This article originally provided by The Herald-Dispatch

October 23, 2006

Byrd-Raese contest priciest W.Va. race


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Differing approaches to fundraising by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Republican challenger John Raese have helped make their race West Virginia's most expensive this election.

Not counting the Republican field that Raese bested in May to challenge the veteran Democrat, the contest has seen receipts clear $7.5 million and spending approach $7 million as of Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Those amounts outstrip any of the state's three U.S. House races in the off-year election. They also exceed all 75 state legislative races - 17 Senate and 58 House of Delegates districts - combined.

But the Byrd-Raese money race ranks only 20th among this year's U.S. Senate contests, according to Congressional Quarterly's PoliticalMoneyLine. All four of West Virginia's neighbors with a Senate seat on this year's ballot have seen more expensive contests.

Seeking a record ninth term, Byrd has been amassing campaign funds since early 2005. The early start has allowed him to collect more than 2,500 contributions totaling $1.7 million from individuals who each gave at least $250.

Courted by national Republicans, Raese did not enter the race until January. He has attracted only about 600 of these large-dollar contributions, which total $553,000.

But as a media owner and heir to a fortune in limestone, steel and other industrial holdings, Raese has been able to self-finance his campaign. He has pumped more than $2.2 million from his personal wealth into his effort, including $200,000 added on Friday.

About $1.6 million of that amount has come since the primary. Though it has helped narrow the funding gap between his campaign and Byrd's, it also benefits the eight-term senator. Federal campaign finance law features a "millionaire's amendment" that increases individual contribution caps for candidates facing opponents who spend massive amounts of personal funds.

The FEC has set a $207,360 self-financing threshold for West Virginia, a figure based on its voting-age population. Though the per-person cap is normally $2,100 per election, Raese's self-giving initially allowed Byrd supporters to give up to $6,300 apiece.

Raese's more recent largesse has increased Byrd's per-donor limit even higher, to $12,600. The amendment will also allow Byrd's national and state parties to give unlimited funds if Raese loans another $463,600 to his campaign.

Byrd has also benefited from a support base that extends beyond the Mountain State's borders. His stance against the Iraq war and other Bush administration policies has won him fans from around the country, as has his 2004 best-seller, "Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency."

As a result, out-of-state donors account for about 56 percent of Byrd's large-dollar contributions. His national profile is also likely a factor behind the $2 million worth of under-$250 contributions, which are not itemized, that he has received.

Though Byrd has likewise incurred the wrath of Bush supporters and the national GOP, Raese has not seen a resulting boon. Raese's leading primary opponent, Republican Hiram Lewis, proved much more adept at courting anti-Byrd sentiment. With a direct-mail and Internet fundraising strategy that ultimately consumed most of his funds, Lewis raised about $1 million - more than twice Raese's total for the primary.

Most of Lewis' funds came from out of state. By contrast, about 70 percent of Raese's contributors hail from West Virginia. Nearly two-thirds of these donors are, like Raese, from Morgantown.

About 4 percent of Raese's contributions have come from Florida, where his two daughters attend school and his wife spends most of the year at their $2.9 million Palm Beach estate. The Raeses also have a home in Telluride, Colo., though FEC records list no contributions from that state.

Raese and Byrd must file one more report, by Thursday, in advance of the Nov. 7 election. Byrd, 88, this year became the longest-serving senator in U.S. history.


Lawrence Messina covers the statehouse for The Associated Press.

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