'82 House races: incumbents corner the market on funds

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

If money is the measure during the homestretch drive for Congress, the Class A entrants for 1982 are incumbent Republicans.

Incumbent Democrats are the Class B competitors. And the distant Class C - the cellar of 1982 fundraising - belongs decisively to challengers.

It's a megabucks political year. Candidates started earlier than ever to raise money, and political action committees and national party organizations have swelled the ante at record rates. With all this money around, one would have thought challengers might have shared more in the largess. Or, at least, campaign resources - which, according to Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Richard Richards, could reach $1 billion this year - might have been focused more on challengers with the best chances, those in close races.

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But not so. A few closely watched, competitive campaigns show clear signs that interest groups and party leaders have chipped in, as in several districts here in North Carolina. But the challengers' overall shortfall in campaign funds is as evident in 1982 as previous years.

A Monitor analysis of fundraising for the six dozen House races rated by pros in both parties to be the closest or the most competitive shows:

* GOP incumbents raised an average $212,566 through the first three-fourths of this two-year cycle, according to the latest Federal Election Commission (FEC) data.

* Democratic incumbents averaged $170,170, or $33,312 less.

* Challengers of both parties averaged $97,769, slightly less than half of the $198,254 averaged by incumbents of both parties.

Even here in North Carolina, declared a battleground by both national parties , the 11 House races mirror that pattern. North Carolina has three or four close contests. North Carolina's incumbent Republicans have a 33 percent edge over their Democratic incumbent counterparts. But this is a minor margin compared to the 100 percent edge incumbents hold over their challengers in the most recent FEC data.

The RNC's Richards points out that when FEC auditors have finally sorted through all the paperwork sometime next spring, the Republicans may again prove to have spent only marginally more than Democrats in House races. In 1980 the spending gap between the two averaged less than $12,000; when it came to raising money, incumbents out-paced challengers in House races by 3 to 1 when third party and fringe candidates are included.

These averages will likely cloak substantial outside spending on behalf of candidates, either as direct support or as negative campaign advertising to soften up adversaries.

The national GOP organizations will spend some $44 million on House races - $ 7 million from the RNC and $37 million from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has raised $4 million to aid candidates - twice as much as the Democrats raised in any previous year, but not enough to match the GOP. ''Despite the Democrats' gains this year, the gap has widened,'' says the NRCC's chairman Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R) of Michigan.

''Although the Democratic party raises only one-eighth of what we will raise, their candidates will spend almost dollar-for-dollar what ours spend,'' says Richards. ''The Democrats also have the advantage of labor's get-out-the-vote effort.''

In the 72 closest House races, liberal Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts was the big money collector with $825,010 as the fall campaign quarter began. His opponent, moderate incumbent Rep. Margaret M. Heckler (R) of Massachusetts, displaced like Representative Frank by redistricting, was second with $478,864. Third was Rep. John H. Rousselot (R) of California, with $377,909.

Incumbent war chests can prove effective in warding off would-be challengers. Rep. Phil Gramm (D) of Texas raised $772,026, even though he is running unopposed.

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