Politics & Government

GOP challenger's poor fundraising raises questions about campaign

WASHINGTON — An anemic fundraising performance by Republican Mike Berryhill has called into question his ability to effectively challenge Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.

Berryhill only raised $28,503 in the last three months of 2009, newly filed disclosure statements show. Of this, more than half came from a loan Berryhill made to his own campaign. The Turlock Irrigation District board member remains well behind Cardoza in fundraising.

"You always want to do better," Berryhill's campaign consultant, Carl Fogliani, said Monday, "but this isn't a traditional challenger's race. Mike is building a grassroots campaign."

Berryhill had but $53,086 in available cash as of Dec. 31, the new disclosure statement shows. Cardoza, in addition to enjoying the other advantages of incumbency, reported having $481,948 in available cash.

"Any incumbent is going to have access to superior funds," Fogliani acknowledged.

The fundraising competition is crucial in the overall political race. The failure to raise sufficient funds inhibits a challenger's ability to communicate a message and become known by voters. It can also incite a vicious cycle, as parties and political professionals may financially shun an underperforming candidate.

The son of a former California state legislator and a member of a well-known San Joaquin Valley political family, Berryhill is a rancher who has served on the Turlock irrigation board since 1983. He served two terms on the Ceres Unified School District board.

Cardoza has served in the House since 2003, representing a district that includes all or part of Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, as well as a sliver of Fresno County. He has not faced a seriously funded challenge since snatching the seat from former Rep. Gary Condit, D-Ceres, in 2002.

Since announcing his congressional candidacy in August, Berryhill has raised $30,047 from other individuals, the latest disclosure statement show. By contrast, in a race considered one of the nation's most competitive, a Republican challenging a Democratic incumbent in New Hampshire reported raising $277,000 last year.

Berryhill has also loaned his campaign a total of $120,000. Aggressive challengers often loan their campaigns money.

Berryhill, though, has also begun paying himself back well before the election season kicks off. He reported paying back $20,000 of his original campaign loan in October, only to turn around and loan his campaign another $15,000 in December.

Unless Berryhill can accelerate, the San Joaquin Valley's most closely watched campaign may remain a Republican primary in the 19th Congressional District currently represented by Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. At least four Republicans are gunning for the party's nomination in the GOP-friendly district that stretches from Stanislaus to Fresno counties.

None of the candidates — Republican state Sen. Jeff Denham of Merced, former Congressman Richard Pombo of Tracy, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and current Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerland — have had to formally report their fundraising yet.

The sudden nature of Radanovich's retirement announcement, though, is reflected in the $11,000 he raised from political action committees less than a week before his late December announcement that he would not seek re-election. Radanovich, who is backing Denham, now has $198,552 he can dispense from his campaign treasury.

Pombo was in Washington raising money last week, and Denham is visiting Washington this week.

In a Fresno-area congressional district, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, reports having about $586,000 in his campaign treasury. Democrat Steve Haze of Auberry, who wants to challenge Costa, has $7,111.