This year’s midterm election is already the most expensive ever, with the total raised by House candidates nationwide surpassing $1 billion weeks before the Nov. 6 election. In California, with at least seven tightly contested races that could decide control of the House, Democrats seeking to win seats in areas long held by Republicans are raising staggering amounts of money.
In those seven races, Democrats raised $21.6 million over the last three months ending Sept. 30; Republicans took in just $4.2 million in aggregate.
The Republican candidates also had smaller cash reserves, with an average of about $652,000 at the end of the quarter. Their Democratic opponents, all of them running for office for the first time, had on average more than $1.2 million in the bank.
In an already challenging year for Republicans, the lack of resources could be crippling for their efforts to hold the House against Democrats energized by the resistance to President Trump. That would almost certainly require retaining several California districts. Democrats must net 23 GOP-held congressional seats to take control of the House.
All but three of California’s 12 Republican House incumbents running for reelection were out-raised by their competitors in the third quarter. Only Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Reps. Paul Cook of Yucca Valley and Ken Calvert of Corona raised more than their rivals.
House candidates around the country have raised a total of $1.26 billion through Sept. 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The previous national record was set in 2012, when candidates raised an aggregate of $1.12 billion for the entire two-year cycle.
The sharp increase in campaign cash is fueled largely by a near-record number of House challengers, said Sarah Bryner, the center’s research director.
“You have an energized left intent on bringing down what they see as entrenched Republican incumbents, and that’s putting money in races that previously haven’t see it before,” Bryner said. The record amounts of money could help little-known and first-time candidates counter the built-in advantages of incumbency.
The soaring sums for many Democrats are being bolstered by an unprecedented flood of small donors, particularly those giving over online platforms such as Act Blue. Bryner’s preliminary analysis suggests that Democrats’ share of fundraising from donors giving $200 or less is twice that of GOP candidates this cycle.
In California, GOP incumbents are having a hard time keeping up. The money picture is particularly lopsided in several Southern California districts, where the advertising market is pricey and over-saturated this campaign season.
Democrat Katie Hill, for example, reported having $2.3 million in her campaign account, more than five times the amount two-term incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Knight of Lancaster had. The two are running for the 25th Congressional District based in Los Angeles County, one of the most expensive media markets in the country.
Knight and other Republican incumbents have benefited from a deluge of outside spending to boost their bids. The GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, which has spent $16.4 million in California races so far, has poured $3.4 million into ads and canvassing since June to help Knight.
Candidates can stretch their dollars further because they’re entitled to far cheaper advertising rates, compounding the effect of the Democrats’ fundraising leads.
Some Democrats also reported dwindling cash reserves: Gil Cisneros, for example, running for the Orange County seat being vacated by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), had just $282,910 in the bank, compared with Republican opponent Young Kim’s $340,647.
Kim has spent only a fraction of what Cisneros has: $2.2 million compared with Cisneros’ nearly $10 million.
Cisneros, a former Frito-Lay employee who won millions in the lottery, has loaned his campaign $8 million since last year, including $3.5 million in the third quarter. He was the only candidate in a competitive California race to lend himself money this latest reporting period.
Democrat Katie Porter reported $546,133 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, just over half of the $925,865 incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Beach) has in her campaign coffers. But Porter has raised and spent significantly more than Walters over the course of the campaign, taking in more than $5 million since January of last year compared with Walters’ $3.9 million.
In the 50th Congressional District, where Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) is facing federal campaign finance charges after an August indictment, Democratic challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar raised more than 10 times the incumbent in the third quarter. He ended September with about $680,000 in the bank, compared with Hunter’s $247,460.
In one race that’s been closely watched even though the GOP-held seat is deemed unlikely to flip, Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare reported a $3.1-million haul, but that was eclipsed by the $4.4 million raised by opponent Andrew Janz. Nunes, buoyed by his role as a staunch defender of Trump, still had a seven-figure lead in cash on hand over his challenger.