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Fundraising update: Some House freshmen raising more than embattled senators

Democrats continuing to tap large groups of small donors

Texas Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw raised more money during the third quarter than two of his party’s most embattled senators. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Texas Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw raised more money during the third quarter than two of his party’s most embattled senators. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

More than a year out from the 2020 elections, new disclosures show House members continue to set the pace for congressional fundraising, with several freshmen raising nearly as much as or more than some of the most vulnerable GOP senators and their Democratic challengers.

That’s especially true of House Democratic freshmen, some of whom are continuing a trend started last year when, as candidates, they raised more in the quarters leading up to Election Day than Senate candidates.

Big numbers for House candidates in Federal Election Commission filings due Tuesday may underscore that Democratic donors at this point in the cycle see protecting the House as a more viable fight than winning Senate control.

Republicans need to gain 19 seats to take control of the House, while Democrats would need four more seats in the Senate (or three if a Democrat wins the White House). Many seats up for grabs are in states President Donald Trump won in 2016, including that of Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, one of the most vulnerable senators on the ballot in 2020.

It helps that many notable freshman House Democrats are now prominent members of the majority, with the platform and clout that comes with being an incumbent.

But of all House incumbents in races rated competitive by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, it was a Republican freshman who raised the most during the third quarter, which began on July 1 and ended Sept. 30.

Texas GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who appeared on “Saturday Night Live” soon after winning the 2nd District last fall, raised $1.4 million for his reelection bid during the third quarter. That’s more than two of his party’s most endangered senators — North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and Iowa’s Joni Ernst — raised for their reelection bids. Crenshaw represents 800,000 people, while Tillis and Ernst represent 10 million and 3 million, respectively.

But aside from Crenshaw, a former U.S. Navy SEAL who’s become a relatively high-profile member of the GOP conference, most of the highest quarterly hauls from candidates in competitive House races came from freshman Democrats.

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In 2018, when winning the House was seen as a check on President Donald Trump, Democratic challengers tapped into grassroots excitement with large email lists that allowed small-dollar donors to give to many candidates, sometimes multiple times.

“They’ve figured it out. I mean, beyond figured it out,” Democratic fundraising consultant Michael Fraioli said Tuesday.

That these Democrats are still able to bring in large sums in what is usually an off-year for fundraising suggests that donor excitement is still with them, despite a crowded presidential race sucking up money.

California Rep. Katie Porter, who unseated a Republican last fall, is raking in the cash. She raised $416,000 during the first quarter of the year, $1 million during the second quarter and $1 million again during the most recent quarter. A member of the Financial Services Committee and occasional guest on prime-time MSNBC shows, Porter has had several viral video moments that have likely boosted her national recognition among liberal donors.

“Democratic incumbents are building higher and higher fortifications with each passing quarter,” Democratic consultant Ian Russell said in an email.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who flipped a GOP district in Michigan last fall, raised $816,000. The former CIA officer and acting assistant secretary of Defense is one of the seven freshmen who used a Washington Post op-ed in late September to come out in support of opening an impeachment inquiry into Trump. That led to Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing a formal inquiry.

Those developments came at the very end of the third quarter, so their full effects on fundraising may show up more in the next quarter.

“The grassroots base are all stoked about what House Dems are doing with regard to the president,” Fraioli said.

[Look back: Reports on this year’s first quarter and second quarter filings]

To put Slotkin’s third-quarter haul in context, it’s in the same league as the $956,000 that Ernst raised for her reelection in the entire state of Iowa. Theresa Greenfield, the Democrat who’s consolidated the most establishment support to take on Ernst, didn’t do much better. She raised $1.1 million.

Slotkin’s number is not much less than Tillis’ $1.2 million haul, which barely outpaced his most well-funded potential Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, who raised $1 million. As battleground states up and down the ballot next year, both Michigan and North Carolina will be saturated with ads, but Slotkin’s money is likely to go farther than that of the North Carolina Senate candidates, who will have to compete in the state’s more expensive metropolitan media markets.

Even if they didn’t outraise senators, a handful of other freshman Democrats in competitive races raised more than $700,000, including California Rep. Josh Harder ($757,000), New York Rep. Max Rose ($735,000), Illinois Rep. Sean Casten ($714,000) and New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill ($712,000). All of them flipped GOP districts in the 2018 midterms and are being targeted by the GOP in 2020, but all of them outraised Republicans running in their districts so far this year.

Challenge for challengers

Several challengers to House incumbents in competitive races also had large quarters.

On the Republican side, former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio posted $1.6 million for his challenge to indicted GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, but that includes a $250,000 loan.

Texas Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who narrowly lost to GOP Rep. Will Hurd last fall in the 23rd District, raised more than $1 million for her second crack at what’s now an open seat following Hurd’s retirement announcement. Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat whose 13-hour filibuster against abortion regulations went viral in 2013, raised $941,000 for her bid to unset freshman Republican Rep. Chip Roy in the 21st District.

That’s still more than some Senate challengers who are in competitive primaries.

Former Colorado state Rep. Andrew Romanoff, who’s vying for the Democratic nod for Senate, raised $504,000. In Georgia, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson is one of several candidates in a crowded Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. David Perdue. She raised just $382,000. Sarah Riggs Amico, a former nominee for lieutenant governor who’s running in the same primary, raised $761,000, but that included a $408,400 from her personal funds.

And in the Alabama Senate race — the GOP’s best pick-up opportunity — GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne raised $382,000, while former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville raised $373,000.

National Republicans have been excited about retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc being their best option to take on Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire. He raised $240,000. In Virginia, former Rep. Scott Taylor, who lost the 2nd District last fall, raised just $312,000 to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.

At the opposite end of the Senate fundraising spectrum, Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath raised $10.7 million for her challenge to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an easy boogeyman for a Democrat looking to tap liberal donor enthusiasm across the country.

But as McGrath learned last cycle, when she raised millions of dollars against GOP Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th District, money doesn’t always translate to victory. She lost that race by 3 percentage points.

Bridget Bowman and George LeVines contributed to this report.Correction Thursday, 12:40 a.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated the third-quarter fundraising haul for former Virginia Rep. Scott Taylor in his campaign for Senate. 

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