House Democrats raise more cash than GOP, but that alone can't save them

The Democrats' campaign committee notched a $9 million edge over Republicans in first-quarter donations for House races. But that cash advantage is unlikely to have much effect on the outcome of the 2014 midterms.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Rep. Steve Israel (D) of New York is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington Sept. 3, 2013. House Democrats raised more money than Republicans in the first quarter of 2014.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised more money than its GOP counterpart in the first quarter of 2014. The DCCC, which focuses on funding for House candidates, pulled in $23.6 million from January through March, while the National Republican Congressional Committee took in $21.2 million, according to Federal Election Commission records.

That leaves the DCCC with a cash-on-hand pile of about $40 million, clear of debt. The NRCC has about $31 million ready for use in its bank accounts.

“The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised more in March than any other committee and more than any other [election-cycle] March in the DCCC’s history,” crowed a committee press release.

Yes, but will this financial advantage help Democrats curtail GOP gains in November? That’s the $9 million political question of the day.

Having money is better than not having it, so in that sense it’s understandable that the DCCC is emphasizing the positive. But in the end, this edge is unlikely to play more than a minor role in the outcome of the 2014 midterms.

For one thing, it’s not really that much money, given that these resources get allocated among many House races. There are probably 10 to 15 truly competitive House contests, plus a bunch that lean one way or another and might attract some party cash.

And candidates have other money streams. Republican-leaning outside money groups could easily outspend Democratic counterparts to even the financial field. That’s one reason Democratic Party leaders have been complaining about the influence of the wealthy and conservative Koch brothers.

But the big problems facing Democrats are structural and political, not cash-based. A president’s party tends to lose House seats in midterms. Democratic constituencies such as lower-income and minority voters are disproportionately likely to have lower turnout in nonpresidential election years. "Obamacare" is not popular – and outside groups have been pouring money into ads linking vulnerable members to the Affordable Care Act (see Koch brothers, above).

Roll all this together, and most prognosticators see the result as leading to Republican gains in the House. For instance, University of Virginia political scientists Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik predict that the GOP will gain five to eight seats in the fall and expand its current majority.

This isn’t foreordained. Democrats believe they have some technical advantages over Republicans in terms of get-out-the-vote efforts and message-targeting technology.  That’s what helped put President Obama over the top in 2012.

But Democratic leaders could pull all these levers and still fall short in 2014, notes left-leaning blogger Ed Kilgore in The Washington Monthly.

“That would, however, bode well for 2016, when the winds shift dramatically on turnout – particularly if Republicans learn the wrong lessons from easy wins on favorable turf with everything working to their advantage,” writes Mr. Kilgore.

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