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Dollar dominance: Average vulnerable House Democrat starts 2020 with $1.8 million

Roll Call: Dollar dominance: Average vulnerable House Democrat starts 2020 with $1.8 million

By Bridget Bowman

Nine months out from Election Day, the latest fundraising reports provide new clues about both parties’ prospects in the battles for the House and Senate. 

In the fight for the House, vulnerable Democrats continued to raise eye-popping numbers as their party tries to hold on to its majority. Republican leaders last week sounded the alarm about their candidates’ fundraising, and the latest reports show why.

The reports, which were due at midnight Friday, cover Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. That would include fundraising around the House’s Dec. 18 vote to impeach President Donald Trump. But it appears the immediate impact of impeachment on individual House lawmakers’ numbers was limited. The average amount raised by a vulnerable House Democrat during the fourth quarter was $157,000 higher than the third-quarter average. The average vulnerable Republican also saw an increase, but it was only $33,000.

Senate races continued to attract donors’ attention too, although a few incumbents in some of the most competitive contests continued to be outraised by their challengers.

This analysis focused on incumbents and challengers in races that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as competitive, and excluded candidates who raised less than $5,000 or who had not filed fourth quarter reports.

Here are six takeaways from the latest reports:

1. House Democrats still dominating

House Democrats in competitive races continued their dominant fundraising, with incumbents raising an average of $679,000 — almost $7,500 per day — in the fourth quarter. Twenty-eight of the 39 Democrats in competitive races raised more than half a million.

On average, these Democrats had nearly $1.8 million in their campaign accounts at the end of the year, and 32 of the 39 had more than $1 million on hand.

Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin topped the list of vulnerable House Democrats, raising nearly $1.3 million. Slotkin is one of 30 Democrats in districts Trump won, and she took a high-profile role in the impeachment process. New York Rep. Max Rose was No. 2 with about $60,000 less than Slotkin, or $1.2 million for the quarter.

Democrats head into 2020 with a stark financial advantage over their Republican challengers. On average, House GOP challengers raised $151,000 in the final quarter of 2019. The top fundraiser who did not contribute any of his or her own money to the race was former California Rep. David Valadao, who raised $632,000. Valadao is seeking a rematch against Democratic Rep. TJ Cox in the 21st District.

Valadao was one of three GOP challengers who had more than $1 million in their campaign accounts on Dec. 31. The others were Michelle Steel, who is challenging California Rep. Harley Rouda; and Jim Oberweiss, who is running against Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood. Both Steel and Oberweiss have spent a significant amount of their own money on their campaigns.

2. House Republicans not keeping up

On average, House Republican incumbents in tough races raised $420,000 in the fourth quarter. The top fundraiser by far was Texas Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, who is considered a rising GOP star and has a national profile from his 2018 race.

Aside from Crenshaw, just two of the 23 vulnerable House Republicans raised more than $500,000: New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, a stanch Trump ally, and Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, one of two Republicans running for reelection in districts Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

These Republicans still appear to have a financial advantage over their Democratic challengers, who raised an average of $173,000. House GOP incumbents had an average of $999,000 banked at the end of 2019, while Democratic challengers had an average of $231,000 on hand.

Two Democratic challengers had over $1 million in their accounts on Dec. 31: Wendy Davis, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in Texas in 2014 and is challenging Texas Rep. Chip Roy; and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, who is seeking a rematch against Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis.

3. Some incumbents could be nervous

If a challenger outraises an incumbent, that could be a sign of trouble for the sitting lawmaker. In the fourth quarter, four House Democrats and six House Republicans were outraised by their potential opponents.

The Democrats included Minnesota’s Collin C. Peterson, as well as three Californians: Cox, Rouda and Gil Cisneros. Steel, Rouda’s potential opponent, donated $202,000 of her own money to her campaign, which allowed her to surpass Rouda.

Cox and Cisneros also ended the quarter with less cash on hand than their opponents. Cisneros’ likely opponent is former Assemblywoman Young Kim, who lost to him by 2 points in 2018.

The six Republicans who were outraised by their Democratic challengers included Roy, Davis, David Schweikert of Arizona, Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota, Ann Wagner of Missouri and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, whose opponent, Carolyn Long, outraised her by $2,000. Hagedorn told CQ Roll Call last week he was on pace for his goal “to run a full campaign and get reelected.”

Schweikert, Davis and Roy’s potential opponents also ended the quarter with more cash in the bank. Democrat Hiral Tiperneni had more than three times as much on hand than Schweikert, with $912,000 on Dec. 31. Tiperneni twice ran unsuccessfully in a neighboring district in 2018.

4. Fights ahead in March primaries 

Congressional primaries kick off in March, and some incumbents in those early races are facing well-funded primary challengers.

In Texas, Democrat Henry Cuellar was outraised by his primary opponent, Jessica Cisneros, who has the backing of EMILY’s List and high-profile figures including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Cuellar still had a sizable cash on hand advantage, with $2.9 million in the bank compared to Cisneros’ $615,000.

Elsewhere in the Lone Star State, GOP Rep. Kay Granger is facing former Colleyville City Councilmember Chris Putnam. Granger stepped up her efforts in the fourth quarter, raising $419,000 to Putnam’s $80,000, and she has a cash-on-hand advantage. But outside groups have jumped into the race, with the Club for Growth backing Putnam. The Congressional Leadership Fund launched a radio ad last week to support Granger in the race.

In Illinois, Rep. Daniel Lipinski is facing another challenge from fellow Democrat Marie Newman, who nearly defeated him in the 2018 primary. Newman came close to matching Lipinski in fundraising, but the incumbent maintained his cash-on-hand edge.

5. Not many Senate surprises

Some of the most vulnerable senators continued to be outraised by their challengers. Arizona GOP Sen. Martha McSally trailed Democrat Mark Kelly for the fourth quarter in a row, and Kelly also had more money in the bank — $13.6 million compared to McSally’s $7.6 million.

Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine were also outraised by Democratic challengers John Hickenlooper and Sara Gideon, respectively. And Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters was once again outraised by Republican John James. But all three senators still had more money in their campaign accounts than their challengers on Dec. 31.

Senate fundraising was not as lopsided as the House. On average, the eight GOP incumbents in competitive races raised $2.7 million in the fourth quarter, while the three Democratic incumbents raised an average of $2.2 million. GOP challengers raised an average of $499,000 in the fourth quarter, while Democratic challengers raised an average of $724,000.

6. Self-funders spend big

Wealthy candidates continued to spend their own money on their campaigns. Newly appointed Georgia GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler loaned a whopping $5 million to her campaign. Democrat Eddie Mauro, who is one of the Democrats challenging Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, continued to self-fund his Senate bid, loaning $1.5 million to his campaign.

In the House, Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni topped self-funders with a $1 million donation to his second campaign for Texas’ 22nd District. Kulkarni is part of a crowded field of candidates running in the open-seat race to replace retiring GOP Rep. Pete Olson.