While most political observers focus on the 2012 presidential campaign, a picture is starting to emerge of next year's battle for control of Congress.
House members have filed their first finance reports, with data suggesting that some Republican freshmen may already be vulnerable.
After knocking off 52 House Democrats last year on their way to 63 new seats, the GOP newcomers rode in on a huge wave of spending — $262 million, according to the Federal Election Commission, more than double what Democratic challengers had spent two years earlier.
But that big tide may not be running as strong now that Republicans control the House. First-quarter fundraising for the Republican freshmen turns out to be a mixed bag.
One newcomer, Diane Black of Tennessee, raised nearly $1 million in three months; 15 others raised more than $250,000 each. But after that, the numbers fall off — and three freshmen were still carrying $1 million or more in debt from last year's campaign.
Joanna Burgos is spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, where Job No. 1 is making sure those lawmakers win a second term. "First and foremost, you see a lot of support that the freshmen are garnering in their districts," she says. "It shows that they have the support, they have the dedication to put them on the road to victory."
At the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, they see the GOP fundraising differently. Spokesman Jesse Ferguson points to a Washington Post analysis that said early fundraising for the average Democratic freshman in 2007 and 2009 was $100,000 higher than it is for a GOP counterpart today.
"Their support base seemed to be somewhere between slipping away and evaporating," Ferguson says.
It's way too early for most of the House freshmen to have actual challengers. But the Democratic campaign committee is running generic ads targeting the most vulnerable freshmen — those in districts that vote Democratic in presidential elections.
On Wednesday, the committee launched a low-profile messaging campaign against 25 GOP freshmen. Radio ads and robocalls say they voted "to end Medicare."
Help Is On The Way
One of those targeted Republicans is Ann Marie Buerkle of New York state. Unlike many of her colleagues, she hasn't aggressively sought contributions from political action committees in Washington, D.C. So for the quarter, she reported raising just $65,000.
Buerkle's spokeswoman says she has had other priorities — setting up her office, getting up to speed on constituent services, and holding five town hall meetings since January.
But there is help on the way.
"Here at the NRCC, we do encourage a lot of teamwork," says Burgos. "And there are groups of members who help each other, introduce each other to new donors, etc."
Buerkle will be getting those introductions through a new entity called the Great 8 Committee, which was set up this winter to help finance re-election campaigns for eight freshmen, including Buerkle, who serve on the House Oversight Committee.
Republicans have six other new committees just like this: Team 2012, for new Republicans on the Financial Services Committee; the Lucky 13 Committee, for members of the Armed Services Committee, and so on.
Blessed by Republican leaders, each of these new creatures shares the common goal of protecting the gains its party made in 2010.