Posted: Feb. 26, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Winning a majority in the state House of Representatives does not come cheap. Better budget upwards of $1 million.

Control of the 41-member chamber will be prime this campaign season, just as it was in the 2008 election, when the majority flipped from Republican to Democrat for the first time in 24 years. It gave the Democrats the entire Delaware General Assembly.

The fight for the House majority last time raged over 13 critical districts arrayed from Claymont to Gumboro. The candidates collectively raised more than $1.3 million to pay for it.

The House currently stands at 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans. For the Republicans to take back the majority, they not only have to oust four Democrats but also hold on to the seats of three Republicans who are retiring.

It is going to take a lot of $600 checks -- the maximum contribution for legislative candidates. Here is a look back at the campaign treasuries in the 2008 races that determined the majority and some lessons that can be taken away.

The tally of contributions was compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization based in Montana. The figures do not include the extracurricular financing by the parties or political action committees that aided the candidates. The amounts are rounded, and incumbents are listed in bold.

District Winner   $$ Raised Loser   $$ Raised Total
7th Bryon Short D $104,300 Jim Bowers R $99,000 $203,300
41st John Atkins D   $85,600 Greg Hastings R $76,300 $161,900
32nd Brad Bennett D   $65,900 Donna Stone R $75,100 $141,000
18th Mike Barbieri D   $23,700 Terry Spence R $85,800 $109,500
9th Dick Cathcart R   $78,800 Rebecca Walker D $30,600 $109,400
21st Mike Ramone R   $38,500 Pat Creedon D $62,500 $101,000
31st Darryl Scott D   $46,800 Nancy Wagner R $46,600   $93,400
33rd Bob Walls D   $70,000 Jack Peterman R $18,800   $88,800
35th Dave Wilson R   $38,400 Aaron Chaffinch D $38,800   $77,200
29th Pam Thornburg R   $38,700 Trey Paradee D $36,000   $74,700
10th Dennis Edward Williams D   $34,600 Bob Valihura R $34,900   $69,500
27th Earl Jaques D   $24,300 Vince Lofink R $38,200   $62,500
8th Quinn Johnson D   $23,100 Martha Sturtevant R $22,400   $45,500

Targeted incumbents should prepare to out-raise their opponents robustly. Greg Hastings did not, Nancy Wagner did not, Bob Valihura did not, even though they knew the Democrats were coming after them. This is disarmament. They all lost.

Self-reliance counts, too. John Atkins got himself forced out of the House for bad conduct, then switched parties from Republican to Democrat to try to win his seat back. This was not exactly a recipe for raising contributions. Instead, he put in $53,000 of his own money, which paid for the bulk of his campaign and a return trip to Dover.

Self-defense starts at $70,000. Incumbents ought to bank at least that much if they are expecting a serious challenge. Dick Cathcart and Bob Walls did, and it brought both of them 54 percent of the vote.

Not that there are any guarantees. Donna Stone and Terry Spence had that kind of money and still turned into ex-representatives, Spence, who was the House speaker, collected $85,800 but lost, anyway, to a candidate with only $23,700 in his campaign account. Sometimes it is just time to go.

Sometimes it works out. Greg Lavelle stashed away $74,900. It was the charm that kept him free from anything but a token Democratic opponent in a bad year for Republicans. Lavelle took 63 percent of the vote in his Brandywine Hundred district and ended 2008 with 65K in the bank, ready to do it all over in 2010.