CHICAGO — Republicans defending seats in some of the most competitive House races hold a financial advantage over Democratic challengers as the campaign for control of Congress enters a crucial phase, a Bloomberg tabulation of Federal Election Commission reports shows.
Democrats trying to wrest control of the House in November are running up against the power of incumbency and one of the main pitfalls of the surge of party enthusiasm in the first midterm of Donald Trump’s presidency: multicandidate primaries that splintered donors and drained campaign accounts.
Republicans had more cash-on-hand in 13 of 18 congressional districts where primaries have been held and that are rated as general election tossups by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. The tabulation was based on second-quarter reports that were due this week.
GOP candidates in the 18 districts collectively had $26.6 million in their bank accounts at the end of June, while Democrats had $16 million. A positive for the Democrats: they collectively out-raised the Republicans in those districts during the period, $18.4 million to $10.5 million. The second-quarter surge brought Democrats to parity in the districts — they’ve raised $40.4 million so far in the cycle, compared to $40.2 million for Republicans.
In 12 of the 13 districts where the GOP has a cash-on-hand advantage, a Republican incumbent is running. Most of them had little or no opposition in their primary elections, meaning they could focus on fund-raising and conserve resources.
While both parties will continue raising money right up to the election, the current Republican advantage will allow some GOP candidates to define their Democratic opponents in unflattering ways and steer the agenda during the earliest phase of the general election campaign.
Having more money in a campaign bank account is helpful, but it doesn’t always predict victory in a close race. Incumbents typically raise more than challengers, and there’s been evidence in both Republican and Democratic primaries that many voters are favoring fresh faces over familiar ones.
“A challenger needs enough money to be heard,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, which researches the influence of money on elections.
In tight races, party committees and outside groups will often spend to make up the gap. “If it’s a very close race and control of the chamber depends on it, then outside spending will be much larger than candidate spending,” Malbin said.
On the House side, the top super-political action committee backing Republican efforts to hold onto the House majority had $71.4 million in the bank at the end of June. The Congressional Leadership Fund balance compares to $16.7 million in the bank as of the end of May for the House Majority PAC, which backs Democrats and must report its latest totals by Friday.
Party committees, like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee will also play major roles and will file updated reports no later than Friday. The DCCC had a $60.6 million balance at the end of May, while the NRCC had $60.9 million.
Republicans are trying to beat a historical a pattern in which the party that holds the White House almost always loses seats in midterm elections. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to win the House and since the end of World War II the president’s party has had an average net loss of 26 House seats in midterm elections.
There are financial bright spots for Democrats, including three challengers in the 18 districts who ended the quarter with more money in their campaign bank accounts than the Republican incumbents they are challenging.
In New York’s 22nd District, Democratic state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi ended the quarter with $1.4 million in his account, while first-term Republican Representative Claudia Tenney finished with $1 million. The district, which includes Utica, Binghamton, and Rome, backed Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton, 55 percent to 39 percent, in the 2016 election.
Democrat Tom Malinowski, a State Department assistant secretary during the Obama administration who is the nominee in northwest New Jersey’s Seventh District, finished the quarter with $1.6 million in his campaign account after raising more than any other Democrat in the 18 districts reviewed. That surpassed the $1.2 million in the account of Republican Representative Leonard Lance, who is running for a sixth term in a district Clinton narrowly won.
In California’s 48th District, around coastal Orange County, and another that Clinton narrowly won, Democratic challenger Harley Rouda finished the quarter with just barely more in his account than Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, $482,623 to $479,365.