Democrats Have Cash Advantage in Key Congressional Races

If this is such a Republican year, why do the Democrats have a cash advantage in all the Congressional races that matter?

Alexandra Grablewski | Riser | Getty Images

That’s the quandary posed by the latest fundraising numbers reported to the Federal Election Commission on October 15 and available online over the weekend.

CNBC looked at the 37 House races rated “toss ups” by the Center for Responsive Politics and The New York Times—those making up a small group of contests that will decide the battle for control of the House of Representatives. Most of the 435 Congressional districts have been gerrymandered into locks for one political party or the other.

And what’s surprising is that even as the Washington conventional wisdom suggests Democrats are on the verge of losing their majority in the House, they still have more cash on hand than the Republicans in 27 of the 37 most hotly contested races.

In those 37 races, Democrats have a total of $23,183,289 in cash on hand, while the Republicans have $15,919,401. (See the chart at the bottom of the story for details on all 37 races).

Your Money Your Vote - A CNBC Special Report
Your Money Your Vote - A CNBC Special Report

That’s a pretty healthy advantage for the Democrats, and it will help their candidates finance more expensive TV ad buys, more aggressive direct mail, and more extensive get out the vote efforts down to the last day of the election. It shows just how difficult it can be to steal away a congressional majority as the party in power uses all the advantages of incumbency—name recognition, time tested mailing lists, and lobbyist cash—to out-raise the challengers who hope to unseat its members.

If you were looking at those numbers alone, it might even look like a pretty good year for Democrats.

But here come the caveats.

First, a cash advantage doesn’t always mean victory on Election Day—although it really, really helps. Second, Republicans have a huge advantage in spending being made by outside non-profit groups that are funneling tens of millions of dollars into key races around the country. And third, the fact that 32 of the 37 toss-up races are on the home turf of Democratic incumbents means that the Democrats are playing a defensive game this year, struggling to hold seats they’ve already won, rather than making gains into Republican areas.

It its own analysis of the latest reporting period, which closed on September 30, the Center for Responsive Politics came up with similar results.

They looked at 92 races ranked by Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report as “toss-up,” “leaning Democratic” and “leaning Republican.” And, their report concluded, “Democrats ended the third quarter with an average about 53 percent more in their war chests than their Republican opponents in these races.”

The Center for Responsive Politics also found that Democrats have raised an average of 47 percent more during the entire election cycle than their Republican counterparts and Democrats have spent an average of 66 percent more than their Republican opponents.

Democratic political leaders will just have to hope that their cash on hand advantage will be enough to take some of the wallop out of what’s increasingly looking like a Republican electoral powerhouse this year.