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Published: Monday, 4/26/2004

Kaczala trails in campaign cash

If Larry Kaczala's strategy in his run against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo is to keep a low profile right now to lull her into a sense of complacency, he's doing a good job.

He's so far under the radar that not many contributors seem to know he's in the race. The latest campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission shows he collected only $4,035 over the six weeks from mid-February to the end of March, and has cash on hand of $3,719.

That's 232 times less than the $864,541 reported to be in the Kaptur bank account.

Mr. Kaczala, one of the highest-profile Republicans in northwest Ohio, has raised less than $7,000 in his entire race, and appears to be well behind schedule in raising the $1 million he had predicted he would collect and spend by the end of the campaign. Things could change, and quickly, but as it now stands, he has a long way to go just to get to the national average amount raised by challengers to congressional incumbents - $197,608, according to www.opensecrets.org, a Web site that tracks such things.

Even with that level of funding, only about 5 percent of congressional challengers win their races. In many of those cases, money isn't the reason.

Miss Kaptur, by contrast, raised $71,318 in the same six-week period, and spent $10,829.

Most of Ms. Kaptur's contributions came from political action committees, with a total of just $14,318 from individuals.

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But if Mr. Kaczala has been slow in gathering campaign cash, at least he's not spending it faster than it comes in. That cannot be said for Democrat Eric Fingerhut, a state senator from Shaker Heights, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. George Voinovich.

Mr. Fingerhut's finance report for the six weeks between mid-February and the end of March had not yet been posted online at the FEC, but his report for the period just before that, from Jan. 1 to mid-February, is available.

It shows he raised $38,556, and spent $91,709 during that time, a more than two-to-one cash hemorrhage that has left him with only $122,979 cash on hand.

And this isn't even the expensive time in the campaign. That comes this fall, when candidates start making their television ad buys.

Mr. Voinovich appears ready for the cost of television. His latest report shows fund-raising of $635,754, outflow of $231,387, and more than $5 million cash on hand. Mix in the poll numbers that show Mr. Voinovich with a sizable lead over Mr. Fingerhut - though that lead has diminished somewhat as Ohioans get to know his opponent - and the incumbent is probably sleeping well at night. There are no guarantees in politics, but money in the bank and a lead in the polls are nice substitutes.

The Fingerhut report includes expenses in the form of lots of small checks - $1,000, $1,250, $1,750 each - to "campaign consultants," the phrase that Mr. Fingerhut has adopted to describe his paid staffers. If he were to hire a real campaign consultant, the first piece of advice he would likely get: "Cut your campaign consultants."

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Paula Ross, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, told those gathered at a meeting in Point Place one evening last week that, if she is re-elected, it would be her last two-year term.

Ms. Ross, who has held a leadership post with the party since the mid-1990s, is facing a challenge to her re-election from a group of disaffected party members. The challenge is so serious that the outcome is unclear. Both Ms. Ross and her opponents, including former county Commissioner Sandy Isenberg, who is emerging as her chief competition for the chairmanship, have been meeting with small groups of Democratic precinct committeemen around the county.

It is these committeemen - also known as precinct captains - who make up the party's central committee. The committee will meet at 6 p.m. May 3 at the United Auto Workers Local 12 hall to vote for chairman.

The Ross opponents have mounted such a serious challenge because Ms. Ross failed to fill enough precinct slots with her supporters to prevent a "hostile takeover" of the central committee. Because they are the lowest elected post in politics - people run and are elected only by those neighbors who live in the same precinct and are of the same party - party leaders sometimes forget about their care and feeding.

Practically speaking, local politics is often a top-down process where a few powerful figures control how their party is run. But, as Ms. Ross is now learning anew, the best way to remain at the "top" is to pay close attention to those who comprise the "bottom."



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