WASHINGTON — Republican candidates are burning through cash and building up debt as they battle for an open San Joaquin Valley congressional seat.
With less than two weeks remaining before the all-important June 8 primary for the 19th Congressional District, state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, reports owing $296,837, while former Tracy area congressman Richard Pombo owes $89,665.
A third Republican contender, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson, has raised less than either Denham or Pombo and owes a comparatively modest $12,000.
"It is not uncommon at all to have outstanding debts at the end of the campaign, especially when personal loans are factored in," noted Mike Lynch, a Modesto-based political consultant unaffiliated with any of the GOP campaigns.
Recent polls have put Denham and Patterson in a tight race, with Pombo somewhat behind and Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund taking up the rear. Republicans dominate in the district that stretches from Modesto to Fresno via the Sierra Nevada, so the primary winner is all but certain to be the next congressman.
The seat opened up with the retirement announcement of Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. Radanovich is backing Denham.
With none of the candidates enjoying the advantages of congressional incumbency, the 19th Congressional District contest has incited some contributors to hedge their bets.
California Poultry Federation president Bill Mattos, for instance, contributed $2,400 to Pombo on April 9. Five days later, Mattos contributed $1,845 to Denham.
Denham has been the most aggressive at tapping his own funds. He has loaned his campaign $150,000, though he's already paid himself back $80,000. His campaign still owes him $70,000. The campaign owes the rest to a variety of mass mail, fundraising and phone bank firms, among others.
Denham reported raising a net total of $194,838 between April 1 and May 19, the most recent reporting period covered. His campaign spent $347,956 during the same period.
Denham had $73,148 available as of May 19 to fuel his final primary push, although last-minute fundraising is continuing.
Pombo reported having $128,973 available, after raising $137,333 during the reporting period.
Patterson had $18,425 available, after raising $32,115 during the reporting period.
Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund has raised the least money of all. Westerlund's campaign reported raising $20,935 during the last period and had only $5,953 available. On the other hand, his campaign owes a mere $100, to the Oakdale High School Sports Booster Club.
In the neighboring 18th Congressional District, which Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, is favored to hold, Republican challenger Mike Berryhill has been churning through loans.
Berryhill reported loaning his campaign $225,000 on March 30, immediately prior to the end of a reporting period. He reported paying himself back the $225,000 on April 4. On May 19, the end of another closely watched reporting period, Berryhill again reported loaning his campaign $225,000.