Incumbency Isn’t Always an Advantage in Fundraising

Posted October 17, 2015 at 12:56pm


Because of the advantages of the office, senators tend to raise more than their primary and general election challengers. But not always.

Especially if the challenger also holds federal elected office or has previously.

That’s the case in Wisconsin, where f

ormer Sen. Russ Feingold raised about $1 million more than Sen. Ron Johnson

, according to totals released from their respective campaigns. In this tossup race, Feingold and Johnson are nearly neck and neck in cash on hand.

Feingold is just one of three Democratic challengers who out-raised Republican senators in the third quarter. While the Republican incumbents in most cases still have more money in the bank, the big third-quarter hauls are helping challengers narrow the gap.

In Illinois, 8th District Rep. Tammy Duckworth

has raised more

than vulnerable GOP Sen. Mark S. Kirk and fellow Democrat Andrea Zopp. Duckworth hauled in $1.46 million to Kirk’s $1.05 million. She ended the period with $2.8 million on hand, compared to Kirk’s $3.62 million.

Boozman's Democratic opponent reported raising more money than the incumbent. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Boozman’s Democratic challenger out-raised him in the third quarter. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The biggest surprise came in Arkansas’ safe Republican Senate seat. Less than a month after launching his campaign, wealthy former U.S. attorney

Conner Eldridge

reportedly raised


to Sen. John Boozman’s $359,000. Boozman, however, still holds the cash advantage with $1.12 million in the bank.

Because House candidates generally raise less money than their upper chamber peers, it’s less unusual for them to out-raise incumbents.

Still, incumbency carries an edge, as can be seen in Texas’ 23 District, where freshman Rep. Will Hurd continues to raise more money than former Rep. Pete Gallego. In another 2014 rematch, freshman Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine still dominates Democrat Emily Cain and newcomer Joe Baldacci.

But in several districts that are competitive on the primary or general election level, challengers scored at least a temporary upset with their quarterly fundraising hauls.

In Iowa’s 1st district, a

Tilts Democrat contest

, vulnerable GOP Rep. Rod Blum raised $140,000 — significantly less than Democratic challenger Monica Vernon, who raised $254,000. But Blum still leads in cash on hand with $939,000 in the bank.

In another

Tilts Democrat

race, Nevada 4th District GOP Rep. Cresent Hardy raised less than Democrat Susie Lee. She brought in $334,000, which includes a $50,000 personal loan, to his $187,000. Lee has slightly more cash on hand.

UNITED STATES - JUNE 26: Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., joins House Republicans to speak during a news conference in opposition to the Supreme Court's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) decision on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Garrett brought in less in the third quarter than in the second. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In New Jersey’s 5th District, some donors may have been upset with Rep. Scott Garrett after reports this summer that

he wasn’t paying dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee

because it supports gay candidates. Garrett raised $179,000 — less than the $226,000 he pulled in last quarter — and much less than the $400,000 that Democratic challenger Josh Gottheimer brought in in the third quarter. Garrett, however, still has $2.3 million in the bank, while Gottheimer, a former speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton, has $934,000.

In two primaries where Republican incumbents have been mired in scandal, their GOP challengers are gaining on them.

In Tennessee’s 4th District, Grant Starrett continues to raise slightly more money than GOP Rep. Scott DesJarlais — but not nearly as much more as he did last quarter. Starrett raised $93,000 and has $694,000 in cash on hand. Last quarter, with the help of a $227,000 personal loan, Starrett’s campaign raised a whopping $733,000.

DesJarlais faced a big challenge. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
DesJarlais was out-raised by his GOP primary challenger. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

DesJarlais raised $78,000 and has $208,000 in the bank. This is DesJarlais’ second primary since


that he encouraged his now ex-wife and at least one patient with whom he was having sexual relations to have abortions. Starrett has been

trying to run to DesJarlais’ right


New Hampshire Rep. Frank C. Guinta has

been in hot water


past campaign finance troubles

, but he continues to raise money. After being fined by the Federal Election Commission in May, he raised $118,000 in the second quarter and $110,000 in the third quarter, with $350,000 in the bank. Republican challenger Dan Innis, whom Guinta beat in 2014, leads him by a slight margin, having raised $111,000 in the third quarter. But he lags in cash on hand. Former Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, meanwhile, raised $86,000 after

filing in August


In California, an Ethics Committee investigation into Rep. Michael M. Honda’s office is emboldening Ro Khanna’s primary challenge against the eight-term Democrat. Honda narrowly defeated Khanna in 2014, and Khanna already outraised him last quarter and has done so again in the third quarter. Honda’s $556,000 bank account now trails Khanna’s $1.3 million reserves.

Even long-term incumbents get beat in the money race. North Carolina’s Walter B. Jones, who’s in his 11th term, may have made a splash on Capitol Hill earlier this month, but he’s never been a strong fundraiser. His third quarter haul — $104,000 — is an improvement over the $26,000 he raised in the second quarter, but repeat primary challenger and former GOP operative Taylor Griffin still raised about $13,000 more and has a $70,000 cash-on-hand advantage.