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House Challengers Find Fundraising Success Outside Their Districts

Eleven Democrats have raised nearly all their money from other parts of their states — and beyond

Democrat Bryan Caforio is challenging Republican Rep. Steve Knight for the second time in California’s 25th District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Democrat Bryan Caforio is challenging Republican Rep. Steve Knight for the second time in California’s 25th District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats are energized. They’re running for Congress. And they’re raising money — lots of it.

And for nearly a dozen Democratic challengers who have raised at least $50,000 in individual contributions worth at least $200 each during the first half of this year, more than 90 percent of the money raised came from outside their districts, a Roll Call review of Federal Election Commission data found.

These candidates, who are all running in districts the Democratic Congressional Campaign is targeting in next year’s midterms, could have raised much more money from inside their districts from so-called small dollar donations of less than $200, but those aren’t required to be itemized to the FEC.

Republicans raise plenty of money outside their districts, too. Republican John Chrin is challenging Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright in Pennsylvania’s 17th district and hasn’t raised any money from within it. The New Jersey resident has raised $3,000 from Pennsylvania donors.

Incumbents often have more access to outside money through PACs, which can sometimes be a liability when challengers accuse them of being out of touch with their districts. But at the end of the day, money is money. Incumbents and challengers, alike, can still use the money they’ve raised, wherever it’s from, to get their message out to voters.

The earliest fundraising quarters often reflect the low-hanging fruit — what one Democratic fundraising consultant affectionately calls “love money.” These are the big checks from family, friends and business associates that are often fully tapped after the first or second quarter.

With more than a year to go until the 2018 midterm elections, challengers still have time to increase their financial support from their prospective constituents.

But as one candidate already learned this year, too many donations from outside the district can sometimes backfire.

Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff raised nearly $30 million, much of it from small donors, for the special election in the 6th District — the most expensive House race ever.

But Republicans quickly seized on his out-of-state contributions. A major GOP super PAC (whose outside money propped up Republican nominee Karen Handel) shot ads in San Francisco to draw attention to donations the first-time Democratic candidate brought in from California.

Out-of-district hauls

Out of all the Democratic challengers examined who have raised more than $50,000 in individual itemized donations, venture capitalist-turned-California candidate Josh Harder raised the least amount of money from the district he’s running in — central California’s 10th district, currently represented by Republican Jeff Denham.

Harder brought in a sizable haul for a challenger so far: $385,000 in individual itemized contributions through the first half of the year. But a tiny amount of that — only $1,000 — came from ZIP codes that lie in his district.

Instead, the majority of his individual itemized contributions came from the coasts: About $180,000 originated in the New York City area and more than $130,000 came from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Roll Call’s analysis used ZIP codes reported by contributors who gave more than $200 to House campaigns during the current election cycle. The ZIP codes were converted to the U.S. Census Bureau’s ZIP Code Tabulation Areas, or ZCTAs, and were counted as being in a candidate’s congressional district if any part of the ZCTA lies within the district’s boundaries.

There’s not much money to be raised in California’s 10th District. But Harder’s campaign, which does not accept contributions from corporate PACs, emphasized that he raised more than Denham in small-dollar contributions that don’t have to be itemized to the FEC.

“In just seven weeks, Josh Harder raised almost double the amount of small, grassroots contributions as Jeff Denham has all cycle,” campaign manager Josh Lord said in a statement.  

In an interview with CNBC, Harder sidestepped when asked about support from Silicon Valley.“I think the support we’ve gotten so far, and the support we’re spending all our time focusing on, is the grass-roots support in the district. That’s the first, second, third priority,” he said. “And the good news is there’s an immense amount of grass-roots support here.”

No candidate has come close to raising anywhere near the sums Ossoff did for the jungle primary or runoff in Georgia’s special election this year.

But the Democratic Party’s top fundraising challenger so far (when excluding contributions or loans from the candidate) is also among those who have taken in cash overwhelmingly from outside their districts.

Antonio Delgado is challenging GOP Rep. John J. Faso in New York’s Hudson River Valley. Delgado raised about $600,000 in individual donations over $200 during the first half of the year, but nine out of every ten dollars came from outside the 19th District, where he is running. Much of the money came from the New York City area, though Delgado also brought in considerable amounts from the Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., regions.

In a statement, Delgado’s campaign manager highlighted the fact that the majority of money going to Delgado came from within the state of New York.

“We plan on continuing to aggressively fundraise in order to get our message of economic opportunity and restoring the American Dream to every corner of the 19th District,” campaign manager Nicole Johnson said. 

Gareth Thomas Rhodes is also challenging Faso. The former press aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised $7,400 from inside the 19th District. He’s a student at Harvard Law School, but is taking leave to run for Congress. Another Democratic candidate, entrepreneur and businessman Brian Flynn, raised just $6,700 from the 19th District. (He loaned his campaign $500,000 of his own money, which is not included in Roll Call’s analysis of individual contributions.)

Among the other Democratic challengers who’ve raised little from their districts are Andy Kim, who’s running in New Jersey’s 3rd District. He raised just $7,000 of his $71,000 haul from inside the district. The former national security adviser to President Barack Obama and Gen. David Petraeus is running against two-term Republican Tom MacArthur, one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

Pediatrician Mai-Khanh Tran is one of a handful of Democrats challenging 13-term GOP Rep. Ed Royce in California’s 39th District. She raised about $8,000 from the district.

California attorney Bryan Caforio is making a second run against two-term Republican Steve Knight, who defeated him by 6 points in an expensive race last fall. Caforio has raised about $14,000 from inside the 25th District.

University of California, Irvine law professor Katherine Porter is challenging GOP Rep. Mimi Walters in California’s 45th District, where she raised about $21,000. Porter secured early endorsements from California Sen. Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.  

Virginia Republican Barbara Comstock has attracted a handful of well-funded Democratic challengers — and two of them are among the challengers who have raised the least money from inside their districts.

Former congressional staffer Alison Friedman, who worked for former California Rep. Jane Harman, worked against human trafficking in the nonprofit world and at the State Department. She raised about $29,000 from the 10th District.

Army veteran Daniel Helmer, also challenging Comstock, raised $32,000 from inside the district. Originally from New Jersey, he moved to Virginia’s 10th District in 2013 after coming off active duty.

In Virginia’s 5th District, Marine veteran Roger Dean Huffstetler is challenging freshman Republican Tom Garrett. Huffstetler is a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former chief of staff to Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton. The first-time candidate raised $30,000 from inside the 5th District.

This analysis was based on software written by Roll Call that analyzes FEC campaign finance databases.

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