Meet the Challengers Who Outraised House Incumbents

Some Democrats raised two to three times more than GOP lawmakers in third quarter

Democrat Anthony Brindisi raised more money during the third quarter than GOP freshman Rep. Claudia Tenney in New York’s 22nd District. (Tom Williams/Roll Call)
Democrat Anthony Brindisi raised more money during the third quarter than GOP freshman Rep. Claudia Tenney in New York’s 22nd District. (Tom Williams/Roll Call)
Posted October 18, 2017 at 5:05am

Nearly one year out from the 2018 midterms, challengers outraised nearly 30 percent of the incumbents in competitive races during the third quarter.

Sixteen Republican incumbents in competitive races raised less than their Democratic challengers during the third quarter. One Democratic incumbent was outraised by a GOP challenger.

Competitive races are the 62 ones not rated safe for either party by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Only one of those incumbents is in a toss-up race.

In all but three of the races, incumbents still had more money in the bank than their challengers at the end of the quarter.

The third quarter is often considered a slower quarter, since it stretches from July 1 to Sept. 30, and fundraising tends to lag in the summer months. But one Democratic strategist said impressive fundraising totals show there is energy on the Democratic side as they look to flip 24 seats and win back the House.

On the Republican side, incumbents in toss-up or hotly competitive races tended to raise more money than their Democratic challengers. But some incumbents were outraised by sizable margins, which could cause concern for the GOP as the party tries to hang onto its majority.

14 Ratings Shift Favor Toward Democrats in 2018

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Incumbents outraised

In some cases, Democratic challengers raised two to three times more than the GOP incumbents in their districts.

Two Democrats in New Jersey’s 11th District each raised about three times as much as 12-term Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. His $157,000 haul was notably low for the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who represents one of the wealthiest districts in the country.

Former Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill raised $498,000 in the third quarter, after raising $246,000 in the second. Family advocate Tamara Harris donated and loaned her campaign about $300,000, but even without that self-funding, she still narrowly outraised Frelinghuysen.

Frelinghuysen raised closer to half a million dollars in the previous two quarters, leading Garden State political observers to wonder if he may be thinking of retiring at the end of the 115th Congress. Inside Elections rates the 11th District race Likely Republican.

In Virginia’s 5th District, another Likely Republican race, freshman GOP Rep. Tom Garrett raised just $92,000. Democrat Roger Dean Huffstetler raised more than three times as much, posting $302,000 in the third quarter. Huffstetler ended the quarter with five times as much money in the bank.

Garrett raised even less during the second quarter, bringing in just $43,000, compared to Huffstetler’s $345,000. The congressman raised $79,000 during the first quarter, before Huffstetler entered the race.

Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath’s viral campaign videos may have helped the first-time candidate more than double what three-term Republican Rep. Andy Barr raised. During her first full quarter, McGrath raised $772,000 compared to Barr’s $300,000. Inside Elections rates the 6th District race Leans Republican.

New York Democrat Anthony Brindisi raised nearly twice what freshman GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney raised in the 22nd District. Brindisi, also in his first full quarter, raised $413,000. Tenney only raised $213,000 — less than the $305,000 she raised during the previous quarter.

Two of Rep. Duncan Hunter’s Democratic challengers raised close to double the $91,000 the California Republican raised. Retired Navy SEAL Josh Butner raised $175,000 and former Obama administration official Ammar Campa-Najjar raised $170,000.

In North Carolina’s 9th District, Rep. Robert Pittenger has never been a strong fundraiser. But he stepped up his fundraising this quarter, raising $242,000 compared to about $100,000 less the previous two quarters.

Still, both his GOP primary opponent and a Democratic challenger outraised him, even when excluding their minimal self-funding. Democrat Dan McCready bested Pittenger by $175,000. He ended the quarter with $670,000 compared to Pittenger’s $264,000 in this Likely Republican race.

In another competitive race, Texas Republican John Culberson ended with less cash on hand than two Democratic challengers. His race is rated Leans Republican. New York Republican John J. Faso also ended the quarter with less money in the bank than one of his challengers. 

