Of the 31 Republicans whom Democrats have vowed to oust in 2023, three raised more than $1 million in the second quarter of the year, including Rep. Michelle Steel. | Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images
Republicans are dominating the cash dash so far in the cutthroat battle for the House in 2024.
GOP leaders are continuing to reap the rewards of a successful, yearslong strategy to erase the massive small-dollar fundraising advantage that Democrats enjoyed since former President Donald Trump took office in 2017. With it, they hope to spook potential Democratic contenders into not running — and offer a glide path for incumbents in critical must-win seats.
Some 65 Republican candidates raised $500,000 or more in the second quarter compared to 40 Democrats, according to a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance filings. That’s a stark contrast from this point four years ago: In 2019, about 30 Republicans crossed that threshold, compared to 50 Democrats.
The question now is whether the GOP can keep its momentum through next November as it competes with presidential candidates for donations.
“Over the last two cycles, House Republicans have fought to get to parity with Democrats when it comes to candidate dollars,” said House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, praising the work of the House GOP campaign arm. “We’ve turned a fundraising disadvantage into a massive strength.”
“That’s a really big deal,” he said, “but we got a lot of work left to do”
That early cash advantage could be critical for the House GOP as they face a uniquely vulnerable position for 2024. With a margin of just five seats, they are defending a dozen and a half districts in Biden-friendly territory, from New York to California to Pennsylvania. And Republicans hope eye-popping numbers from their incumbents will act as deterrents for potential Democratic challengers — strengthening their position heading into 2024.
Yet there could still be major shifts in the landscape for 2024: Both parties’ recruitment has been slow to kick off, and each will have to work to plug holes throughout the rest of the off year. Roughly half of the targeted Democrats and Republicans did not have challengers during the second quarter, though more have launched in recent weeks — and some are already attributing the sluggish start to a presidential year with historically unpopular candidates.
Of the 31 Republicans whom Democrats have vowed to oust in 2023, three raised more than $1 million in the second quarter of the year: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Young Kim (R-Calif.) and Michelle Steel (R-Calif.). And many more came close — notably, some of those in the GOP’s toughest turf such as Michigan’s Macomb County, New York’s Hudson Valley, and northern Los Angeles County.
None of the incumbents or leading candidates in three dozen Democrat-held seats that Republicans are targeting crossed that million-dollar threshold.
“While there’s still time to address the fundraising gap, Democratic incumbents are going to need to step it up if they are serious about taking back the majority,” said one Democratic strategist involved in House races who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.
But the good news for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is that Republican challengers are not posting particularly impressive numbers in battleground seats. Of those three-dozen targeted Democrats, only six have a GOP opponent who raised more than $200,000 during the second quarter.
In fact, none of the challengers who filed against Reps. Angie Craig (D-Minn.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) — who each had blockbuster races in 2022 — raised more than $60,000.
One exception is the GOP challenger to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). In one of the GOP’s most sought-after seats, former Ohio state Rep. Craig Riedel outraised Kaptur, the House’s longest serving woman member, by roughly $177,000.
Some Democratic challengers, too, posted impressive hauls. Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) was outraised by one Democrat vying to face him, Andrei Cherny. In New York, Josh Riley also brought in about $150,000 more than GOP Rep. Marc Molinaro — and several challengers to the embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) outraised the indicted freshman congressman as well.
Democrat Adam Frisch, one of 2022’s surprisingly strong challengers, brought in a staggering $2.6 million for his campaign against Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.). But in most cases, Democrats’ totals were not enough to surpass the incumbents’.
The National Republican Congressional Committee and its allies have worked for years to help their candidates keep pace with Democrats’ Trump-fueled ActBlue explosion. They appeared to have found a solution two years ago. Strategists worked to develop WinRed, the party’s answer to the ActBlue, and they helped their candidates invest in the digital ads and email list rentals that can help build a small dollar donor database.
But Democrats’ fundraising has not diminished since 2018, and in the final stretch of last year’s midterms their candidates were back to outraising Republicans in battleground seats. The most recent reports solidify that the two parties are now much more evenly matched in terms of fundraising capabilities. For now, the GOP is pulling ahead, but Democrats can still catch up.
“Democrats are poised to take back the majority next year and will have the resources to do it as indicated by the DCCC consistently outraising Republicans this year,” DCCC spokesperson Viet Shelton said in a statement to POLITICO.
Some Democrats insist the GOP’s financial advantage is more of a mirage. They say McCarthy and his campaign team have been hyper-focused on helping to stockpile their most endangered members’ accounts early on in the cycle — a strategy intended to deter challengers.
“I think that the NRCC is very aggressively directing money to their frontline [incumbents] in a way that may very well show greater strength in fundraising than these people really have,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), who raised a strong $601,000 for her competitive reelection bid over the past three months.
“If the money is just being deposited there because Kevin McCarthy told certain members or certain organizations or whatever to do it, that doesn’t really tell me that person is a good fundraiser,” she added.
Targeted Republicans have, in fact, benefitted from McCarthy directing money their way. He doled out almost $3 million to 28 members in the second quarter, on top of an additional $4 million to members in the first months of this year. These donations are transferred directly from McCarthy’s joint fundraising committee, Protect the House 2024.
“The focus from Speaker McCarthy and the NRCC on ensuring targeted Republican incumbents are cash-flush is already paying dividends,” said Dan Conston, president of the McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, in a statement to POLITICO. “This incumbent financial advantage is a shield of armor and will allow us to focus on our core mission: persuasively defining Democrats.”
Republicans argue there’s an advantage to pushing money directly to members because they can purchase TV airtime at a lower rate than super PACs.
“Growing the majority is a team effort,” NRCC Chair Richard Hudson told POLITICO in a statement. Democrats “will have to contend with the fundraising firepower of the entire Republican Conference.”