Denham has a million he can't use in Congress bid

Campaign laws send him to D.C. to get more cash

February 3, 2010 

WASHINGTON -- Republican state Sen. Jeff Denham of Merced built a million-dollar state campaign war chest, but he can't directly tap it as he runs for Congress.

So Denham, like his GOP competitors, must scramble anew for the seat now held by Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. The money chase helped bring three leading San Joaquin Valley contenders to Washington, where campaign cash is one bottom line.

"I plan on raising and spending $2 million," Denham said Wednesday after arriving on an overnight flight. "I will raise the money, and I will have the grassroots support."

Denham said he already has raised more than $300,000 for the House race, and he has eight upcoming valley fund-raising events planned. He touts himself as "one of the best fund-raisers in the California Legislature" in campaign materials circulating among people who pay attention to such things.

"We will have more than enough money to get our message out," Denham said.

This week, Denham and former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson are working the Capitol Hill angles. Both are meeting with political professionals and conservative groups such as the influential Club for Growth, which has not yet endorsed anyone.

Denham's schedule exemplified the gauntlet of job interviews candidates must run.

Officials with the anti-tax Club for Growth wanted to know his, and Patterson's, policy positions. National Rifle Association executives arranged a casual "meet and greet." Closely watched political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg sized up Denham, while the National Republican Congressional Committee did the same.

Pombo goes to Washington, too

Last week, it was former Tracy area Congressman Richard Pombo's turn to woo Washington. It was familiar turf for Pombo, who represented portions of the Northern San Joaquin Valley between 1993 and his defeat in 2006.

Denham, Patterson and Pombo, along with Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund, all want the Republican nomination in the 19th Congressional District. The June primary election is tantamount to final victory in November, as Republicans command a 44 percent to 37 percent voter registration advantage over Democrats.

Radanovich backs Denham, as do five other members of the California congressional delegation and a number of the valley's mayors and city council members. Pombo is backed by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, and two other House members from California, among others.

Pombo and Denham have both been furiously raising money. Pombo held three events in Washington last week and another on Monday, hosted by Fresno businessman Robert Smittcamp. The Smittcamp event raised about $250,000, according to the Pombo campaign.

"It was packed," Nunes said.

Denham's campaign materials, in turn, observe that he has "over $1 million cash-on-hand in his campaign accounts." This money is left over from state Senate and lieutenant governor races. Federal law prohibits state campaign funds from being transferred to federal campaigns.

Denham noted, though, that he can offer refunds to the state-level contributors, who then might turn around and contribute to his congressional campaign.

Politically, Denham and Pombo track closely on many issues.

Both denounce taxes, support farmers and demand more reliable water supplies. Denham, though, said he would not ask for local funding in earmarks, which Pombo did throughout his congressional career.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at or 202-383-0006.

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