When covering campaigns on a day-to-day basis, it can be easy to lose perspective, particularly when it comes to money. Million-dollar figures are thrown around without much thought. But the amounts of money being raised by candidates right now, particularly Democrats, are absurd.
I glanced back at competitive races nearly 20 years ago for some context, and the comparisons between a day of presidential fundraising and entire, top-tier congressional contests are staggering.
For example, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke reported raising $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. In 2000, Democratic Gov. Thomas R. Carper and Republican Sen. William V. Roth Jr. combined to spend $7 million for the entire cycle in a highly competitive Senate race in Delaware that saw the five-term incumbent defeated.
Continuing to use O’Rourke as a measuring stick, his first day of raising money for the presidential race was more than what former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles ($5.8 million) and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski ($5.4 million) each spent on their entire Senate campaigns in Alaska in 2004. O’Rourke’s haul is also greater than what GOP Sen. Susan Collins ($4 million) and Democrat Chellie Pingree ($3.7 million) spent in their 2002 matchup in Maine. That same cycle, Republican Sen. Gordon H. Smith needed $5.5 million to get re-elected in Oregon.
The House fundraising comparisons are even more stark to O’Rourke’s $6.1 million.
According to CQ’s Politics in America, the top spending House candidate in the country in the 2004 cycle was Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who doled out $5 million, mainly to other candidates since he didn’t have a serious race.
I could only find two House races in which both nominees combined to spend more that cycle than O’Rourke raised in 24 hours: Texas’ 32nd District (where Democratic Rep. Martin Frost and GOP Rep. Pete Sessions combined to spend $9.2 million in a redrawn district) and Pennsylvania’s 13th District (where Democrat Allyson Y. Schwartz and Republican Melissa Brown combined to spend $6.5 million).
In South Dakota, Democrat Stephanie Herseth and Republican Larry Diedrich together spent $6.5 million, but that covered a competitive special election and regular election. Candidates combined to spend more than $5 million in just a handful of other top-tier House races including Nevada’s 3rd, New Mexico’s 1st, Oregon’s 1st, and Texas’ 17th and 19th districts.
Of course, O’Rourke’s fundraising is not the norm, even on the Democratic side this cycle. But the amounts of money being raised and spent on campaigns is growing exponentially. And this is largely just individual donors, and not a spike in outside spending.
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