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Democrats in Trump Districts Are Outraising Republicans in Biden Districts

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Rare is the member of Congress who represents a district that voted for the other party’s nominee for President. Gerrymandering has rendered those political survivors harder to find than unicorns while reducing the truly comPetitive House districts to so few they fit on a single whiteboard in strategists’ offices. But it’s those oddities that draw intrigue and, with that, campaign cash. And looking at the money flowing to those 22 lawmakers, a telling trend emerges that may indicate something important about 2024.

In the first three months of this year, the official campaign committees for the five Democrats who represent districts that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 are outraising the 17 Republicans from Joe Biden-backing districts by a more than two-to-one margin. (An 18th Republican, George Santos, began this Congress as a political unicorn but became an Icarus and ex-House member. His seat is now in Democrats’ hands.)

Every single day of the last three months, these mismatched Democratic lawmakers in the House raised, on average, more than $12,000 in hard dollars for their campaign, according to a new TIME analysis of records filed to the Federal Election Commission this week. (This analysis is ignoring super PACs, joint fundraising efforts with state or national parties, and independent and advocacy groups.) Republicans, who are enduring an incredibly narrow and fractious majority in the House, brought in an average of $5,200 daily for their campaigns in the last quarter. Put bluntly: this doesn’t suggest the most vulnerable Republicans are successfully convincing donors to stock the war chests. 

In terms of total dollars that donors have handed over, each of these Democratic lawmakers on average have about a $1 million head start over their Republican counterparts. (Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright’s $280,000 personal loan only explains part of this disparity; Republican Rep. David Schweikert similarly loaned himself about $240,000, and Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, an Oregon Republican, has loaned her campaign $411,000.)

To be sure, the balance of power in the House doesn’t rest on this oddball group. Democrats are looking well beyond the 17 mismatched Republican lawmakers to target the GOP nominees by tying them to the unpopular end of federal abortion rights and Trump, who will almost certainly once again be atop the ticket. And Republicans are banking on Trump’s die-hard base to keep them in office, turning out more enthusiastically than anyone wearing their Biden aviators with a mix of exhaustion and disappointment. Still, this analysis indicates that Democrats—and their donors—understand just how close they are to reclaiming the House’s gavel.

A CQ Roll Call review of the same records shows battleground Democrats with an average 21% advantage over their similarly positioned Republicans. The CQ Roll Call report considered 77 seats that are seen as comPetitive, including both the crossover group and others. 

There was a time not that long ago when this crossover cohort would have been fairly common. In 2000, for instance, 46 Democrats were elected from districts that supported George W. Bush’s Republican campaign, while 40 GOP lawmakers went to Washington to represent districts that favored Democrat Al Gore. Those 86 seats accounted for one out of every five seats in the House. Even as late as 2010, 62 Republicans came from districts that backed Barack Obama, although just 12 Democrats came from John McCain-favoring places.

But as political hacks have learned how to make maps—and state legislatures and leaders have largely let them—the comPetitive districts dwindle every time someone tries their hand at district cartography. 

Take for instance Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the hard-nosed Democratic politician who has represented her northern Ohio district since 1983. The district sided with Trump in 2020 by about 3 points. She won re-election by 6 points four years later in a newly drawn district that was supposed to force her retirement. National Republicans are hoping that she’ll finally stumble in a district where more than half of her constituents have never known her not to be Congress. But since starting her bid to win a twenty-second term this year, she has picked up close to $2 million.

No seat has seen a bigger swing than the one representing the whole of Alaska. Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola’s constituents voted for Trump over Biden by 10 points in the last election. When she won the full term, she did so with the same comfortable margin, representing a stunning 20-point swing. She raised more than $1.6 million since the start of the year and has collectively hauled in close to $4.7 million; both are records in this group of 22 mismatched lawmakers.

Money alone, of course, doesn’t determine winners or losers. Candidate quality matters; just ask New York about George Santos. So does the national mood. But it is telling just how much of an advantage Democrats are enjoying inside this cohort, at least as represented by the latest campaign finance papers. It’s an admittedly smudged window into how this campaign is shaping up, but it’s one of the best peeks we’ll get until the nominees are set and debates get underway.

Republicans know losing even some of these 17 seats would be enough to cost them the House. Five of them are in Biden-backing parts of California, six are in New York, and four others hail from battleground states. So far, as a group, they’ve pulled in more than $43 million. But none of them should be feeling cocky. They’re going to need every dime of it if they’re going to stick around for another term, and at least last quarter, they’re trailing far behind the comparable Democrats.

Correction, April 20

The original version of this story misstated the amount Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer loaned her campaign. She had loaned her campaign $411,000 and has a balance of $357,000 from the previous cycle; she did not loan her campaign more than $880,000.

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