RICHMOND, Virginia — Virginia Republicans have a large cash advantage over Democrats going into an important campaign season, newly filed finance reports show. But Democrats said they don't have as much in the bank because they're already spending it on efforts similar to what helped their candidates, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, sweep all three statewide offices in 2013.
Much of this year's legislative action will be focused on a handful of competitive races in the state Senate, where Democrats need to pick up one seat in order to flip control of the chamber.
Republican leadership holds a large cash advantage over Democratic leaders in the upper chamber.
The combined committees of Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Sen. Ryan McDougle and the Senate Republican Caucus have nearly $2 million on hand.
By contrast, the committees of Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Sen. A. Donald McEachin and the Senate Democratic Caucus have about more than $700,000 combined. Saslaw told reporters earlier this year someone stole about $600,000 from his campaign accounts and the FBI was investigating.
The disparity in cash is even greater in the House of Delegates, which is two-thirds Republican. House Speaker William J. Howell has direct control over $1.4 million spread out over three different campaign committee accounts. By contrast, Democratic Minority Leader David J. Toscano and the House Democratic Caucus have $371,000 on hand. And several of Howell's top deputies have robust campaign accounts well into the six figures that can be spread around to competitive races.
Democrats shrugged off the GOP cash advantage, saying there's still plenty of time to raise funds.
"In the targeted races, we will not be outspent," said McEachin.
Democrats are counting on Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and prolific fundraiser, to be a key source of campaign cash. The governor raised $750,000 and spent $575,000 during the first three months of the year.
McAuliffe political aide Brian Zuzenak said his party's made early investments in the data-driven voter research efforts that helped the governor and others in the last state election cycle.
"The governor ran a very data intensive campaign, that's the kind of campaign I think we're going to run in 2015," said Zuzenak, who also noted that several Democratic Senate challengers and incumbents had strong quarterly fundraising results.
Zuzenak said Democrats have also placed been hiring campaign staff with significant experience to help in contested races and added that future fundraising efforts this year by McAuliffe and Senate Democrats will be robust.
"We're not going to leave any stone unturned for this election cycle," Zuzenak said.
As a swing state that holds off-year elections, Virginia could be an inviting target for national groups and rich donors looking to prepare for the 2016 presidential campaign. And Republicans said they expect many of the same donors who gave to McAuliffe in 2013 and support Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton to help state Democrats this fall.
"There's not much I can do about it if they want to have concrete manufactures from Chicago send $50,000 into Virginia," said McDougle. "Our vision is better and at the end of the day we think that's what is going to win."
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