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Republicans Are Investing Campaign Cash in the Party. Democrats Are Investing in Candidates

Democratic Senate Candidate Doug Jones Holds Election Night Watch Party In BirminghamDemocratic Senate Candidate Doug Jones Holds Election Night Watch Party In Birmingham
Democratic U.S. Senator elect Doug Jones and wife Louise Jones greet supporters during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on Dec. 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

When it comes to fundraising for this fall’s elections, Republicans are from Mars and Democrats are from Venus.

While GOP donors are preparing for an all-out war to retain control of Congress by giving to their party’s central organizers, Democrats are countering by picking and choosing the individual candidates they have fallen in love with.

The Republican National Committee raked in $11.1 million in December of 2017, and $132.5 million for the entire year, record-breaking numbers for a non-election year cycle. The organization currently has $38.8 million in cash on hand, compared to the paltry $423,000 held by the Democratic National Committee, which is also saddled with $6.1 million in debt.

But on the candidate level, Democrats have a clear financial advantage.

Over 40 Democratic challengers raised more money than more than 30 House incumbents they’re running against during the final quarter of 2017, according to figures from the Federal Election Commission touted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Strategists on the left see individual races as the key to following through on what they believe is a wave of support coming this fall.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat it: Republicans have a major financial advantage and it keeps me up at night that the advantage could blunt the wave that’s building for 2018,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who previously worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “But our best way to fight back is to invest in these candidates.”

Those differing approaches have played out in the special elections held in recent months. Both Jon Ossoff and Doug Jones, the Democratic candidates in the race for Georgia’s 6th Congressional district and Alabama’s senate seat, vastly out=raised their Republican opponents. And in an upcoming special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, the Democratic candidate, Conor Lamb, raised $560,481 by the end of 2017, while his Republican opponent, Rick Saccone, had only raised $214, 675 — less than half that amount.

The two approaches to fundraising have different strengths and weaknesses. For Republicans, the party will have more of an ability to shift resources quickly to respond to a changing political landscape. But Democrats’ donations will go further, as FCC regulations require television stations to give candidates the lowest rates to run an ad, a rule that does not apply to outside groups.

Both sides can be wrong, too. In 2016, the National Republican Senatorial Committee wrote off a re-election bid by GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s re-election bid, who ultimately prevailed. And in 2017, Ossoff’s huge war chest— a record-breaking $23 million — didn’t pay off; he lost to Handel.

When it comes to super PACs, both parties have raised serious money. Two super PACs devoted to retaining the Republican majorities in the House and Senate — the Congressional Leadership Fund and Senate Leadership Fund — raised $26.7 million and $13.7 million respectively, while the Democratic counterparts, the House Majority Pac and Senate Majority Pac raised $14.7 million and $21.7 million. But the Republicans also stand to benefit from the network helmed by conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch, which has planned to invest as much as $400 million in the midterm elections, 60 percent more resources than they’ve ever spent during a cycle.

Fundraising aside, Democrats appear to have the wind at their backs this fall. The party in power historically loses seats in the midterm elections of a new President’s first term, even when that President is not a controversial figure like Donald Trump, and Democrats only need to gain 24 seats in the House of Representatives to regain the majority.

“We’ve never faced a challenge like this one,” Emily Seidel, chief executive officer of Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of the Koch Network, told hundreds of donors last month at the monthly winter retreat in California.

Democrats, meantime, view a strong field of candidates as their best card.

“One of the best antidotes to RNC funding advantage is Democratic candidate strength,” said Ferguson. “The way we’re gonna fight back against the RNC and countless outside Republican groups is gonna be with a candidate-led uprising.”


(Disclosure: Time Inc., TIME’s parent company, was recently acquired by Meredith Corp. in a deal partially financed by Koch Equity Development, a subsidiary of Koch Industries Inc.)