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Vernon Robinson Among Nation's Most Successful Fundraisers

The conservative candidate targets immigration, homosexuality and other hot topics in his campaigns.

Raleigh, NC -- Vernon Robinson, a conservative Republican who has never held any office higher than city councilman, continues to rank among the nation's most successful congressional fundraisers after raking in more than $520,000 in the past 2 1/2 months. Robinson's success, on par with that of some of the top members of Congress, relies on a mix of attack politics and modern communication. In one radio ad, for example, Robinson tells listeners that if his opponent had his way, "America would be nothing but one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals." "There are a lot of folks waiting for someone to take a stand on the issues," Robinson said. "I'm willing to do just that." His appeals to conservatives across the nation helped Robinson raise $521,021 between April 13 and June 30, according to his latest campaign finance report. That's best among all House candidates in North Carolina, both incumbent and challenger. Robinson's opponent, Rep. Brad Miller, raised $362,126 in the period, but still leads in overall fundraising in the current election cycle with $968,000 to Robinson's $765,000. Miller has $540,736 in cash on hand; Robinson has $426,346. Part of what makes Robinson's numbers remarkable is that he has never held a political office outside of the Winston-Salem City Council, where he won two terms before losing a re-election bid last year. He operates largely alone, with very little financial support from political committees and his own party. More than 99 percent of his money comes from individual donors, with 80 percent originating outside of North Carolina. "Vernon Robinson has found a fringe constituency for fundraising nationwide," Miller said. "But ultimately voters want someone who's moderate, practical and not an exhibitionist." Miller, like many other congressional candidates, has pulled in almost half his money from political organizations. "While Brad has fat cat special interest groups to boost his campaign, I have thousands and thousands of skinny cats," Robinson said. "The fact that special interest donors are not giving to my campaign, I am free to vote in the best interest of the voters in the district and the voters at large." Two years ago, in his first bid for Congress, Robinson raised about $3 million, more money than nearly all other congressional hopefuls, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and then Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay. He would up losing in the GOP primary runoff to eventual winner Virginia Foxx. "No matter the attacks, there are people who find Vernon to have a refreshingly candid outlook," said Andy Taylor, a political scientist at North Carolina State University. "He's transparent and you know where he stands. Vernon isn't scared to say the things that people are thinking, and some people like that." Elizabeth Van Staaveren, of McMinnville, Ore., is among them. She stumbled across Robinson's name and political platform while reading about illegal immigration issues on the Internet, and soon fired off $4,100 to Robinson's campaign. "To me, his support is a reflection of the widespread concern of illegal immigration," said Van Staaveren, adding that she rarely sends money to political candidates. Robinson's deep conservative conviction comes through in his most discussed advertisement, a one-minute video that touches on many of the nation's most sensitive issues, terrorism, gay rights, flag burning, abortion, affirmative action and illegal immigration. He has never paid to air the ad on television, but it has been viewed more than 30,000 times on the video Web site YouTube, many more times on Robinson's campaign site, and has been the subject of discussion on radio, television and the Internet. The publicity only adds to his success at raising money. During a recent five-minute stint on the Rush Limbaugh Show, Robinson discussed his race against Miller and the money he will need to defeat the incumbent. Three times he mentioned his Web site, urging listeners to browse and contribute. "He knows how to promote," chuckled Paul W. Smith, who was hosting the show at the time. "And he's doing it very well." But Taylor said the money won't ensure Robinson a political victory, especially in a predominantly Democratic district such as Miller's, which covers much of Raleigh, Greensboro and the state's north-central counties. "Giving money to Vernon is like flushing it down the toilet," Taylor said. In other North Carolina congressional campaigns, former NFL and University of Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler has now raised more money than incumbent GOP Rep. Charles Taylor. With about $300,000 raised since the last report, the Democratic challenger broke the $1 million mark. Taylor has $984,000. Shuler also has nearly three times as much cash on hand as Taylor, $668,745 to $237,924. In the 8th District, incumbent Rep. Robin Hayes, a Republican, has maintained a comfortable supply of money over Democratic challenger Larry Kissell. Hayes has pulled in more than $1.5 million compared to just over $200,000 for Kissell. Hayes has $1,207,813 in cash on hand, compared with Kissell's $79,453.