Big Bucks Being Spent on Local Senate Races

November 1, 2011

With unfettered control of Virginia government possible for Republicans in next week's state Senate races and Democrats girded to prevent it, spending by the two parties has topped $6.4 million the past four weeks.

New campaign finance filings Monday — the last before the Nov. 8 election — show Republican groups spent more than $2.2 million of it on five of their most targeted races since Oct. 1.

That's in addition to large, last-minute donations from individuals or companies and independent spending in targeted Senate races by other groups.

Bryce Reeves, a Spotsylvania businessman and former Prince William narcotics detective who is challenging Democratic Sen. R. Edward Houck's bid for an eighth term, raked in nearly $400,000 from his party in October. That's in addition to nearly $25,000 in radio advertising the Republican Party of Virginia provided as an independent expenditure in September.

"When you see a lot of money going into a district it's definitely an indication that one party sees an opportunity to pick up a seat," said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Reeves is getting way more party money, so you're seeing the influence of Governor [Bob] McDonnell and his political action committee and the GOP of Virginia as really making a go at this and trying to win the Senate."

Houck received $110,000 from Democratic Party groups in October.

The GOP has a safe and sizable majority in the House of Delegates to help Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's for the next two years. Republicans can seize unquestioned dominance of policymaking in Virginia with a net gain of three state Senate seats.

A two-seat GOP gain would create a 20-20 partisan deadlock in the 40-member Senate, giving Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling the tie-breaking vote, but forcing Democrats and Republicans to share power and evenly apportion seats on Senate committees.

The huge stretch-run cash outlays by both parties and affiliated organizations illuminate priority races.

Republican Adam Light, who is challenging 3 ½-term Democratic incumbent Phillip Puckett in far southwestern Virginia's coalfields, received nearly $600,000 from GOP groups by himself, with the party accounting for nearly all of his campaign's receipts.

That doesn't count more than $166,000 the Republican State Leadership Committee has spent in independent broadcast ads, mailings and phone banks attacking Puckett.

Puckett, whom Light and GOP groups labeled as an acolyte of Democratic President Barack Obama and the "cap-and-trade" energy proposal that's deeply unpopular in coal country, took the extraordinary step of saying he would not support Obama's 2012 bid for re-election. Yet he received nearly $382,000 from Democratic sources, the most of any Democratic Senate candidate. Almost one-third of it came Thursday in a $120,000 check from the Virgina Democratic Senate Caucus.

Mickey Chohany, who is challenging Democratic Sen. John Miller's bid for a second term from Newport News, got nearly $468,000 in Republican money while Democratic groups gave Miller more than $283,000.

In the only race pitting two Senate incumbents against each other, freshman Republican Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin County received about $375,000 from Republican organizations last month for his challenge against 15-year Democratic Sen. Roscoe Reynolds of Henry County.

Democratic redistricting moved the boundaries Stanley's old Senate district, so he chose to take a new address about 10 miles down the road in Reynolds' district and challenge him.

Democratic groups gave Reynolds nearly $280,000 to help him defend his seat during October.

Miller Baker, a Republican taking on Democratic Sen. George Barker in southern Fairfax County, got nearly $370,000 from GOP groups in October while Democrats rushed nearly $283,000 in to aid Barker — 38 percent of it, or $109,000, in the past five days.

Del. David Nutter, a Christiansburg Republican challenging four-term Democratic Sen. John Edwards, took in more than $321,000 from party groups in October. Edwards, from the city of Roanoke, took in less than $151,000 from Democratic groups during the period.

In the House, Republican incumbent Charles Poindexter, who faces Democratic House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong, got nearly $485,000 in party money for a marquee race rich in symbolic meaning but of little import to the House's lopsided GOP majority.

Armstrong received slightly more than $68,000 from Democratic groups in October.

The filings were compiled by the nonprofit and nonpartisan tracker of cash in state politics, the Virginia Public Access Project.

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