WASHINGTON — An anemic fund-raising performance by Republican Mike Berryhill has called into question his ability to effectively challenge Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.
Berryhill raised just $28,503 in the last three months of 2009, newly filed disclosure statements show. Of this, more than half came from a loan Berryhill made to his campaign. The Turlock Irrigation District board member remains well behind Cardoza in fund raising.
"You always want to do better," Berryhill's campaign consultant, Carl Fogliani, said Monday, "but this isn't a traditional challenger's race. Mike is building a grass-roots campaign."
Berryhill had $53,086 in available cash as of Dec. 31, the disclosure statement shows. Cardoza, in addition to enjoying the other advantages of incumbency, reported having $481,948 in available cash.
"Any incumbent is going to have access to superior funds," Fogliani acknowledged.
The fund-raising competition is crucial to any political race. The failure to raise sufficient funds inhibits a challenger's ability to communicate a message and become known by voters. It can also incite a vicious cycle, as parties and political professionals may financially shun an underperforming candidate.
The son of a former California state legislator and a member of a well-known San Joaquin Valley political family, Berryhill is a rancher who has served on the TID board since 1983. He served two terms on the Ceres Unified School District board.
Cardoza has served in the House since 2003, representing a district that includes all or part of Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, as well as a sliver of Fresno County. He has not faced a seriously funded challenge since snatching the seat from former Rep. Gary Condit, D-Ceres, in 2002.
Since announcing his congressional candidacy in August, Berryhill has raised $30,047 from individuals, the disclosure statement shows. By contrast, in a race considered one of the nation's most competitive, a Republican challenging a Democratic incumbent in New Hampshire reported raising $277,000 last year.
Aggressive challengers often loan their campaigns money. Berryhill has loaned his campaign $120,000. But Berryhill has begun paying himself back well before the election season kicks off. He reported paying back $20,000 of his original campaign loan in October, only to loan his campaign $15,000 more in December.
Unless Berryhill can accelerate, the San Joaquin Valley's most closely watched campaign may remain a Republican primary in the 19th Congressional District, now represented by Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. At least four Republicans are gunning for the party's nomination in the GOP-friendly district that stretches from Stanislaus to Fresno counties.
None of the candidates -- Republican state Sen. Jeff Denham of Atwater, former Congressman Richard Pombo of Tracy, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and current Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerland -- have had to formally report their fund raising yet.
The sudden nature of Radanovich's notice of retirement is reflected in the $11,000 he raised from political action committees less than a week before his late December announcement that he would not seek re-election. Radanovich, who is backing Denham, now has $198,552 he can dispense from his campaign treasury.
Pombo was in Washington raising money last week, and Denham is visiting Washington this week.
Bee Washington Bureau reporter Mike Doyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-383-0006.