A financially damaging mix of a government shutdown and the holiday shopping season has prompted top Republican operatives to temper expectations for fourth-quarter fundraising reports, which are due at the end of the month.
The final three months of the year are always a notoriously difficult time for members to raise money, as donor interest and candidate call time decline during the holidays. But the 16-day government shutdown in October further poisoned the financial well, especially for House Republicans, who polls show took most of the blame for the standoff.
As year-end fundraising reports trickle in over the next few weeks, GOP campaign operatives and consultants are setting a low bar for the first financial numbers candidates will announce in the election year. They argue that the president's HealthCare.gov website woes did not serve as a fundraising specter to boost their bottom line.
“The shutdown taking basically an entire month out of the quarter really just did not help us at all,” GOP fundraiser Mackenzie Smith said. “We had to reschedule all of our events from October, and then compete with events already scheduled.”
Fundraising during the shutdown became taboo for many members, who canceled events and call time. The bad optics were not worth the cash raised, a number of members and aides told CQ Roll Call at the time.
Operatives say Republicans endured more of a fundraising slump, as many business-minded donors blamed the GOP for the federal closure.
One national Republican operative estimated that House incumbents who raise between $300,000 to $400,000 in a typically quarter could report hauls in the $100,000 to $200,000 range instead.
The deadline to report fourth-quarter fundraising to the Federal Election Commission is Jan. 31.
As Republicans seek to manage expectations, Democrats are expressing excitement about their upcoming numbers.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had one of its best fundraising months of the year in October, raking in $7 million. That sum was $2.4 million more than what the National Republican Congressional Committee raised that same month.
And a handful of vulnerable Democrats have already announced large sums — weeks before the deadline — as a show of strength to kick off the election year. They include Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., who raised $338,000, and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., who raised more than $500,000 in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, operatives from both parties said the greatest consequence of low year-end fundraising is that potential challengers could see an opening to run. Many filing deadlines for candidates fall within the first three months of the year.
“Anybody who is still on the fence waits until Jan. 31 when reports are out," said Mike Fraioli, a Democratic fundraising consultant. "And if the person you’re planning on running against posts a number of consequence, you might have second thoughts."
What’s more, many challengers who already announced bids had a leg up on incumbents during the shutdown. While members felt the drag of the shutdown, operatives say challengers were able to capitalize on the opposing narrative, arguing they would be a new voice for change in gridlock-riddled Washington, D.C.
A number of challengers have already announced large fourth-quarter fundraising totals. They include Republican Carl DeMaio’s $370,000 haul in his race against vulnerable freshman Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., and Gwen Graham, a Democrat who raised $474,000 for her bid against Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., in the final three months of last year.