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5 Races Where Deep Pockets Could Change the Game

MacArthur is running for the House in southern New Jersey. (Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
MacArthur is running for the House in southern New Jersey. (Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

How much candidates have raised and how much money they have in the bank aren’t the only two numbers that matter in a quarterly fundraising report. The depth of a candidate’s pockets and how deeply they’re willing to dig into them can be just as, or more, important.  

Campaigns are often loath to draw attention to the self-funded portion of their disclosures — it can undermine the appearance of grass-roots support and set them up for attack.  

But there’s no denying personal wealth can boost a campaign — or at the very least give a challenger a stronger hand against an incumbent. And, as has been seen with Donald Trump’s presidential bid, using personal wealth allows outsider candidates to claim they’re not beholden to special interests.  

Here are five races in which candidates’ ability to self-fund could be a game-changer.  

1. Self-funding in Florida In the Democratic primary race for Florida’s open Senate seat, Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s chosen candidate, outraised Rep. Alan Grayson by nearly $760,000. According to Grayson’s campaign financial disclosure form, $100,000 of the $743,000 he raised this quarter came from a personal loan. Grayson has dipped into his personal bank account to fund previous campaigns.   And as one of the wealthiest members of Congress, Grayson could change the dynamics of this race, should he start spending more of his own money. 

Johnson poured millions into his 2010 campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Johnson poured millions into his 2010 campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

2. Not going that route again In Wisconsin’s Senate rematch , former Sen. Russ Feingold raised $1 million more than Sen. Ron Johnson in the third quarter, but the candidates are nearly tied in cash on hand. And  Johnson, also one of the wealthiest members of Congress, could pour substantial resources into his campaign — should he choose to. In 2010, he loaned his campaign nearly $9 million, but earlier this year  he said he would not do that again .  3. Forcing the issue Arkansas’ Senate race isn’t the competitive contest that Florida’s and Wisconsin’s are. And in such deep red territory, it’s unlikely that a self-funded Democrat could change that . Still, a Democrat with money could force Republicans to spend a little extra than planned in Arkansas. It’s not yet clear whether former U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge outraised Sen. John Boozman in the third quarter because of any personal wealth he kicked into his campaign.  But should he decide to go that route, Eldridge has resources at his disposal.  4. Too much money is not always good

Mills is once again trying to unseat Nolan. (Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Mills is once again trying to unseat Nolan. (Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In Minnesota’s 8th District, where Rep. Rick Nolan is facing a repeat challenge from businessman Stewart Mills , personal money could also play a role.  

It already did in 2014, when Democrats hit Mills for his personal wealth . Mills’ family owns Mills Fleet Farm, a farming and sporting goods retail chain with stores throughout the Midwest.  

If Mills funnels some of that wealth into his campaign, he could have an advantage over Nolan, who raised nearly $260,000 in the third quarter. Of course, that kind of personal investment could still backfire. (Remember Sean Eldridge? ) Mills announced his candidacy after the end of the quarter, so he has not yet had to report his fundraising.  

5. Intimidating checkbook Sometimes personal money keeps challengers at bay, which may be the case in New Jersey’s 3rd District.  

Freshman Rep. Tom MacArthur, an insurance company owner, spent $5.5 million, the vast majority of which was his own money , to win the seat last fall.  

Although President Barack Obama narrowly carried the district twice, which would seem to make this district competitive, so far, no leading Democratic opponent has emerged to take on MacArthur.  

Part of the problem for Democrats running in this south central Jersey seat is the necessary expense of playing in two of the country’s most expensive media markets, Philadelphia and New York.  

“What congressional candidate has the money to do both?” asked a Democratic media consultant. Combine that challenge with running against “a guy who can write himself a check if he runs into trouble,” the consultant added, and the district, whose Ocean County voters lean Republican, looks daunting.  Without an opponent, MacArthur didn’t self-fund any of his $205,000 third-quarter haul.  


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