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Apr 18, 2023, 6:01pm EDT
politicsNorth America

What the campaign money wars say about 2024

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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The News

Candidates for the presidency and Congress finished their first-quarter campaign finance reports last week, adding up everything they raised and spent from New Year’s Eve to midnight on March 31.

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David’s view

I saw four big takeaways from this quarter, all useful for understanding how everyone’s starting this cycle.

This is the lowest-dollar presidential race in years. It’s early, and the current president has yet to launch a campaign, which is important if you want to raise money for one. But after 2020’s early start, we’re back to the norm – fairly few candidates announcing, and fairly few donors giving to them, one year out from the next presidential primary.

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Donald Trump led the field, reporting around $14.5 million raised for his campaign and $4.3 million more for his Save America PAC. Adjusted for inflation, that’s roughly what Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders raised in the first months of his 2020 campaign — and while Trump has been in this race all year, Sanders launched his campaign just five weeks before the end of the quarter. Without the $4 million flood of small donations that came into Trump’s campaign after his indictment, he’d have pulled in less than Sanders. And it’s less than the $30 million Trump raised in the first quarter of 2019, when he was still president.

Nikki Haley’s campaign and committees reported $8.3 million more, though it had initially claimed $11 million for the quarter, and hasn’t explained the discrepancy. That’s less than former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke raised at the start of his 2020 campaign ($9.3 million). No one else in the race raised seven figures, though both Perry Johnson and Vivek Ramaswamy started up dark horse campaigns with multi-million dollar loans from themselves.

There’s not much donor interest in the Democratic race, but of course there’s not much of a Democratic race. Marianne Williamson, still the only Democrat running for president, raised less than $780,000 and had around $240,000 left to spend. Williamson, who’d announced her 2020 bid much earlier than her 2024 bid, had raised just $550,000 at the same point then.

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How much money is out there for Joe Biden, who struggled to raise funds for his 2020 primary campaign then set records as a general election candidate? Ask me after he files.

Democratic senators not named “Joe” and “Kyrsten” raked it in.

Most of the swing-state Democrats who survived 2018 have lengthy small donor lists now, and piled up money in the first quarter. Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who has only won his races by single digits, led with $5.1 million; Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown raised $3.6 million; Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen, $2.4 million; Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, nearly $2.2 million. The top 10 Senate fundraisers were either Democrats or Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

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About Sinema. She and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, running for re-election for the first time since they largely dismantled Build Back Better legislation in 2021, both ended March with nearly $10 million left to spend, more than any of their colleagues except for Sanders. But both had middling quarters, and both were outraised by opponents — Sinema took in $1.6 million less than Rep. Ruben Gallego, Manchin $135,000 less than Rep. Alex Mooney.

Both lacked what the more reliably liberal members of their party had plenty of: small donors. Much of Manchin’s total came from PACs, including $10,000 from No Labels and tens of thousands from his Democratic colleagues. Sinema’s small-dollar donors vanished; donations under $200 added up to less than $6000. Minutes after Sinema posted those numbers, Gallego’s campaign claimed that she would “not have the resources or fundraising ability to be competitive.”

No targeted House member will be caught napping. There are 31 Republicans targeted by Democrats and 35 incumbent Democrats being targeted by GOP campaign groups — plus the two open seats being vacated by California Rep. Katie Porter and Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin, as they run for Senate. With just two exceptions, every incumbent in a district that the other party’s trying to flip raised six figures: Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, who’s 72 and had lots of four-letter words for the map that made her district more competitive, and New York Rep. George Santos, who doesn’t need another introduction.

This is what happens after a few cycles with lots of competition and seat-flips; the lazy incumbents get replaced by people with more modern, early-acting money machines. When you include the transfers from their own joint fundraising committees, House Republicans targeted by Democrats raised nearly $480,000 on average. Contributions from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s PAC, which doled out millions to front-line candidates raised that average to nearly $640,000.

The average Democrat targeted by Republicans raised around $409,000, led by New York Rep. Pat Ryan, who won one of the first special House elections in the country after the Dobbs decision and never stopped running. None are hurting for money; House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries raised more than $33 million for candidates in his first three months, not far off the $38 million raised by McCarthy. (Most Democratic leadership PACs didn’t distribute their money yet, so the McCarthy donations helped his candidates run ahead.)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did out-raise its Republican counterpart, $37.8 million to $25.8 million, despite taking far longer to set up its new leadership. But after the most humiliating speaker election of the TV era, McCarthy and his team showered vulnerable members with cash, putting them in a better position as Democrats start recruiting challengers. It’s a reversal of what Republicans faced in 2019, when the Trump re-election campaign vacuumed up money and GOP candidates lagged.

Some senators may be ready to go. Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, who turns 80 this year, raised just over $15,000, amplifying the rumors that he’ll retire after three terms. He’d raised $5.1 million for his last race, a walk-over after a primary challenge from Chelsea Manning. Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, 76, raised less than $200,000, and had considered retiring before his current term. He ran for re-election instead, defeating a progressive challenger, then a Republican who resurrected abuse charges from the senator’s divorce.

The all-Democrat race to succeed Feinstein has been a money magnet, and vacancies in Maryland and Delaware would create more opportunities for the same amped-up donors to get involved in states where any Democrat starts favored to win the election. California Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter raised more than every Senate Democrat besides Tester, and none of the money going to them will be spent against a competitive Republican.

The GOP’s most notable straggler in the money race got his first primary challenge right after the quarter ended. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney raised just $111,978, a fraction of what other safe-seat Republicans got last quarter. Last week, Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson announced he was exploring a run.

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Notable

  • No one had a stranger set of filings than Santos, the only incumbent who reported giving back more money than he’d received — just $5,333 for the quarter. Roger Sullenberger did more digging into the Santos filing, finding mysterious and unexplained updates to the loans that Santos, who largely invented his biography, purportedly gave himself last cycle. None of that deterred Santos from announcing his reelection campaign on Monday, despite being persona non grata with his own state’s GOP while he faces state, federal, and House investigations.
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