And four other GOP incumbents were outraised by nearly six figures. In Illinois’ 12th District, Democrat Brendan Kelly outraised GOP Rep. Mike Bost by about $97,000. In Michigan’s 8th District, former Defense Department official Elissa Slotkin brought in about $95,000 more than GOP Rep. Mike Bishop. Democrat Max Rose outraised Staten Island Republican Rep. Dan Donovan by $111,000. And elsewhere in New York, two Democratic challengers each outraised Faso by about $100,000 each.

First-quarter love

At least 12 of the challengers are just coming off their first fundraising quarters. That means that while their quarterly hauls may be impressive, there’s no proof yet they’ll be able to sustain that pace of fundraising.

The first quarter a candidate is raising money is when they often accumulate checks from friends and family, known as “love money.” But because of contribution limits, that money can dry up in subsequent quarters.

Slotkin, the Michigan Democrat challenging Bishop, outraised the two-term Republican, even when accounting for the five figures of her own money she kicked into her campaign. But the first-time candidate only filed with the FEC on July 12, which means the third quarter is the first time the former Defense Department official has filed a quarterly report.

In Minnesota’s 8th District, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Rep. Rick Nolan was barely outraised by GOP challenger Pete Stauber during his first quarter in the race. The Duluth Police lieutenant and former professional hockey player with the Detroit Red Wings operation raised $136,000 to Nolan’s $122,000.

For many of these candidates, the next quarter’s report will go a long way toward showing how robust their fundraising operations will be.


For three Democratic challengers, self-funding allowed them to outraise Republican incumbents.

Democrat Andy Thorburn spent the most personal money on his campaign of any of the candidates in competitive races. The businessman and former teacher loaned his campaign $2 million in his race against California Republican Rep. Ed Royce.

Each of the five Democrats challenging Royce funneled personal cash into their own campaigns. Lottery winner Gil Cisneros loaned more than $500,000 to his campaign, also pushing his overall fundraising number ahead of Royce, who raised more than $705,000 in the third quarter. Inside Elections rates the 39th District race Leans Republican.

Also in California, Democrat Paul Kerr raised more than $504,000 in the 49th District, surpassing GOP incumbent Darrell Issa, who raked in nearly $435,000. But more than half of Kerr’s fundraising total comes from a donation to his own campaign in the Toss-up race.

Self-funding also allowed New York Democrat Brian Flynn to surpass Faso’s fundraising total in a race that Tilts Republican. But despite spending $180,000 on his own campaign, Flynn was still outraised by two other Democrats in the race — Pat Ryan and Antonio Delgado.

Solid races

While races that are not rated Solid Republican or Solid Democratic are the races to watch right now, a handful of challengers in the less competitive seats also outraised the incumbents there.

Republican businessman Mark Kleine, who in August announced his challenge to Illinois Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos, surpassed the congresswoman’s third quarter haul. But he was able to do so thanks to a $135,000 loan to his campaign.

In Virginia’s 7th District, two of GOP incumbent Dave Brat’s opponents raised roughly three time as much money in the third quarter. Brat raised more than $86,000, compared to Democrats Daniel Ward and Abigail Spanberger, who raised $263,000 and $243,000, respectively, in their first fundraising quarters as candidates.

Democratic challenger Joe Kopser outraised GOP Rep. Lamar Smith in Texas’ 21st District by $14,000.

In Florida’s 6th District, GOP incumbent Ron DeSantis raised only $42,000, though he is thought to be weighing a gubernatorial bid. His Democratic challenger, former United Nations ambassador Nancy Soderberg, raised nearly $337,000.

North Carolina GOP Rep. George Holding was also outraised by two Democratic challengers, Sam Searcy and Ken Romley. Both challengers were able to outraise Holding due to self-funding. Searcy, who owns a vodka distillery, loaned his campaign $450,000. Romley, an entrepreneur, loaned his campaign $240,000.

Democrats hope the fundraising enthusiasm seen for many of their challengers will continue into the fourth quarter and throughout next year. Even Republicans acknowledge the energy is on the Democrats’ side, but they’re optimistic that a big legislative accomplishment could boost their fundraising heading into 2018.

“Passing tax reform will not only energize our voters and help Republicans in the coming cycle but it will also show people that the Republican Congress is getting something done,” said one official with the National Republican Congressional Committee.