Democrats across the competitive House landscape turned in yet another strong fundraising quarter, bolstering the party’s bid to expand its hold on the chamber.
In 44 of the 58 districts the Cook Political Report rates as competitive, Democratic nominees raised more than their Republican opponents from July through September, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis of Federal Election Commission reports filed by Thursday’s deadline. That includes historically GOP-leaning districts in southside Virginia, southern Minnesota, Long Island, N.Y., and Alaska, along with the suburbs of Phoenix, Indianapolis, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta.
Rather than hunker down to protect the most vulnerable seats picked up in the 2018 wave, Democrats are seeking to parlay their fundraising advantage and Joe Biden’s lead in the presidential election into a larger and more durable majority.
“Right after the November elections in 2018, the word was that Chairwoman Bustos had the toughest job in town,” said Michael Fraioli, a longtime Democratic fundraiser, referring to Cheri Bustos (Ill.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “That’s all turned around now. Not only are we not going to lose seats as Democrats, but we’re going to pick up some and the question is how many and where.”
Of the 58 districts rated competitively, 30 are held by Republicans, 27 by Democrats, and one by a Libertarian. Republicans need a net gain of 17 seats for a majority. The Cook Political Report says a Democratic gain of up to 10 seats is the most likely outcome.
Most Republican incumbents in competitive, suburban districts were outraised by their Democratic challengers. Democrats made major gains in suburban districts in 2018, thanks to a combination of voters’ frustration with President Donald Trump and, relatedly, college-educated voters moving away from the Republican Party. It paved the way to a 40-seat net gain.
“Were fighting very hard,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president of Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports several suburban Republicans. “We’re hoping to not see a wave in the suburbs, but the more people I talk to — it’s close.”
Expanding the Map
Unlikely opportunities for Democrats to make gains include Virginia’s 5th District, a conservative-leaning area that runs from the North Carolina border to exurbs of Washington, D.C. Cameron Webb (D), a doctor and first-time candidate, raised more than $2.7 million in the quarter compared with $723,000 for Bob Good (R), who ousted Rep. Denver Riggleman (R) at a district convention in June.
In Arizona’s 6th District, a well-educated and Republican-friendly area enveloping parts of Phoenix and Scottsdale, physician Hiral Tipirneni (D) raised more than three times what Rep. David Schweikert (R) brought in and ended September with nearly triple what the incumbent had in cash on hand. Schweikert has been hobbled by ethics violations, and the House voted in July to reprimand him.
Republicans and Democrats attributed Democrats’ strong fundraising to the party’s online tool, ActBlue, which directs small, online donations to candidates that need it the most. The GOP’s online fundraising system, WinRed, hasn’t been around nearly as long and isn’t as established among donors.
“One of the fundraising advantages Democrats have — and it’s one of the few we have — is we’ve really lapped the Republicans on candidate online fundraising,” said John Rowley, a Democratic consultant. “It’s an area where Republicans haven’t caught up.”
“It all goes back to ActBlue,” Chamberlain said.
Rob Simms, a former executive director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, cautioned that while the numbers are impressive, it’s not necessarily a show of electoral strength.
“One thing that often gets lost looking at these numbers is the overwhelming majority of Democrats’ money is coming from outside the district and outside of the state,” Simms said. “You have this energy on the Democratic side fueling the fundraising, but a lot of it is coming from New York, L.A., and San Francisco.”
There were some bright spots in third-quarter fundraising for Republicans, who are targeting the more than two dozen Democratic-held districts Trump carried in 2016.
Iowa state Rep. Ashley Hinson (R) reported more in third-quarter receipts and cash on hand than freshman Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D) in a district Trump narrowly won. Iowa’s 1st District, which includes Cedar Rapids and Dubuque, is one of only 11 Democratic districts rated as a Toss-up. South Carolina state Rep. Nancy Mace (R) topped freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham (D) in both categories in a coastal district Trump won decisively, though the Cook Political Report still gives Cunningham the advantage.
On the Air
The jaw-dropping amounts from Democrats in swing districts has allowed the DCCC — the party’s House campaign arm, which itself announced topping $70 million in third-quarter receipts — to invest in offensive opportunities, including nine districts where Trump won by 10 or more points. That includes suburban areas where Democrats made large gains in 2018 and hope to continue to expand in 2020.
The DCCC’s independent expenditure arm, which controls where it spends tens of millions of dollars on advertising, booked $648,000 in New York’s 1st District in recent weeks to aid college professor Nancy Goroff’s (D) challenge to Rep. Lee Zeldin(R) on Long Island. It also booked $330,000 in ads in Arkansas’ 2nd District, based in Little Rock, where state Sen. Joyce Elliott (D) is taking on Rep. French Hill(R). The Cook Political report currently gives Republicans the edge in both.
Democrats also reserved airtime in several other Republican districts, such as Alaska, where Rep. Don Young — the House dean — has held the state-wide seat since 1973. Rowley said these buys illustrate not only the party’s fundraising advantage and the political environment, but also how well-positioned many of most vulnerable Democratic freshmen are.
“It’s freed them up to play real offense,” Rowley said. “If they weren’t within striking distance, they wouldn’t be in those races. It’s not the culture of the Democrats to casually play in Alaska and Arkansas.”