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Congressional fundraising climate favors Democrats

Several Republican senators were outraised by challengers in the third quarter

Senate candidate Cheri Beasley speaks during a campaign rally on Saturday. Beasley, a Democrat, raised $13.4 million during the third quarter, nearly $8.6 million more than her Republican opponent.
Senate candidate Cheri Beasley speaks during a campaign rally on Saturday. Beasley, a Democrat, raised $13.4 million during the third quarter, nearly $8.6 million more than her Republican opponent. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

New filings from House and Senate candidates show Democrats drew strong financial support from contributors this summer and early fall, especially in battleground races for the Senate.

The data covering the three months ending Sept. 30 demonstrate that donors continued to back Democrats’ efforts to defend control of both chambers, as analysts predict that Republicans will win the House but are less likely to take control of the Senate. While a positive sign for a party battered by inflation and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings, the fundraising numbers tell only part of the story. 

Party committees and outside groups, some of which are not subject to any contribution limits, are also raising record-breaking sums and spending big across the battlefields. Outside political spending already topped more than $1 billion through early October, according to a tabulation by the watchdog group OpenSecrets.

Still, the disclosures by candidates, which were due Saturday to the Federal Election Commission, are important because they pay lower rates for advertising on television than the party committees and super PACs. In other words, these dollars go farther. 

In the battle for control of the 50-50 Senate, the data show that outside of Alaska, Republican incumbent senators in competitive races all raised less than their challengers during the third quarter of the year. But the challengers also spent heavily, and many finished the quarter with less cash on hand for the campaign’s final weeks.

For Democrats, the opposite was largely true. Except in Washington state, vulnerable Democratic senators dominated their challengers in fundraising, as did Democratic candidates for competitive open Senate seats that could decide party control next month.

In the race for House control, a Democrat was the top fundraiser in all 33 districts where the races are rated Toss-up, Tilt Democratic or Tilt Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. But Democrats hold the majority of those seats now, and some currently Democratic seats are rated as leaning or likely to go Republican, in part because of reapportionment and new district lines drawn by states.

Republican senators outraised

In one key Senate race, Florida Democratic Rep. Val B. Demings raised $22 million during the quarter for her challenge to GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who took in $9.8 million. But Demings spent $28.4 million during the period, and finished Sept. 30 with $3 million less than Rubio.

Wisconsin Democrat Mandela Barnes took in $20.3 million to GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s $12.3 million, but Johnson had $1 million more at the quarter’s end to spend — and in past elections he has tapped his personal wealth for more when necessary.

Iowa Democrat Mike Franken took in $3.6 million to Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley’s $2 million, but Grassley finished the quarter with $3.9 million to Franken’s $1.3 million.

Utah independent Evan McMullin raised $2.5 million to GOP Sen. Mike Lee’s $1.6 million, but also trailed the incumbent in cash on hand with $1.3 million to Lee’s $1.4 million.

The only Republican incumbent in a competitive race to raise more than her challenger during the quarter was Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who took in $1.4 million. Challenger Kelly Tshibaka, who has the backing of former President Donald Trump largely because Murkowski voted for Trump’s conviction in the 2021 impeachment trial, raised $1.3 million.

Murray challenger hauls in $6M 

Among Democratic incumbents, Washington Sen. Patty Murray raised $3.6 million, but challenger Tiffany Smiley took in $6 million. Murray had $3.8 million at the end of the quarter to Smiley’s $2.5 million.

Other Democratic senators kept the cash registers ringing. Arizona’s Mark Kelly raised $23 million during the quarter, which was $17.9 million more than GOP challenger Blake Masters. Kelly finished with $10.3 million more on hand to spend than Masters. Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock raised $14.8 million more than Republican Herschel Walker, and had $6.5 million more on hand. 

New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan raised almost 10 times as much as GOP opponent Don Bolduc during the quarter, taking in $9.6 million to Bolduc’s $972,000 and finishing with $4.8 million to Bolduc’s $768,000. Bolduc won the nomination on Sept. 13.

Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto raised $9 million more than GOP challenger Adam Laxalt, and had $5.1 million to Laxalt’s $4 million on Sept. 30. Colorado’s Michael Bennet raised $5.3 million to Republican challenger Joe O’Dea’s $3 million, which included $1 million O’Dea loaned the campaign from his own wealth.

In the race for Pennsylvania’s open seat, Democrat John Fetterman raised $6.5 million more than celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, even after Oz put $7 million of his own money into the race. Fetterman finished the quarter with $4.2 milion to Oz’s $2.5 million. 

That race, like Warnock’s in Georgia and Cortez Masto’s in Nevada, is rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections.

In North Carolina, where the race is rated Tilt Republican, Democrat Cheri Beasley raised $13.4 million to GOP Rep. Ted Budd’s $4.8 million, and had a cash-on-hand advantage of about $417,000. In Ohio, where the race is rated Lean Republican, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan raised $17.3 million to GOP opponent J.D. Vance’s $6.9 million, which included $700,000 that Vance loaned his campaign. Ryan, however, finished the quarter with $2 million less cash on hand.

House incumbents outraised in both parties

Fundraising for House races during the quarter provides more evidence that while the GOP has a historical advantage in a midterm election with a Democratic president, 2022 may not turn out to be a wave election.

In the 19 districts where the races are rated Toss-up by Inside Elections, a Democrat was the top fundraiser in each one. The average Democratic candidate in those races raised $1.6 million during the quarter, while the average Republican raised $730,177. A Democrat also was the top fundraiser in each of the 11 districts rated Tilt Democratic, and even the three rated Tilt Republican. 

Still, only nine of those 33 districts are held by Republicans now, and fundraising is not the only test of a candidate’s strength. Democrats had strong fundraising in 2020, for example, but 13 incumbents still lost their seats. 

The new reports show that House incumbents in both parties were outraised by challengers, including Democrat Tom O’Halleran of Arizona, whose 2nd District was redrawn and now faces a race rated Lean Republican against challenger Eli Crane. Crane and O’Halleran each raised about $1 million, but Crane edged the incumbent by about $34,000. O’Halleran had more cash on hand on Sept. 30, however, with $1.8 million to Crane’s $783,000.

Four other Democrats were outraised in races rated Lean Democratic: Frank J. Mrvan of Indiana, Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas and Mike Levin of California.

Three Republican incumbents in Toss-up races who were beaten in fundraising were David Valadao of California, Don Bacon of Nebraska and Yvette Herrell of New Mexico. So were Reps. Mike Garcia of California, whose race is rated Tilt Republican; David Schweikert of Arizona, whose race is rated Lean Republican; and Nicole Malliotakis of New York, whose race is rated Likely Republican. 

Outside help fills gap

Though outraised by $388,000 in the third quarter, Garcia had $1.9 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30 to rematch challenger Christy Smith’s $719,000. And the outside money in the race for California’s 27th District offers a more complete picture of what’s happening: Spending from pro-Garcia forces has helped fill the gap. The National Republican Congressional Committee disclosed spending almost $500,000 on Oct. 7 in opposition to Smith, following an identical outlay on Sept. 30, according to FEC filings. 

The NRCC is the main campaign arm of the House GOP, and it reported raising $42.3 million during the third quarter and $257.4 million through the election cycle, which began in January 2021. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, its counterpart, said it raised $56.5 million in the third quarter; it held $110 million cash on hand as of Aug. 31.

Each party’s leadership is also aligned with a super PAC, which is not subject to contribution limits. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the chief House GOP super PAC, reported holding $114 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30 and said it hauled in $220 million this cycle. Its Democratic counterpart, House Majority PAC, said it had raised $134 million through the third quarter, when it brought in nearly $55 million. 

The main Senate GOP super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, brought in $111 million in the third quarter and had $85 million on hand as of Sept. 30, according to FEC filings. Democrats’ main Senate super PAC, Senate Majority PAC, as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee will file their latest reports Thursday. 

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