Donald Trump may be outraising his Democratic challengers so far, but enthusiasm for the president has yet to filter down to House and Senate races, where Republicans are trying to win back the House and protect their majority in the Senate.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy puts it succinctly, telling GOP members at a closed-door meeting on Monday, “We’re getting our ass kicked.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $125 million in 2019, according to DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.). Emmer said this month the NRCC had raised $85 million last year, a serious deficit even for a minority party.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) raised $87 million for party committees and candidates in 2019; McCarthy’s office said Tuesday he had raised $52.3 million for Republican candidates and the NRCC, while Scalise raised $21 million.
“It’s not so much we’re doing badly or lagging where we’ve been,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former NRCC chairman who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “You’ve got to tip your hat off to them, and we’ve got to do more.”
Where it’s hurting the most is in raising enough money in congressional districts targeted by the GOP. The party has apparently done a good job in finding decent candidates to run, but the Democratic incumbents are far ahead in raising cash.
Dozens of potentially vulnerable Democrats who first won their seats in 2018 have reported been raising money at a breakneck pace; three-quarters of the DCCC’s roster of vulnerable incumbents will report raising more than $500,000 in the last three months of the year alone, far outpacing Republican challengers who are only now getting their campaigns off the ground.
In the battle for the Senate, the most promising Democratic candidates are hauling in eye-popping sums.
Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut challenging Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), reported raising $6.3 million in the final three months of the year, the third straight quarter Kelly has outraised McSally, who pulled in $4 million.
The Democrats’ small money online machine is awesome. So far, Republicans haven’t had an answer.
But others say the problem is more structural.
Those Republicans pointed to Democratic success in building donor programs that hoover up money from thousands of small-dollar donors; ActBlue, the leading online fundraising platform that Democratic candidates use, reported raising more than $1 billion for the party, its candidates and causes in 2019. Its Republican counterpart, WinRed, only launched halfway through last year.
“The real problem is the giving cultural advancements that Democrats have made with their small-dollar donors that frankly have left Republicans in the dust. It’s not uncommon to meet a middle-class Democrat who has donated 20 bucks to a couple different presidential candidates and a handful of Senate and House candidates. This donor is currently a unicorn for Republicans,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist with close ties to party leaders.
We’ve seen in recent election cycles that money does not always play a decisive role in winning or losing campaigns. But in a close race, it’s certainly an advantage. A lot of those races in 2018 that Democrats were able to win were by razor-thin margins. It’s why there was hope by Republicans that they could win back a lot of those seats — especially the ones Democrats picked up in red states.
But the advantage of incumbency plus non-stop fundraising by freshmen members has made regaining the House an uphill climb for the GOP.