As Republican candidates in two key Assembly races ramp up for their November showdowns, new campaign finance reports show they're going to have to rebuild their war chests from close to nothing.
Or, in two cases, from less than zero.
In the Assembly District 23 showdown between former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and Clovis Council Member Bob Whalen, Patterson's report shows him with just $708 in his account -- and more than $11,000 in unpaid bills.
In the 4th Assembly District, which runs from Madera County north through the foothills and High Sierra to Placer County, Calaveras County businessman Rico Oller also owes more than is in his account.
Not that their opponents are swimming in money. Whalen has a little more than $17,000, but is debt free, as is Oller's opponent, Madera County Supervisor Frank Bigelow, who has close to $15,000.
"Here we are in August and the election is less than three months away," said former Assembly Member Juan Arambula of Fresno, who started in the Legislature as a Democrat before switching to an independent. "This ought to be a time when candidates are sitting on a hefty campaign account. I don't know what to make of their poor financial shape."
Maybe, Arambula suggested, it is a reflection of the poor economy.
But Patterson raised more than $116,000 this year and Whalen more than $157,000, even with a late start to their respective campaigns after incumbent Fresno Republican Linda Halderman unexpectedly announced she wouldn't seek re-election.
Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, a Fresno Democrat, has raised more than $777,000 this year, his latest report shows.
David Schecter, a political science professor at Fresno State, has another view on why candidates in contested primary elections can wind up with so little cash at the end.
It is, he said, "part and parcel of the new primary system."
In June, the top two candidates in state and federal races advanced to the November general election, regardless of political party.
It's why Patterson and Whalen, and Bigelow and Oller, all Republicans, are facing off.
Because of that, Schecter said, candidates have to go all out in the primary to finish in the top two.
Patterson and Whalen's 23rd District is a Republican stronghold, but there still was a sizable minority of Democratic voters.
Republicans had four candidates and divided the vote, while there was a lone Democrat who won a sizable amount of the minority Democratic ballots.
It made for a new style of campaign, Schecter said, that required spending now.
Patterson, for his part, isn't worried about his finances.
The reports cover through June 30, and in the past month Patterson said he closed the debt and is "about a couple of thousand up right now."
In the primary election that Patterson won, he said he raised enough money to get his message out.
He plans the same strategy for November, and expects to have the cash on hand to make it happen.
Whalen couldn't be reached for comment.
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