Suffolk legislative Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory last week sent a plaintive fundraising email to keep from flunking his first test in his congressional race against GOP Rep. Peter King.
"We're just six days away from the biggest test my campaign has faced -- our first-ever FEC [Federal Elections Commission] fundraising deadline," wrote Gregory (D-Amityville). "With all the attention being paid to our campaign, we can't fall short. But we're still $7,450 away from our goal."
Gregory set only a $10,000 goal for the July 1 fundraising deadline, a fraction of what's needed for a competitive campaign in the 2nd District. King, a 23-year House member from Seaford, already has $2.9 million in his campaign war chest. To match that, Gregory would need to collect $171,000 every month until Election Day 2016.
In the 1st District, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and venture capitalist David Calone will file campaign reports July 15, shedding light on their capacity to wage a serious challenge to freshman Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). Nassau Republicans, meanwhile, say no one has surfaced as a potential challenger to freshman Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City).
The fundraising scramble is more evidence that key races are starting earlier and costs are rising exponentially.
"The calendar keeps spreading," said Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who works mainly for Republicans. "If you can show that you can raise money early it makes people sit up and take notice."
Gregory's fundraising threshold, experts say, is low because King, 71, is an entrenched incumbent. Gregory's run could be seen as a shakedown cruise for a future race, or an effort to position himself should King become a presidential contender or even a vice-presidential prospect.
Gregory downplayed the money aspect, and emphasized the issues facing the district.
"We're just getting started, but already it's clear that the people of Long Island are sick and tired of the dysfunction and partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C.," Gregory said.
Although Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Bay Shore) is weighing a run in the 2nd District, he is raising no money. Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said that as the only declared candidate Gregory just has "to show he can raise money as opposed to how much."
In the 1st, a perennial swing district where a Democratic primary is possible next spring, finances are far more central in what could become a $3 million to $5 million campaign on each side.
Calone, a venture capitalist and former federal prosecutor, cites issues such as the youth exodus from Long Island and the need to invest in infrastructure in his fundraising appeals. But with the deadline looming, Calone told potential donors in an email last week "the strength of my campaign will be judged by the money I am able to raise."
Backers note that Calone has the support of hometown Brookhaven party leader Tony Parlatore and wide-ranging Long Island business connections.He is also is closely allied with Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democratic congressman, entrepreneur and former schoolmate.
Throne-Holst is one of only three congressional candidates nationally to get early backing from Emily's List, a powerful fundraising arm that backs women Democrats. Throne-Holst has lined up the support of three East End Democratic chairs, and party officials also expect her to be able to enlist wealthy Hamptons donors.
But Throne-Holst emphasizes that she is seeking grassroots backing and is touting her local record. "A constituent is a constituent," she said.
For his part, Zeldin held a golf outing last week and sent an email he called an "end of quarter Money Bomb," to bring in last-minute cash.
"Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are looking around the country to determine who are the most vulnerable" Republican incumbents, Zeldin wrote. "Your donation will send a strong message [that] NY-1 is the wrong district . . . to mess with."