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Millennials Raising Money to Run, But Can They Win?

Both parties can use some fresher faces to promote to voters

Justin Fareed narrowly missed a runoff for a House seat in 2014. (Meredith Dake-O'Connor/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Millennials have a reputation for being lazy, but a bipartisan crop of young congressional candidates is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, which they’ll need, considering they are taking on the political establishment.  

Considering the average age of a House member is 57, both parties could use some fresher faces to promote to voters.  

California Republican Justin Fareed is just 27, but already has one race under his belt. In 2014, he challenged Democratic Rep. Lois Capps in the 24th District, but finished a close third in The Golden State’s top-two primary, shutting him out of the general election. The former walk-on running back at UCLA raised $180,000 and loaned the campaign nearly $200,000 of his own money (he works for the family sports equipment business).  

This cycle, the Santa Barbara-based seat is open because of Capps' retirement and the June 7 primary is still three months away, but Fareed is far ahead of his previous fundraising pace. He raised $871,000 and had $767,000 in his campaign account at the end of December, without personal money. That’s half-a-million dollars more than GOP Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, 64, had in the bank, whom Fareed is battling for a general election slot.  

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 12: Lindy Li, Democrat candidate for Pennsylvania's 6th District, is interviewed in the Roll Call offices on January 12, 2016. (Meredith Dake-O'Connor/CQ Roll Call)
Lindy Li has raised about four times what her primary opponent has. (Meredith Dake-O'Connor/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Pennsylvania Democrat Lindy Li, who turned 25 in December, is a first-time congressional candidate but is already running in her second district. She began her campaign last year in the 7th District against GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan in the Philadelphia suburbs, but switched to the 6th District against GOP Rep. Ryan Costello during the holidays when it became clear the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had a preferred candidate in the 7th.  

Li, a Chinese immigrant and Princeton graduate, can’t be ignored, if only because of her fundraising. She raised $408,000 through the end of the year, which was roughly four times the amount Democratic opponent Mike Parrish raised. Parrish, who was once the preferred candidate of the DCCC, is challenging whether Li submitted enough valid signatures to make the ballot.  

Li managed to get The Washington Post to profile her campaign back in August, but she still needs to convince some Democratic strategists that she is a top-tier candidate. And it could be tough for her to make a generational argument for change to voters in the district against the 39-year-old Costello. She would be the youngest woman elected to Congress by nearly five years.  

In 2014, 30-year-old Republican Elise Stefanik of New York became the youngest woman elected to the House, surpassing 31-year-old Elizabeth Holtzman’s election in 1972. That was the year Holtzman upset 50-year-incumbent/House Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler in the Democratic primary in New York’s 16th District.  

Stefanik and Florida Democrat Patrick Murphy, 32, are the only millennials in Congress. Illinois Republican Aaron Schock, 34, is on the earliest edge of the generation, but he resigned a year ago. Millennials generally include people born in the 1980s and 1990s.  

Murphy is running for Republican Marco Rubio’s open Senate seat in Florida. He would be the first millennial in the Senate. Ohio Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, 31, would love to join him.  

He’s been a thorn in the side of the Democratic establishment, which has coalesced behind former Gov. Ted Strickland, 74, in Tuesday’s primary. Sittenfeld raised $1.5 million through Feb. 24, but not nearly enough to overcome the name identification deficit with the former governor.  

Republican Grant Starrett, 28, is challenging Rep. Scott DesJarlais in Tennessee’s 4th District in the August 4 Republican primary. The Stanford and Vanderbilt law school graduate raised $691,000 through the end of the year and added $227,000 of his own money compared to the embattled incumbent, who raised $333,000.  

DesJarlais is certainly vulnerable, considering he won his 2014 primary by 38 votes, but there are some questions as to whether Starrett is too young and too polished for the rural district.  

UNITED STATES - AUGUST 5: Alex Law, Democrat candidate for New Jersey 1st Congressional district, is interviewed in the Roll Call offices on August 5, 2015. (JM Rieger/CQ Roll Call)
Law could use the fundraising skills of his peers if he is going to be able to compete against a member of one of New Jersey's most powerful political families. (JM Rieger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

There is at least one outlier to the fundraising strength of the millennial candidates this cycle: New Jersey Democrat Alex Law.  

The New York University graduate, who doesn’t turn the constitutionally required 25 years old until the end of the month, attached himself to Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders’ candidacy before it was cool. Law has enough photos of himself on his campaign website for a Rolling Stone spread but he apparently hasn’t been able to tap into the senator’s grassroots donor network.  

Law raised $29,947 through the end of 2015, which is less than Li raised at a single event in Seattle last year. And Law might need the money more than the other candidates, since he is challenging Rep. Donald Norcross, part of one of the most powerful political families in the region, in the Democratic primary in the 1st District.  

Law has been trying to draw Norcross into a fight and hopes the incumbent’s attacks boost his name recognition. But there isn’t any evidence that Law’s strategy is working. But depending on the political environment, it’s possible that Fareed, Starrett, and Li add to the number of millennials in Congress.  

Correction 5:05pm | An earlier version of the story misstated Fareed's 2014 fundraising.

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