House Democrats don't have much in their favor in the upcoming elections — except their bank accounts.
There's a sour national political environment, a history of the president's party losing seats in midterms and an unfavorable congressional map drawn mostly by Republicans. But less than four months before Election Day, it's clear that House Democrats have a major financial advantage among their candidates and committees that is already translating to television airtime for the fall.
On average, Democrats in competitive House races have more than one-third more in the bank than their Republican opponents, according to a CQ Roll Call tabulation of the most recent fundraising reports due Tuesday to the Federal Election Commission. Across 59 House races considered remotely competitive by CQ Roll Call, Democratic candidates and incumbents had, on average, $955,000 in the bank, while Republicans had an average of $667,000 in the bank.
It's unlikely Democrats can net the 17 seats necessary to take control of the House this November, so party operatives are trying to mitigate any massive losses this year as part of a long-term, multi-cycle plot to win the majority. Meanwhile, Republicans aim to extend their majority to a modern-history record of 245 seats — and they believe the financial gap could leave a handful of seats on the table this year. Democrats have been able to exploit their financial strength to secure television advertisements at a reduced, early rate. Currently, Democratic candidates, committees and outside groups have reserved $68 million in support of their House candidates — roughly twice as much as Republicans, according to the latest media-buying numbers shared with CQ Roll Call by two Democratic sources.
And in addition to an individual candidate cash advantage, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee extended its fundraising dominance over the National Republican Congressional Committee to a $8.4 million cash-on-hand advantage at the end of June.
For the DCCC’s fundraising success, Republicans credit President Barack Obama, who is still a major draw for donors, and the committee’s lucrative online fundraising operation.
But House Democrats have another advantage: timing. The party pushes members to pay their dues to the DCCC early in the cycle, while Republicans don't pony up until later. As expected, NRCC Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon recently stepped up those internal fundraising efforts .
The candidates' financial advantage is also a result of Democrats' successfully clearing primaries. This allowed Democratic challengers to raise money for the general election, while Republican challengers spent heavily on primaries this spring and summer.
But that advantage might not last into the fall.
Democrats have a cash-in-the-bank advantage, but Republicans on average raised about as much as Democrats in competitive races during the second quarter.
A CQ Roll Call tabulation of the 59 most competitive House races showed Democratic incumbents and challengers raised an average of $403,000 in the second quarter, including self-funding. Republican incumbents and challengers on average raised $395,000 over April, May and June.
The 25 Democratic incumbents in competitive races had, on average, $1.4 million in cash on hand as of the end of last month. The 18 Republican incumbents in competitive races reported, on average, $1.2 million in the bank.
Some GOP challengers raised more than their incumbent foes in the second quarter, for example Ret. Air Force Colonel Martha McSally, who is challenging Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz. But Barber retained a cash-on-hand advantage of about $400,000.
Similarly, GOP businessman Stewart Mills and former Rep. Nan Hayworth raised more than their Democratic incumbent rivals in the second quarter, Reps. Rick Nolan of Minnesota and Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, in part by self-funding. Several other Republicans dipped into their own pocketbooks.
But Democrats' cash advantage is already manifesting in airtime reservations.
The DCCC has reserved about $42 million in media markets across the country, compared to the NRCC's announced — but yet not placed — $30 million reservation blitz.
In recent cycles, the DCCC has reserved gads of television time, only to makes cancellations in September to focus its resources on the most competitive races. House Republicans typically amp up their ad reservations later in the summer. But Democrats still secure better rates by buying early — and the party's outside groups are also taking advantage of this.
House Majority PAC, a super PAC dedicated to electing House Democrats, placed $20 million worth of reservations for the fall. So far, Young Guns, a super PAC with ties to outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, is the lone conservative outside group that has made fall reservations — worth $3 million — as of press time. Last cycle, one of the biggest conservative players, American Crossroads, did not buy any airtime for House races until the final weeks of the election.
Democratic candidates have so far placed twice as much — approximately $6 million — in fall airtime reservations, compared to Republican candidates. That's critical because candidates can secure lower television rates than outside groups and party committees.
But that doesn't always translate into victory. It's happened already this cycle in the special election for Florida's 13th District.
Democrats cleared the field for Alex Sink, a fundraising powerhouse who brought in millions for her bid. The DCCC and HMP reserved early airtime on her behalf. The Republican nominee, David Jolly, emerged from his primary broke.
Conservative outside groups eventually rolled in and swamped the airwaves. GOP House members rallied to fund Jolly's campaign, and on March 11, he won.
Democrats lost the seat because the base didn't turn out.
“When the environment is working for you, you can afford to be outspent,” a GOP outside group operative said.
Bridget Bowman, Emily Cahn, Shira T. Center and Colin Diersing contributed to this report.
Related Stories: DCCC Tops NRCC in Second Quarter Fundraising John Boehner Raises More Than $6.2 Million NRCC Tasks Members With Collecting Conference Dues Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.