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House Democrats running for re-election in the most politically competitive districts intensified their fundraising advantage over Republican challengers in the second quarter, as the coronavirus pandemic complicated campaign operations for both parties.
The 29 Democrats seeking new terms in districts President Donald Trump won in 2016 had a median of $3 million in cash on hand on June 30, according to campaign-finance reports filed this week to the Federal Election Commission and analyzed by Bloomberg Government. That’s up from a median of $2.3 million at the end of the first quarter. The median total for the 29 Republican nominees or best-funded challengers was $353,000.
The figures underscore advantages for House Democrats as they prepare to defend the majority they captured from Republicans in the 2018 election, as well as the effectiveness of digital fundraising strategies. Republicans need a net gain of 17 seats to win the majority and are targeting Trump-district Democrats.
“The numbers are large regardless of whether it’s a pandemic or not,” said Sarah Elizabeth Pole, director of marketing with Grassroots Analytics, which advises liberal campaigns and groups.
“There’s still just a lot of energy around down-ballot races, especially on the Democratic side,” she said.
Many of the Republican challengers will have to ramp up their fundraising in the third quarter to wage top-flight campaigns. Kyle Van De Water, the Republican opposing Rep. Antonio Delgado (D) in New York’s 19th District, had $4,100 on hand compared with $3.1 million for Delgado. In Maine’s 2nd District, former state Rep. Dale Crafts (R) had $32,000 compared with $2.2 million for Rep. Jared Golden (D). Five other Republican challengers to Trump-district Democrats had less than $250,000.
In all 29 districts, the Democratic incumbent had at least 1.5 times more campaign cash than the Republican challenger. In 26 of the 29 districts, the Democrat had more than three times as much money.
There are some well-funded Republican challengers. Iowa state Rep. Ashley Hinson (R) had $1.6 million on hand to challenge first-term Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D), though even that total was more than $1 million behind the incumbent. Ex-Reps. Karen Handel (R-Ga.) and David Young (R-Iowa), former incumbents with more donor connections than first-time candidates, are among the best-financed Republican challengers.
There are more well-funded Republicans in California: former Rep. David Valadao, Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, and former state Assemblywoman Young Kim, who are seeking districts that opposed Trump in 2016 and that Democrats flipped in 2018.
Room to Grow
The second-quarter finance reports also showed how Democrats are seeking to augment their House majority by targeting GOP-held districts that eluded them in 2018.
No Republican challenger reported more in cash on hand than a Democratic incumbent, though six Democratic challengers in competitive districts had more available to spend than the GOP incumbents they’re running against. They’re running in Alaska, suburban Phoenix, central Illinois, eastern Kansas, southern Minnesota, and the Austin-San Antonio corridor.
The candidates include Betsy Dirksen Londrigan (D), who is opposing Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) again after losing in 2018 by less than a percentage point. Physician Hiral Tipirneni (D) led Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) in cash $1.65 million to $237,000, a 7 to 1 advantage. Trump won both districts in 2016.
Democratic nominees also had more cash than Republicans in almost every competitive district where an incumbent isn’t seeking re-election. They include a Democratic-held district in southeastern Iowa and Republican-held districts in southwestern Texas; Long Island in New York; Montana; and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Indianapolis. Democrats are also better-funded in Republican-friendly districts in western Colorado and central Virginia, where Republican incumbents were ousted by lightly funded but more strongly conservative challengers.
The Trump-district Democrats were able to increase their campaign treasuries in part because few of them faced primary challenges. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a member of the Financial Services Committee, increased his cash on hand by $1 million, to $8.8 million, even as he faced a liberal challenger in the July 7 primary. Gottheimer won 70%-30%.
Rise of Virtual Fundraisers
Besides outraising Republicans, 23 of the 29 Democrats seeking re-election in Trump districts raised more after coronavirus restrictions were in place than in the first three months of the year. Although campaigns canceled in-person fundraisers and door-knocking, they have been replaced with phone calls, text messages, emails and video chats, which allowed donor dollars to keep flowing.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly traditional Democratic funders and some non-traditional funders kind of reconfigured pretty quickly and adapted,” said Amie Kershner, a Democratic consultant. “It does feel like there’s so much at stake.”
One of the biggest changes is the rise of the virtual fundraiser, something that didn’t exist before the coronavirus, Kershner said. While less personal, the format has a number of other advantages. It allows someone in New York to attend a fundraiser in Texas and makes it easier for candidates to have celebrities join them.
In-person fundraisers are expected to return when it’s safe, but Kershner said she doesn’t expect virtual fundraisers to disappear.
“This adds a tool to the tool box that we haven’t really had before,” she said.
With assistance from Jodie Morris