Monday, April 19, 2010

Midterm Money: What the Fundraising Figures Are Telling Us

Summary: Mixed results for Democrats and Republicans should make for an interesting year.

Two weeks ago we noted how the campaign finance reports for the first quarter of 2010 would be something to watch when thinking about how this year’s midterm elections will shape up.

Well, the numbers are coming in. What do they tell us?

Democrats Are Falling Behind

Republican challengers in ten of the most competitive Democratic seats have outraised the incumbents. A few of them weren’t just edged out by the GOP candidates, they were crushed.

From Politico:

Democratic Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, Ron Klein of Florida, Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, Harry Teague of New Mexico, Jerry McNerney of California, Larry Kissell of North Carolina and John Hall and Michael Arcuri of New York were all outraised by GOP candidates running against them.

For some of the incumbents, the financial disparity was stark. Arcuri raised just $208,000 in the first three months of the year – about $150,000 less than challenger Richard Hanna brought in over the same period. Teague, who has the capacity to put some personal resources into the race, brought in $134,000 to former GOP Rep. Steve Pearce's $278,000.

Still, others were only edged out, and for the most part the Democratic incumbents still retain the advantage in cash-on-hand. Besides, I personally have worked on campaigns in which an incumbent lost the first quarter fundraising contest and still won in November.

Democrats Are Ahead of the Game

Despite the dire forecast for Democrats made by Politico, other targeted Democrats did particularly well last quarter. Reps. Tom Perriello (D-VA), Betsy Markey (D-CO), and Alan Grayson (D-FL) all raised over $500,000 from early January to late March, bringing each of the war chests to over a million dollars.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) raised nearly $2 million, bringing his cash-on-hand to an incredible $9.4 million - something unheard of in a state with such a small population.

Raising money is always easier for incumbents - it’s one of the so called “powers of incumbency.” And it’s a lot easier when the President of the United States is on your side.

From the Los Angeles Times:

With midterm elections looming, President Obama is raising campaign money at a ferocious pace, tapping into an energized corps of Democratic donors.

Obama trailed his predecessor, George W. Bush, in the amount of money raised 13 months into their tenures ($32 million to $53 million), but had more than twice the number of fundraising appearances (33 to 13) compared with Bush…

… Polls show Obama enjoys less popular support than he had when he took office 15 months ago. Yet his fundraising prowess shows that he remains a powerful political force who can stockpile chits from grateful Democratic candidates eager for his help.

Meanwhile, Democratic challengers have outraised at-risk GOP Representatives Joseph Cao (R-LA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA).

However, it’s important to remember that despite the good news, it’s still going to be a tough year for Democrats.

According to Reuters:

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks money in politics, says Democrats received about 57 percent of all campaign donations in the current election cycle as of December 31. By contrast, Republicans claimed about 62 percent of campaign donations just before they lost control of Congress in 2006.

Questions That Need Answers

In our last post on fundraising, we also posed three questions to keep in mind when reviewing the campaign finance figures.

Who is winning and losing on health care reform? Will the RNC’s woes be another Republican’s gain? And how will the Citizens United case play a role?

First, it would appear Democrats are winning on health care reform. Even if it hurts some particular Democratic campaigns, the DNC saw a huge spike in fundraising once the overhaul passed - and that money can filter down to the at-risk incumbents.

Second, it is not yet obvious that the RNC’s frequent PR problems have shifted money to individual Republican campaigns, although the RNC did fall behind yet again in fundraising.

Third, the impact of the Citizens United decision has not yet been seen at all. However, it is likely that we’ll see more on that front in the coming months.