when he was running for Congress, then his re-election becomes a much dicier proposition,” Gonzales said.

Dison said he thinks Cicilline will do better than expected in the fall because his district was altered during the redistricting process to become even more Democratic.

“It would be very tough for a Republican to win that seat, unless there is a Republican wave out there,” Dison said. “But even in the last election, which was obviously a Republican wave, he won the district pretty handily.”

Other gay candidates aren’t ahead in fundraising, but are still doing well enough to remain competitive in their races.

U.S. House candidate Mark Pocan (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Democrat Mark Pocan, a gay member of the State Assembly seeking the U.S. House seat Baldwin is vacating at the end of the year, has raised $274,000 and has $204,000 in cash on hand.

But it’s less money than David Worzala, another Democrat and the Dane County Treasurer. The candidate has raised $278,000 and has $252,196 in cash on hand.

Dison said Worzala’s lead in fundraising is misleading because the candidate loaned himself $170,000 and Pocan actually doubled and tripled what the other candidate raised.

“In terms of fundraising, he’s not doing very well raising money from individual donors, whereas Pocan is doing very well both from political action committees and individuals,” Dison said.

Dison added that Pocan’s endorsements are “overwhelming” and said every major Democrat and union has backed the gay candidate in the race.

Both candidates in this race are ahead of Kelda Roys, another Democratic member of the State Assembly, who’s raised $147,000 and has $128,828 in cash on hand.

In Massachusetts, gay Republican Richard Tisei, a former member of the Massachusetts Legislature and former candidate for lieutenant governor, is behind in his bid to unseat Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), but still has sizable funds.

Tisei has raised $311,559 and has $260,000 in cash on hand, but the incumbent Tierney, running in the strongly Democratic state, raised $577,545 and has $546,000 in cash on hand.

But looking just at the fourth quarter, Tisei bested Tierney in terms of fundraising. The Republican raised $311,558, almost all the fundraising for his campaign, in that quarter, while Tierney raised $161,105. Another Republican in the race, attorney and businessman Bill Hudak, dropped out of the race after the fundraising totals were announced.

Gonzales said the Democrat is favored and that it will be tough for any Republican, but said there may be a chance to do better than expected in the race.

“It’s still a Democratic district, but because of questions, ethical questions surrounding Tierney, or more specifically, his family, I think there’s an opportunity,” Gonzales said.

Dison said the seat became more winnable for a Republican with redistricting and the major question in the race is the extent to which the Republican Party rallies behind Tisei in the general election.

“The question will be whether the Republican committees here in town see that as a possible pick up, and if they do, then they’re going to get behind him and spend a lot of money there,” Dison said.

According to Politico, Tierney’s brother-in-law, Daniel Eremian, was convicted of federal racketeering charges related to his operation of an illegal offshore casino. Additionally, Patrice Tierney, the lawmaker’s wife and Eremian’s sister, last year was sentenced to one month in prison and five months of house arrest after pleading guilty to charges that she aided in the filing of her brother’s false tax returns.

Gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has raised $353,ooo and has $166,000 in cash on hand. He’s not expected to face serious competition in his heavily Democratic district.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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