Democrats in key House races sweep past GOP rivals in money battle

All of the Democratic candidates in more than two dozen of the most competitive House races outpaced their R...

Posted: Oct 16, 2018 3:38 PM
Updated: Oct 16, 2018 3:38 PM

All of the Democratic candidates in more than two dozen of the most competitive House races outpaced their Republican rivals in recent campaign fundraising, underscoring the Democrats' enormous financial advantage heading into the midterm elections, a CNN analysis of newly filed campaign-finance reports shows.

Across all the 28 races that CNN defines as toss-ups, Democratic candidates raised nearly $69.6 million during the July-to-September fundraising quarter, more than three times the $21.4 million collected by Republicans in those contests, the tally shows.

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Those figures underscore how difficult the terrain has become for House Republicans in the midterms that are now just three weeks away and how much the party is relying on major financial benefactors, such as Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, to remain competitive in the homestretch to Election Day.

"The fundraising is an indication of the off-the-charts intensity that Democrats are experiencing," said Republican strategist Ken Spain, a former top staffer at the House Republican campaign committee. "Clearly, Republicans face an uphill battle."

Democrats need to flip 23 GOP-controlled seats to seize control of the chamber. Republicans, meanwhile, are grappling with a near-record number of retirements from the House and tradition: A president typically loses seats in Congress in his first midterm election.

A super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan and financed heavily by Adelson has sought to fill in the gaps, investing more than $92 million in House races and running an early wave of blistering attack ads in August and September against Democratic challengers.

New campaign filings show Adelson and his physician wife, Miriam, recently contributed $32 million to three super PACs active in the midterms, including $20 million last month to the Congressional Leadership Fund.

Democrats also have big benefactors. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is weighing a bid for the presidency in 2020, has committed to spending $100 million in House and Senate races by November 6.

But small donors are helping to send staggering amounts into the bank accounts of individual House candidates.

"The GOP is now facing a green wave, not a blue wave," Corry Bliss, who runs the Ryan-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, warned in a recent memo to donors that was widely circulated in Washington.

Ian Russell, a Democratic strategist and former political director of the campaign arm for House Democrats, said Republicans miscalculated how much money his party's candidates could raise from a liberal donor base furious with President Donald Trump and his policies.

"The Republicans walked into an ambush by a force that was armed to the teeth and ready to fight back," Russell said in a telephone interview.

"Democratic money in this cycle has been renewable resource," he added. "The people who are pissed off at Donald Trump today are going to give $25, but they are going to be pissed off at Donald Trump again and will give another $25 tomorrow."

"It's like Donald Trump is the co-chair of our finance committee," Russell said.

Those energized donors helped eight Democratic House candidates raise more than $3 million in the third quarter, whopping sums considering that the average House winner in 2014 spent just shy of $1.5 million over the entire two-year cycle, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Candidates not in the top fundraising tier also saw donations surge as the midterm elections drew closer.

In West Virginia's coal country, Richard Ojeda, a rising Democrat star and former Army paratrooper who is running for an open seat in a district Trump won by 49 percentage points, raised $1.39 million during the July-to-September quarter.

That's more than four times what he collected during the previous three-month period and more than three times the $421,000 collected by his Republican rival Carol Miller.

ActBlue, the online fundraising engine for Democrats, has become an important portal for small-dollar donations and has processed more than more than $500 million in contributions for progressive candidates and causes between July 1 and Monday afternoon.

During the entire 2014 midterm cycle, by contrast, donors gave $335 million through ActBlue.

In the world of politics, hard cash in candidates' bank accounts is one of the most valuable resources available. That money goes further than non-candidate funds because television stations must offer the lowest ads prices to candidates. Political parties and super PACs must pay higher rates.

The financial strain is starting to show for Republican party officials and outside groups which have begun jettisoning advertising plans in close contests across country.

A recent CNN analysis of advertising data found Republicans had not run a single ad in 16 key races during the first eight days of this month. And the Congressional Leadership Fund has shifted money away from two imperiled Republican incumbents, Michigan Rep. Mike Bishop and five-term Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman.

"What you are seeing now is an effort to consolidate resources and build a firewall," said Spain, the Republican strategist. "The biggest thing Republicans can do is not throw good money after bad."

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