Vulnerable House Democrats Dominate First-Quarter Race for Cash

All but one House Democrat from a district President Donald Trump carried in 2016 outraised their Republican challenger in the first three months of the year, often raking in double or triple the amount of their closest opponents.

The 29 Democrats seeking re-election in Trump-won districts ended March with an average of $2.47 million in cash on hand, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis of first-quarter campaign finance reports due this week to the Federal Election Commission.

More than 90% of the House’s 435 districts voted for the same party’s candidates for president in 2016 that they did for Congress in 2018, so these split-verdict districts will help determine whether Democrats keep control of the House in November. Republicans need a net gain of almost 20 seats to win back the majority, and the reports gave a boost of confidence to the House Democratic campaign arm.

“Between retirements, weak recruitment, and anemic fundraising, it’s clear Republicans aren’t even pretending to put up a fight in several districts Trump won in 2016,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Robyn Patterson said in a statement.

Although campaigns have ended door-to-door canvassing and canceled events because of the coronavirus, most of the financial fallout isn’t reflected in the reports, which include the two and a half months of the year before social distancing and stay-home orders were put in place.

Cash on Hand

Six of these Democrats ended the quarter with more than $3 million, led by two-term Rep. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), who had $7.9 million. Gottheimer, a Financial Services Committee member who represents a district near New York City, had more than 26 times as much money as his best-funded Republican challenger.

With $3.7 million in the bank, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.) is the best-funded first-term Democrat from a Trump district. Slotkin, who was elected to a district that includes Lansing, East Lansing, and Rochester Hills, had a better than 9-to-1 cash advantage over her most prominent Republican opponent, former Trump immigration official Paul Junge.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (Va.) began April with $3.1 million on hand after raising $1.1 million in the first quarter, more than any Trump-district Democrat during the period.

Freshman Democrats Lauren Underwood (Ill.) and Jared Golden (Maine) had 10 times as much cash as their Republican opponents. In Minnesota, Rep. Angie Craig had more than $2 million on hand, more than 20 times her closest opponent.

The only Trump-district Democrat outraised by a GOP challenger: 15-term Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), though he still had triple the cash on hand of former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, who’s heavily favored to win the Republican nomination.

Photo by Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg
Rep. Elissa Slotkin’s (D-Mich.) campaign ended March with nearly $4 million on hand.

Scalise Team Raises Warning

Republicans intend to use Trump’s support in these districts against the incumbents, which the party hopes can overcome any cash disparity.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Chris Pack pointed to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D) massive spending advantage over Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in his unsuccessful 2018 challenge in Texas, saying the incumbents in these districts should ask him “how the anti-Trump agenda worked out for him before they start spiking the football.”

The campaign team for House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) laid out a desperate situation in an emailed fundraising appeal to donors Thursday, saying Republicans were being “severely outraised.”

“If we continue to allow our Conservative allies to be outraised by their Liberal opponents, we’ll lose these seats and fail to retake the House Majority for Trump,” according to the email.

Incumbents almost always outraise and outspend challengers, who seek to collect enough campaign money to be competitive. And some Republican challengers are waging well-financed campaigns.

Iowa Republican Ashley Hinson, a state legislator and TV broadcaster, ended the quarter with $980,000 for her campaign to unseat first-term Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D) in a district that includes Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. But even Hinson’s total was less than half of Finkenauer’s $2 million.

Several Republicans did raise more than incumbent Democrats, including 2018 nominee Maria Salazar, who narrowly took in more than Rep. Donna Shalala (Fla.).

In California’s Central Valley, former Rep. David Valadao (R) and Rep. TJ Cox (D) each had $1.26 million on hand in their rematch from 2018, when Cox unseated Valadao by less than a percentage point. Trump lost the district by 15 percentage points in 2016.

To contact the reporters on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com; Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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