In Defying the Odds, we discuss campaign finance and campaign technology. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.
Last month, the National Republican Senatorial Committee prepared a slideshow for Senate chiefs of staff full of bleak numbers about the party's failure to compete with Democrats on digital fundraising. For anyone not getting the message, the final slide hammered home the possible end result: a freight train bearing down on a man standing on the tracks.
The slideshow, obtained by POLITICO, painted a grim picture of the GOP’s long-running problem. Republican senators and challengers lagged behind Democrats by a collective $30 million in the first quarter of 2020, a deficit stemming from Democrats’ superior online fundraising machine. Since then, Democrats' fundraising pace accelerated further, with the party’s challengers announcing huge second-quarter hauls last week, largely driven by online donors giving through ActBlue, the party’s preferred fundraising platform.
Republicans have a new online donation tool backed by Trump, WinRed, which they have hailed as an answer to their ActBlue problem. But a dozen Republican Party strategists and donors warned in interviews that not enough GOP campaigns are taking active steps to properly use the tools at their disposal to haul in money.
Democratic Senate campaigns have outraised Republicans in small-dollar donations (under $200) in 10 of the 12 most competitive races, according to a review of the most recent Federal Election Commission reports, which this week are due for an update covering the second quarter. Already, many Democratic campaigns have announced that they raised massive sums in the last three months, while few Republicans have tipped their hands. Unitemized donations also represented a higher percentage of individual receipts for Democrats in every competitive race featuring a GOP senator.
“Some GOP Senate candidates have made great strides online, but we’re still light-years away from where we need to be as a party,” Kevin McLaughlin, executive director of the NRSC, said in a statement. “2020 should serve as a canary in the coal mine to anyone on the ballot in 2022 and beyond. They have a simple choice: Adapt immediately or find a new job. We have better resources than Democrats, but they don’t do any good if no one uses them.”
The numbers are also troubling for the House GOP. Vulnerable House Democrats raised a staggering $35 million in the second quarter and ended with a collective $117 million in their campaign accounts, building a layer of financial protection on top of the favorable polling currently shielding their majority.
“[Democrats] are better at online fundraising than we are — period,” said Corry Bliss, who as executive director of Congressional Leadership Fund, the GOP’s main House super PAC, warned of a Democratic “green wave” in 2018. Now, he said, it’s “back.”