One of Southern California’s most long-shot congressional races just got a little more interesting.
Figures released this week show that Debbie Cook, an upstart Democratic challenger for the congressional seat held by Republican Dana Rohrabacher, raised more money in campaign contributions in the last three months than the popular 10-term incumbent. It was the second straight quarter in which Cook received more campaign donations than Rohrabacher, though he has far more cash in the bank.
On top of that, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington, D.C., recently declared the race slightly more competitive than before, changing its ranking from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.”
Cook reported raising $92,990 in the second quarter, compared with $78,713 for Rohrabacher, according to campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday. She has about $97,400 cash in the bank, while Rohrabacher has nearly $390,000.
Underlying the attention to the candidates’ fundraising prowess is a key question: At what point, if at all, might the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee throw its muscle behind Cook, with help such as fundraising or television advertising, in an effort to win the race?
“Obviously we’re hoping that’s going to happen,” Cook said Tuesday. Rohrabacher’s campaign office did not return a phone call.
As of Thursday, the race for the 46th Congressional District, which includes parts of coastal Orange and Los Angeles counties, was not one of the Democratic committee’s targeted races. But “Debbie Cook’s campaign for change continues to gain momentum, and we continue to closely monitor her progress,” said Yoni Cohen, a spokesperson for the committee’s Western region.
One factor increasing Democratic interest in the race is Rohrabacher’s amount of cash on hand, which is relatively low for a Congressional campaign.
Cook, the mayor of Huntington Beach, has been viewed as a hard-charging, if optimistic, underdog for the seat, which stretches from Costa Mesa to Rancho Palos Verdes. Roughly a third of the district’s residents live in Cook’s hometown, where she has been a popular environmental crusader and has served on the City Council since 2000.
This year is shaping up to be one of the toughest in memory for Republican candidates, with economic uncertainty and President Bush and Republican leadership dragging down the rest of the party in polls. In three special elections around the nation so far this year, seats that had been solidly Republican, in some cases for decades, have gone Democratic.
Cook’s supporters are hoping those circumstances will lead to another surprise Democratic come-from-behind victory in Orange County -- replicating Loretta Sanchez’s win over Bob Dornan in 1996.
Still, with 180,000 registered Republicans in the district outnumbering the 124,000 Democrats and 75,000 decline-to-states, Cook will have to thread the needle to win.
Though the Cook Political Report upgraded its take on Cook’s campaign, “that’s not saying much about the race,” said David Wasserman, the House editor of the report, noting it would have to be ranked as a “toss-up” to be deemed truly competitive.
“This is still two tiers away from being a real horse race,” he said. “I don’t think anyone sees this race as a competitive race yet, and it may not become one. But it is worth keeping tabs on.”