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May 29, 2024

Democrats begin to outpace Republicans in fundraising for key House races

Democrats begin to outpace Republicans in fundraising for key House races

Republicans have sounded the alarm in recent years that Democrats are overwhelming their candidates in fundraising. And despite making some improvements last year, some of the most vulnerable House Republicans are once again falling behind their Democratic opponents.

Democratic candidates outraised Republicans in almost every one of the most competitive seats in the race for the House, according to new fundraising reports filed this week, a setback for Republicans who had been hoping their candidates were turning a corner.

Money alone doesn’t determine winners and losers, especially in a presidential cycle where most voter attention will be focused on the top of the ticket. And Republicans expect their candidates and outside effort to be well-funded. But as Democrats need a net gain of just four seats to retake control of the House, their incumbents and challengers entered April in a significantly better financial position than their Republican rivals. 

Republicans admit the fundraising gap isn’t ideal, but they’re tamping down concerns — at least publicly.

“Our swing-district incumbents continue to stack the cash they’ll need to beat their extreme challengers,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Will Reinert said in a statement. 

The latest fundraising reports, spanning the first three months of the year, also come as Republicans navigate life without an experienced prolific fundraiser as speaker after Kevin McCarthy’s ouster (and with current Speaker Mike Johnson fighting continual intraparty threats to his leadership). 

Ten of the 11 Republican incumbents in races rated as “toss ups” by The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter were outraised by at least one Democratic challenger. Oregon Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer was the only GOP incumbent in that category to lead her district in fundraising. 

Republican incumbents who were outraised include: Reps. David Schweikert and Juan Ciscomani of Arizona; John Duarte, David Valadao, Mike Garcia and Ken Calvert of California; Tom Kean Jr. of New Jersey; and Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro and Anthony D’Esposito of New York. 

In races against Schweikert, Garcia, Calvert, Lawler and Molinaro, a Democratic candidate also finished the first quarter of 2024 with more cash on hand than the incumbent.

And Republican candidates were also outraised in two other “toss-up” seats being vacated by Democratic incumbents in Michigan. 

Democrats also showed strong fundraising in a handful of other seats more likely to stay in Republican hands, with their candidates outraising Republican Reps. Kevin Kiley of California, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Zach Nunn of Iowa, Don Bacon of Nebraska and Nick LaLota of New York. But those Republicans still had more cash banked away. 

House Democratic candidates have held a financial edge over their GOP rivals ever since the Democratic small-dollar fundraising boom that took place after former President Donald Trump took office. In 2018, that advantage helped them take control of the House. But just two years later, the GOP won big across the House battlegrounds despite operating at a financial deficit, setting the party up to retake the majority in 2022.

Despite those gains, party strategists have still raised concerns about disparities in candidate fundraising, which gave Democrats a significant edge on the airwaves, since candidates receive lower TV ad rates than outside groups. 

Democrats are confident they’ll continue to have a financial advantage heading into November. Just two of their vulnerable incumbents — Reps. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut and Vicente Gonazalez of Texas — were outraised by their likely GOP opponents. 

On average, Democratic incumbents in “tossup” races raised more than $1 million on average in the first quarter, while the average GOP incumbent in a similar race raised $619,000.

“Everyone can see the writing on the wall: House Republicans, consumed by chaos and crisis, are about to lose their majority,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Viet Shelton said in a statement.

Republicans in competitive races did step up their fundraising last year as they look to defend their slim majority. The NRCC also launched a “million dollar mission” to encourage lawmakers to give to their colleagues’ campaigns and boost vulnerable incumbents’ accounts in the off-year. 

McCarthy’s exit has dealt a blow to GOP fundraising. Speaker Mike Johnson’s joint fundraising committee, which funnels money to vulnerable GOP lawmakers and state parties, raised $9.1 million from January through March. McCarthy’s similar committee brought in three times more — $28.9 million — over the same period last year. 

Still, even those within the party who have sounded the alarm about the GOP fundraising disadvantage in the past believe the gap has been narrowed enough to mute any significant impact. 

“You can’t get outspent 5- or 6-to-1, but that’s not what’s happening in the races that matter. In this environment, you could get narrowly outspent and still have the edge,” said Corry Bliss, a veteran GOP strategist who previously ran the House Republicans’ top super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund. 

Bliss argued that the top of the ticket will have a more significant impact than the GOP candidates’ fundraising disadvantages, especially considering super PACs like CLF continue to rake in strong fundraising hauls. 

“Joe Biden’s approval rating, Joe Biden’s foreign policies, Joe Biden’s economic policies will be the most important thing in these House races,” he said.

“Of course given the choice you want more money than your opponent. But given the voice, I’ll take a $5 gallon of gas and Joe Biden with 34% approval rating over [stronger] online fundraising.” 

Outside super PACs like CLF will still play a major role in House races, especially in the costly TV markets in New York and California, which are hosting many of the top battlegrounds. CLF, and the House Democrats’ House Majority PAC, both remain well-funded.  

But strong candidate fundraising can allow outside groups to supplement GOP candidate spending, rather than shouldering the entire load. 

“It allows CLF and the super PACs to be the whipped cream and the cherry on the advertising sundae, not the full three scoops,” said Matt Gorman, a former NRCC spokesman, arguing Republican candidate fundraising is better off than it was just a few years ago. 

Still, not everyone is dismissing worries about a potentially widening fundraising gap.

“It’s always a concern when we see our incumbents and candidates being outspent,” said one national GOP strategist involved in House races. 

Ben Kamisar

Ben Kamisar is a deputy political editor in NBC’s Political Unit. 

Bridget Bowman

Bridget Bowman is a deputy editor for NBC’s Political Unit.

Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy is a data editor at NBC News.

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