Congressional incumbents usually have an easier time raising money than challengers. But in the last three months, three embattled Republican incumbents in Southern California were financially crushed by their respective Democratic challengers: incumbent Congressmen Steve Knight (Palmdale) and Dana Rohrabacher (Costa Mesa), and Congresswoman Mimi Walters (Irvine).
“If you allow yourself to be outraised, then you are inviting trouble,” Republican consultant Chris LaCivita told Politico. “In a midterm election with your party in power, trouble generally equates to defeat.”
Two of the three challengers (Katie Hill, running against Knight, and Katie Porter, running against Walters) pulled in well over $1 million. Harley Rouda, seeking to oust Rohrabacher, brought in almost $800,000.
“That the candidates are even capable of pulling in that much money in a short amount of time speaks to the real energy for this midterm election and that’s pretty unusual,” Casey Dominguez, a political science professor at the University of San Diego, told the L.A. Times.
In California’s 25th Congressional District, Hill raised an eye-popping $1.3 million, while Knight could only muster $443,000 between April and June 2018. Hill’s haul was the most ever raised in a quarter in this district, according to a press release from her campaign.
Stunning fundraising gaps like the recent $900,000 gap between Knight and Hill is among the reasons Knight has been listed as one of the nation’s most vulnerable incumbents.
In Orange County, Porter raised $1 million, over $300,000 more than incumbent Walters. In the June 5 primary, Walters had a disappointing showing, garnering less than 53 percent of the vote. Her performance was so poor for an incumbent that national election experts changed their analysis of the race, naming it a “Toss Up,” whereas it was previously expected to “Lean Republican.”
Rohrabacher, who continues to be embroiled in scandals involving Russia, had a dismal quarter, bringing in a meager $282,000. His opponent, Harley Rouda, brought in more than two and a half times that amount with $770,000. In addition to raising more money, Rouda ended the quarter with more cash on hand than Rohrabacher. Rouda also pulled ahead in the most recent poll of voters in the district, leading Rohrabacher by as much as four points.
“Democratic challengers’ fundraising performance in suburban districts around the country ‘is definitely a tailwind that’s pushing them into play,’ said Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant based in California,” notes Politico.
If fundraising is a gauge for enthusiasm, California races could play a pivotal role in helping Democrats flip the 23 seats they need to regain control of the House of Representatives.