Campaign cash from long-distance donors floods competitive House primaries

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.
Bill Clark | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

With congressional primaries wrapped up in another eight states, donors who have been waiting to make campaign contributions can now begin placing bets on their party's nominees.

Much of the money so far has come from large contributions from long-distance donors who are hoping to shape the outcome of the midterm election. In this year's 435 House races, nearly three-quarters of direct contributions larger than $200 so far have come from donors outside the candidate's district, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The bulk of that out-of-district money is flowing to a relatively small number of competitive races, including dozens of open seats where incumbents have retired or resigned. Since the current House was elected in November 2016, some 84 of the original members have departed or announced they won't seek re-election this fall, according to the House press gallery.

A few dozen of those open seats have become prime targets for long-distance donors, both Democrats who are trying to win control of the House in November and Republicans who are trying to maintain their current majority.

On Tuesday, voters in eight states went to the polls to pick their party's nominee for the House. Some of those winners will now enter the general election with a significant campaign war chest; others face a major fundraising challenge in the months ahead.

Here's a look at the winning candidates' financial status in some of Tuesday's most competitive races:

California

The Golden State's primary rules — selecting the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation — produced a stampede of candidates in several key districts.

As of Wednesday morning, several of those races were too close to call, and it may take several days to tabulate absentee ballots for a final count.

10th District: Democrats are hoping to unseat four-term incumbent GOP Rep. Jeff Denham, who faced little opposition in his bid for his party's nomination. Among Democrats, technology investor Josh Harder was leading in the race for the second slot, but Republican Ted Howze, who ran on virtually no campaign budget, was within a point of edging him out. Harder has raised more than a million dollars from outside the district. Democrat Michael Eggman, a small businessman who lost to Denham by about 3 percentage points in 2016, was trailing in his bid for a second spot on the ballot.

21st District: Democrats have also targeted incumbent Republican David Valadao in this midstate district, which went for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Valadao will face T.J. Cox, an engineer and businessman, on the November ballot. Out-of-district Republicans have donated more than half a million dollars to Valadao's campaign, or about a quarter of his total war chest

25th District: Long-distance Democratic donors have invested heavily in nonprofit executive Katie Hill's bid to unseat incumbent GOP Rep. Steve Knight. That funding lead for Hill appears to be paying off at the ballot box. As of Wednesday morning she was holding onto a second place finish ahead of Democrats Bryan Caforio, a lawyer, and Jess Phoenix, a geologist.

39th District: The retirement of GOP Rep. Ed Royce has given the Democrats an opening in this district, and the crowded field of contenders threatened to shut out Democrats in the state's "top two" primary system. As of Wednesday morning, former state Assemblywoman Young Kim had won the GOP nomination and Gil Cisneros, a Navy veteran and education advocate, was leading a large pack of Democrats. If he wins the primary race, he'll face Kim with a substantial lead in fundraising.

45th District: GOP Rep. Mimi Walters faced little opposition for the party nomination and will now run against one of several well-funded Democrats in what is shaping up as a competitive general election. Ex-Obama administration official Brian Forde, who outraised law professor Katie Porter, was trailing Porter in the vote tally as of Wednesday morning. Porter raised more than half of her campaign cash from outside the district

48th District: Democrats are also at risk of being shut out of this district by the state's "top two" primary system. As of Wednesday morning, incumbent GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher had secured one of the top two slots, but the second place finish was too close to call. The top fundraiser for the district, businessman Harley Rouda was virtually tied with Hans Keirstead, a stem cell researcher. Rouda won the endorsement of the national party, while the state party backed Kierstead. The two Democrats were just 1 percentage point ahead of another GOP rival, former California Assemblyman Scott Baugh.

49th District: GOP Rep. Darrell Issa's retirement has opened up another Democratic target. Former GOP state Assemblywoman Diane Harkey easily won her party's nod for the general election, with the second slot going to one of three Democrats: clean energy advocate Mike Levin, Marine veteran Doug Applegate and former State Department official Sara Jacobs, who raised the biggest campaign funds in the race. As of Wednesday morning, Levin led the other two Democrats for the second slot.

New Jersey

2nd District: The retirement of Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo has made this seat another prime target for Democrats hoping to flip this swing district. State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who is sitting on nearly half a million in cash for the general election, won the nod from Democrats. He now faces Republican Seth Grossman, a former Atlantic City councilman, who ran his primary campaign on a shoestring budget and upset two better-financed GOP rivals for the nomination.

7th District: Incumbent GOP Rep. Leonard Lance faced little opposition in his bid to defend his seat in this district against Democrat Tom Malinowski, a former Obama administration official who easily won his party's nomination. Both candidates have relatively large balances in their campaign funds; much of Malinowski's money has come from out-of-state donors.

11th District: This GOP seat being vacated by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's retirement is high on the Democrat's national hit list, and the pace of out-of-state contributions reflects the party's high hopes of turning it from red to blue. Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a former federal prosecutor and Navy veteran, has raised more than $1 million from outside the district and heads to the general election with a sizable funding lead over her GOP opponent, state Assemblyman Jay Webber.

Iowa

1st District: Incumbent GOP Rep. Rod Blum now moves to the general election with a financial edge over his Democratic rival, state legislator Abby Finkenauer. But with national Democrats targeting this race, she's raised much of her campaign cash from out-of-district donors.

3rd District: Democrat Cindy Axne won her party's nomination to unseat GOP Rep. David Young, but she faces a major funding gap heading into November. Young has outraised Axne by a 4-to-1 margin and holds a significant advantage in the amount of campaign cash on hand.

Montana

Montana at-large district: One of the largest pots of out-of-district cash this year was raised by Greg Gianforte, a wealthy Montana Republican who won a special election last year after Montana's only House seat was vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Gianforte enters the general election with more than $1 million in cash on hand, far more than any of his Democratic rivals. (As of Wednesday morning, the Democratic primary was too close to call.)

New Mexico

2nd District: This Republican seat is open this year after the decision by incumbent Rep. Steve Pearce to run for governor. GOP state representative Yvette Herrell got past three other rivals, including former state GOP Party Chairman Monty Newman, who had collected a large pot of out-of-district donations. Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, a lawyer endorsed by the state party, defeated Madeline Hildebrandt, a Coast Guard veteran, to win the party's nomination.

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