Cantor challenger poster child for campaign debt in Virginia

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Photo - House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (Getty Images)
House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (Getty Images)
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's unsuccessful Democratic challenger is hitting up donors for money to help pay off his campaign debt.

Wayne Powell, a Richmond attorney who failed to unseat Cantor, has sent multiple emails to supporters in the weeks after the election asking for donations. The political novice lent his campaign $184,000 and had minus-$88,037 on hand as of Oct. 17, according to the latest available fundraising reports. Powell's debt exceeded $130,000.

"I believe so strongly in returning the 7th district to the people that I took on a large burden of debt to keep the fight strong," Powell wrote donors last week. "I would not ask this of you but if you could give a gift today to make sure we honor our commitments and keep building our grassroots movement, it would mean the world to me."

Going up against Cantor's $7.4 million war chest and invaluable name recognition, Powell captured 41 percent of the vote. Of the $570,000 his campaign spent through mid-October, $137,000 went to consultants and about $220,000 to advertising, media, signs and bumper stickers.

Powell was one of only two candidate with negative cash on hand, the other being Republican U.S. Senate candidate E.W. Jackson, who was at minus-$186.

A review of campaign records showed dozens of congressional candidates in Virginia pumped a total of $2.48 million of their own money and racked up $1.55 million in debt. Much of that was owed to the candidates themselves, and they'll likely never recover it.

In the 2nd District race, Democrat Paul Hirschbiel spent $362,000 of his own money to challenge Republican Rep. Scott Rigell, who himself put $300,000 of personal money into the campaign. Their combined debt was $775,000.

Rigell's case is rare; most of the money spent by candidates came from challengers.

"When you are a challenger, it's definitely a financial hardship because you're going to have to spend money," said former Senate candidate Jamie Radtke, who spent $46,465 of her own wealth to finish runner-up to George Allen in the Republican primary. "But it was worth every penny."

Radtke said she hasn't decided whether she will run for office again; doing so is one way candidates can recover the money they lost. If candidates close down their campaign committees completely, they can ask for donations to meet their debts, and some may be eligible for a debt settlement program through the Federal Election Commission.

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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