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2 Demos are laps ahead in race to fill war chests

Matheson, Dunn called top picks to win House races

SHARE 2 Demos are laps ahead in race to fill war chests

WASHINGTON — Utah is known as a haven for Republicans, but Democrats have amassed huge fund-raising leads in two of the state's three U.S. House races.

In the 2nd District, new disclosure forms show Democrat Jim Matheson has $585,796 in his campaign bank. Republican Derek Smith has only $12,510 — more than a half-million dollars less — after he beat Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, in the GOP primary.

Smith's campaign also lists debts of $807,568 — including $647,500 that Smith loaned to the campaign himself.

In the 3rd District, Democrat Donald Dunn has a war chest of $97,669. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, has only $8,064 — 12 times less — even though incumbents have big fund-raising advantages.

With that, the races are seen nationally as two of the Democratic Party's better chances to pick up seats as it tries to erase the small GOP majority in the House. The situation also has each side criticizing the other's sources of money.

For example, Democrats worry multi-millionaires Smith and Cannon will use personal wealth "to buy" the election. And Republicans criticize donations to Democrats from left-leaning groups that they say are out of touch with most Utahns.

Smith and Cannon say they are willing to dip into their personal fortunes for their campaigns if needed but say it won't be.

"We're just coming off a difficult primary. That's why our numbers look so low," Smith said about second-quarter disclosure forms his campaign filed with the Federal Election Commission. They show his campaign's financial status as of June 30.

"It's just a snapshot in time," he said, adding that he spent much of the past week in Washington meeting party leaders and fund raising. He said results are encouraging, and he expects to raise the needed money.

"Being the party nominee (instead of a challenger) makes all the difference," he said. "I can put in more of my own money if needed, but I've made clear this won't be a self-funded race. . . . I am in a position to put in what is needed" from his own pocket.

Disclosure forms show Smith has loaned his campaign $647,500 so far, which he has said was funded from sale of some of his stock in an Internet company he founded. Cook has complained that Smith may have sold it to friends at inflated prices, which might amount to illegal contributions.

In the 3rd District, Cannon said he simply hasn't tried to raise much money yet — but will soon. However, he said the same when he was out-raised by Dunn in the two previous quarters.

Cannon said he has been focusing instead on a method to campaign and raise funds via the Internet and said more details about that will come later. "It will make traditional fund-raising moot."

Meanwhile, the fact that Dunn has been out-raising Cannon has made many national pundits look twice at a race they might otherwise write off as unwinnable.

"It always helps to show that we're out-raising him," Dunn said. "We're working our way up to be one of the top second-tier races."

However, the Smith-Matheson race is at the top of the top tier — and is seen as maybe the Democrats' best chance nationally to pick up a Republican-held seat because of Cook's past problems and the funding hole that Smith faces.

Matheson said that has helped his fund raising. "We have 2,600 to 2,700 contributors to this point. It's a good indication we have a lot of support. The money is coming from Democrats, Republican and independents."

But Republicans also attack the Democrats' funding sources as coming from groups they say are not harmonious with most conservative Utahns.

For example, in the past quarter Matheson accepted large donations from labor unions plus money from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, the pro-gun control Handgun Control Voter Education Fund and the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign.

He also accepted donations from Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of few openly gay members of Congress, and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., who has been creating headlines by co-hosting a planned fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

The other two congressional races in Utah have followed more traditional fund-raising patterns, disclosure forms show.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has $934,933 in the bank as his race for re-election hits the home stretch. Democratic challenger Scott Howell has only $61,969.

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, has a war chest of $217,573. His Democratic challenger, Kathleen McConkie-Collinwood, has only $8,754. She also has provided from her personal funds $14,734 of the $18,296 her campaign has raised this year.

E-mail: lee@desnews.com