For reference, Holden raised over $480,000 in the whole of 2011, and he finished the year with slightly more than $400,000 on-hand. Holden's fundraising has picked up since he acquired a newly drawn district and a serious primary challenger: He has raised about $230,000 so far this quarter to reach about $708,000 raised for the cycle, according to his campaign manager, Eric Nagy. Seaver wouldn't elaborate on what size of hypothetical self-contribution Cartwright would need to get to $600,000; given that, Holden very well could be outraising Cartwright.
Still, the personal resources Cartwright can bring to bear are especially important in the 17th District because so much of it is new territory to Holden. Almost 80 percent of the district, which now stretches from just outside Holden's Harrisburg base northeast to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, will not have seen Holden's name on a ballot before. Holden is far from an unknown quantity, but Cartwright's fundraising will afford him an unusual opportunity to define the incumbent on the challenger's terms, as an unreliable liberal advocate.
Holden has long been one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress while representing one of his caucus's more Republican-leaning districts. The newly drawn seat has much more liberal inclinations, having given President Obama nearly 57 percent of its vote in 2008.
But Holden has a hard-earned reputation as a survivor and a superb campaigner after years of failed GOP attempts to unseat him, even in a member-versus-member race after redistricting in 2002. (Daily Kos Elections has called him "indestructible Blue Dog Tim Holden.") The new district might not be as good an ideological fit for Holden, but his pitch to the more liberal electorate uses his experience serving constituents as a plus while explaining away some more conservative votes at the same time. "He's represented people as if they had to vote in Congress," Nagy said.
Holden also has other advantages of incumbency, even if he is new to much of the district. For example, longtime relationships with networks of local elected officials will ease Holden's getting-to-know-you process in new territory, and he has already nabbed a few Democratic committee endorsements in Cartwright's home territory. Cartwright's fundraising alone isn't enough to overcome a litany of other disadvantages or make him the race's favorite. But his finances will give Cartwright the chance to have a chance.
At the same time, the Cartwright campaign's screw-up leaking its own fundraising underscores Holden's advantage. The incumbent's reputation as a talented on-the-trail politician is partly generated by the experienced campaign staff that runs his operation, and it's hard to imagine them making a similar mistake.