The freshman class of Democrats, having already delivered the House majority, is raising money at a historically significant pace that puts members in a strong early position for their first reelection bids next year.
The huge numbers come from all corners of the 59-member group.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) raised an eye-popping $727,000 in the first quarter, a huge number for the rising star but somewhat predictable given the media attention. But a pair of first-term Democrats with almost no national profile, Reps. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) and Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.), raised even more than the liberal star from the Bronx, with Harder hauling in $873,000 and Delgado raising $755,000.
They were two of the 43 Democrats who won seats previously held by Republicans last fall, producing a net gain of 40 seats and the majority. Those fundraising figures are part of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s push to get these newcomers into the strongest position possible.
The objective is to scare off potential Republican challengers with strong early fundraising warning shots, signaling just how difficult and expensive it will be to confront these Democrats, as she explained in an interview early this month.
“If you were thinking about running against one of them, you would have to think twice,” said Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Because they’re now battle-tested, they’re now a member of Congress. They’re strong — officially, personally and politically.”
All told, 41 freshman Democrats raised at least $300,000, a threshold level that puts them on pace to raise more than $2 million by the time they face voters in November 2020, according to a database maintained by the Hotline’s Ally Mutnick.
This is an unheard-of level of fundraising for such a group of newcomers. They are the third big class to have flipped the House majority this century, and the other two lagged way behind this crop in terms of early fundraising. In the first quarter of 2011, just 10 freshman Republicans raised at least $300,000 from a class that produced a 63-seat pickup and the House majority in the 2010 midterms, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
And in the first quarter of 2007, just 13 freshman Democrats raised at least $300,000 after their historic 2006 midterm victories knocked Republicans out of the majority.
The class of 2018 has essentially picked up where it left off last fall, keeping the “green wave” of political donations that GOP operatives warned about flowing into its campaign coffers.
Many Democratic strategists feared that the big fundraising hauls would disappear for House races because liberal activist energy would turn toward the massive field in the 2020 presidential primary.
That’s why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made a concerted push to help the new members keep their political operations moving. The committee divides the nation into five regions, each of which has a staffer whose job is to help candidates with traditional fundraising, such as events in Washington and calling contributors throughout the country.
In previous years, those aides were brought on later in the year because candidates would announce their races in the summer and fall of the off year, according to those familiar with the DCCC’s hiring plans. But this time, now in the majority and knowing they would be playing more defense than offense, the DCCC staffed up at those positions in the first weeks of this year to help the freshmen.
Perhaps more critically, committee officials also hired their digital fundraising staff far earlier than usual, to help the freshmen keep their online donors engaged after some massive Internet-driven donations last year.
The results can be seen in Harder’s reports to the FEC — the 32-year-old former venture capitalist raised money as if he were running for statewide office. Like many freshman Democrats, Harder swore off corporate PAC contributions, so that takes away a large chunk of the traditional Washington fundraising haul for him.
Still, he raised more than $665,000 from individual donations and $144,000 from PACs affiliated with other members of Congress or labor unions.
Some Democrats also feared that a backlash might occur for the freshmen from swing districts who did not vote for Pelosi in the Jan. 3 roll call for House speaker, when 15 Democrats broke ranks.
Instead, many of those freshmen rang up the biggest tallies of the first quarter — Reps. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), Max Rose (D-N.Y.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) and Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) all raised more than $500,000 after declining to support Pelosi, according to Mutnick’s database.
Early money is no guarantee of political success.
One of the biggest fundraisers of the GOP class of 2010, Allen West (R-Fla.), lost in 2012 and never won another campaign.
And from the class of 2006, Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) was among the top half-dozen fundraisers in early 2007. He became embroiled in a sex scandal and lost his 2008 race by a wide margin.
However, sometimes those large early fundraising hauls show signs of ambition from newcomers with bright futures.
The biggest early fundraiser of the 2006 Democrats? New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, who had flipped an Albany-area district and raised nearly $670,000 in her first three months in the House. Appointed to the Senate in 2009, Gillibrand is now running for president.
Another big fundraiser from that class, Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), now a senator, is mentioned as a potential running mate for the party’s 2020 presidential nominee.
In 2011, then-Reps. Kristi L. Noem (R-S.D.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) were among the five biggest fundraisers of the GOP freshman class. Noem is now South Dakota’s governor, and Scott is a senator.
It’s too early to know which of these freshman Democrats will flame out, like West and Mahoney, and which will end up running for president in the next 10 to 15 years.
But if Pelosi has her way, these newcomers will keep raising money, scare off strong challengers and get the chance to boost their careers.
“You might want to think twice about running against them,” Pelosi said. “Because a year in advance is when people, if you were going to run for Congress, by this November or end of October you probably know.”