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Key takeaways from the latest House and Senate fundraising reports

Reports provide new clues in competitive races

Democrat Mark Kelly once again outraised Arizona GOP Sen. Martha McSally according to recent fundraising reports. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democrat Mark Kelly once again outraised Arizona GOP Sen. Martha McSally according to recent fundraising reports. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When it comes to the battle for Congress, fundraising reports can provide clues about who’s in trouble and who’s mounting a strong campaign.

It’s still early in the 2020 cycle, but an analysis of reports for this year’s third quarter in House and Senate races that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as competitive sheds new light on where donors in both parties are directing their money. The reports were due by midnight Tuesday.

Reports for some candidates in competitive races were still not available Wednesday. But here are seven takeaways from the latest numbers:

1. Incumbents hearing footsteps?

Several incumbents raised less than their likely challengers from July through September, a warning sign for those in competitive races.

In the House, the Republican challengers to two first-term California Democrats outraised the incumbents. Former GOP Rep. David Valadao surpassed his Democratic successor TJ Cox in their expected rematch in the 21st District. And Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel brought in more than Rep. Harley Rouda in the 48th District, although Steel contributed $200,000 to her campaign.

Three House Republicans were outraised by their Democratic challengers. In Pennsylvania’s 10th District, state Auditor Eugene DePasquale outraised GOP Rep. Scott Perry. In Texas’ 21st District, former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, who made a viral floor speech on abortion in 2013, raised more than Rep. Chip Roy. And in Washington, college professor Carolyn Long outraised Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler as she seeks a rematch in the 3rd District.

Five senators — one Democrat and four Republicans — were outraised by their challengers. In Michigan, Republican John James surpassed Sen. Gary Peters. Democratic candidates surpassed GOP senators in two hotly contested Senate races, with state House Speaker Sara Gideon besting Maine Sen. Susan Collins, and Navy veteran and retired astronaut Mark Kelly outraising Arizona Sen. Martha McSally for the third quarter in a row.

Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst was outraised by two Democratic challengers: Theresa Greenfield, whom the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has endorsed, and Eddie Mauro, who loaned himself $1 million. Marine veteran Amy McGrath raised $10.7 million in the Kentucky Senate race, which was more than four times as much as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

2. Primary problems?

Before they can look at next November, four House members have competitive primaries to get past.

In Illinois’ 3rd District, Democrat Marie Newman raised roughly twice as much as Rep. Daniel Lipinski. Newman is making a second bid for the House after nearly defeating the incumbent in a 2018 primary. And in Texas’ 28th District, lawyer Jessica Cisneros came close to matching Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar’s third-quarter total. Cisneros was recently endorsed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Both Cuellar and Lipinski still have more cash on hand than their challengers because of unspent balances from prior quarters.

Republicans Steve King of Iowa, who was stripped by party leadership of his committee assignments after making racist comments, and Duncan Hunter of California, who awaits trial for allegedly misusing campaign funds, were both outraised by primary opponents. Both nearly lost last fall despite their districts’ traditional Republican leanings.

Hunter raised $605,000 in the third quarter, less than one of the Republicans running against him, former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio. Hunter, who had been spending campaign funds on legal fees, reported that his campaign owed $427,000 in debts.

Former GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who was the wealthiest member of Congress before his retirement and could self-fund his campaign, officially entered the race on Oct. 2, after the third quarter ended. Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who nearly defeated Hunter last year, raised $580,000 in the third quarter.

3. House Democrats still raking it in

House Democrats facing competitive races are still raking in cash after a “green wave” of cash helped many of them flip seats in 2018. On average, the Democratic incumbents raised $522,000 in the third quarter.

First-term California Rep. Katie Porter once again topped Democratic incumbents in contested races, raising more than $1 million. Five freshmen also raised over $700,000, including Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Sean Casten of Illinois, Max Rose of New York, Josh Harder of California and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan. Minnesota Rep. Collin C. Peterson had the lowest third-quarter haul for a Democrat in a competitive race, raising just $159,000.

Democrats challenging House Republicans or sitting Democrats in primaries raised an average of $256,000. Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, raised the most of the Democratic challengers with a nearly $1.1 million haul in Texas’ 23rd District. In 2018, she nearly defeated GOP Rep. Will Hurd, who is not running for re-election.

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4. House Republicans stay afloat

House Republicans in competitive districts tended to raise less than Democratic lawmakers, taking in an average of $387,000 this quarter.

Texas freshman Daniel Crenshaw topped the list of Republicans in tight races, raking in nearly $1.4 million this quarter. Crenshaw shot on to the national scene by appearing on “Saturday Night Live” after he won last fall, and he is viewed as a rising star in the GOP. King raised the least of the Republican incumbents, with $62,000.

On average, Republican challengers taking on sitting Democrats or GOP lawmakers in primaries raised $221,000 this quarter. DeMaio raised the most of any challenger, with nearly $1.6 million in his race against Hunter, which includes a $250,000 personal loan to his campaign. Steel, who outraised Rouda, had the next-highest haul for a GOP challenger, with nearly $610,000.

5. Democrats dominate million-dollar club

Having more than $1 million on hand this early in the cycle will certainly be helpful in competitive House races, and so far that advantage lies with Democrats.

Twenty-eight House Democrats in competitive races had more than $1 million in their campaign accounts at Sept. 30, and all but one are freshmen. Ortiz Jones was the only Democratic challenger with more than $1 million in the bank.

Seven House Republicans in contested districts had more than $1 million at the end of the quarter, with Crenshaw being the only freshman. The other lawmakers in the million-dollar club include Roy, New York Reps. Peter T. King and Lee Zeldin, Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr and Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner. DeMaio and Steel were the only GOP challengers so far with more than $1 million on hand.

6. Senate battleground takes shape

While donors may be more focused on House races, the third quarter shed light on Senate races that are starting to take shape now that more challengers have jumped in.

Senators from both parties who are facing competitive races raised an average of $2.3 million from July to September. On average, Democratic challengers raised more than GOP challengers, although there are more Democrats running since Republicans are defending their Senate majority.

Democratic Senate challengers on average raised $1.4 million in the third quarter, with Kelly raising the most by raking in $5.6 million. Republican challengers raised an average of $702,000 this quarter, with James topping the list with his $3.1 million haul.

7. It’s good to be rich

Eighteen candidates in competitive races have contributed or loaned more than $100,000 of their own money to their campaigns. Steel donated $200,000 to her campaign in her race against Rouda in California.

The rest of the candidates made sizable loans to their campaigns. Two made $1 million loans, including Mauro, one of the Democrats challenging Ernst in Iowa, and Army veteran Corky Messner, a Republican looking to take on New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Other sizable candidate loans came from retired businessman Garland Tucker, who made a $425,000 loan in his primary challenge to GOP Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina. Georgia Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico, who is bidding to take on GOP Sen. David Perdue, also loaned her campaign $400,000.

Updated 7:11 p.m. | This story was updated to reflect Michigan Rep. Haley Stevens’ fundraising based on her third-quarter report, which she filed by the Oct. 15 deadline.  

Simone Pathé and George LeVines contributed to this report.

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