ATLANTA — The Democratic National Committee still lagged its Republican rivals in fundraising despite the left’s grassroots energy since President Donald Trump’s election.
But financial disclosure reports at the start of this election year also showed other Democratic groups and many individual candidates in stronger positions.
Republicans said the RNC’s financial strength will yield a superior campaign organization as they defend their majorities in Congress and advantages in U.S. statehouses. Democrats said they’ll have the resources to win and noted the party’s electoral successes in down-ballot races throughout 2017.
A look at part of the campaign finance picture:
AT PARTY HEADQUARTERS
The Republican National Committee raised $132.5 million in 2017 and ended the year with almost $39 million on hand and no debt. The Democratic committee took in $66 million and had $6.5 million in cash available, but also owed $6.1 million.
The RNC said its cash helped them build out their voter data operation and field offices intended to benefit GOP nominees around the country. Trump helped the party committee raise money during 2017 through a joint agreement that also benefited his re-election campaign.
Democratic Party aides said Chairman Tom Perez has had a difficult rebuilding job but noted the DNC’s 2017 haul was more than what the party raised in previous off years, including the year ahead of the 2006 midterms when Democrats regained control of Congress and years when President Barack Obama helped raise money.
Obama headlined one DNC fundraiser in 2017, and party leaders hoped to use him more this year.
BATTLE FOR HOUSE CONTROL
Democrats’ House campaign committee topped its GOP counterpart for 2017, raising $105 million to the Republicans’ $85 million. Democrats boasted more than 250,000 first-time donors online, a sign of enthusiasm among the party’s core supporters.
But the Republican committee had $44 million cash available, compared to $38 million for Democrats. Republicans also will get a boost from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan. CLF raised $26 million in 2017 and hoped to back GOP nominees with voter turnout operations in about three dozen districts.
Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats to regain a majority, and believe they can force Republicans to defend even more seats.
Democrats are defending 26 Senate seats, counting two independents who caucus with them; 10 of those seats are in states Trump won in 2016. Republicans are defending just eight seats as they try to hold their 51-49 advantage.
But there are several early money advantages for Democrats and concerns for Republicans.
The GOP’s most vulnerable incumbent, Nevada’s Dean Heller, was outraised by Democrat Jacky Rosen more than 2-to-1 during the last three months of 2017, though Heller still has more to spend. Perhaps Republicans’ top target, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, closed out 2017 with $9 million to spend, almost eight times her top potential challenger.
Several other Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jon Tester of Montana, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, among them — also have sizable cash advantages over their would-be opponents.
Democrats conceded Republicans will have the overall advantage in 2018 because of outside money. The greatest influence almost certainly will be the Koch brothers, the billionaire businessmen who just completed their annual fundraising confab where dozens of top campaign financiers announced plans to pool at least $400 million, dwarfing anything any individual party committee will spend.
Trump’s re-election campaign says it had $22 million balance to start 2018 after he made an unusually early start on his re-election effort. Trump isn’t on the ballot in 2018, and his approval ratings — mired in the 30s — could be a drag for many Republicans. But he’s still quite popular at Republican gatherings, particularly those where checks are written, and he’s expected to be active on the fundraising circuit in 2018 for himself and other GOP candidates.
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