With first quarter fundraising surge, Cunningham outraises Tillis for the first time

By: - April 23, 2020 12:13 pm

The candidate committees of Cunningham and Tillis spent 72% and 63% of their total expenses on Screen Strategies and OnMessage, respectively, with little detailed accounting.

U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham (L) and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis (R)

U.S. House incumbents, vacant seat favorites also pile up big fundraising advantages

WASHINGTON — Democrats are plowing cash into North Carolina congressional races in the hopes of sending a much bluer delegation to the U.S. Capitol next year.

Democratic donors — including Hollywood producers and influential politicians — helped U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham to outraise North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in the first quarter of this year. The race promises to be among the most closely watched and expensive political contests of 2020 as Democrats hope ousting Tillis will help them flip control of the upper chamber of Congress.

Down-ballot Democratic candidates vying for open seats in the Tar Heel State have also been raking in campaign cash early this year. The 2nd and 6th Districts surrounding Raleigh and Greensboro — newly drawn after a gerrymandering challenge — are expected to favor Democrats, and the Republican incumbents are retiring from Congress.

Contributions continue to roll in, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the U.S. economy and drastically altered how politicians can campaign in the months leading up to the high-stakes November elections.

Last week marked the deadline for candidates to report their fundraising totals through March 31. Here’s a look at what those reports revealed about North Carolina’s congressional fundraising so far this year:

U.S. Senate

Cunningham, an Army veteran and former state senator, raised $4.4 million in the first three months of 2020, compared with the $2.1 million Tillis raised during that time. It marks the first quarter of the campaign in which Cunningham outraised Tillis.

Tillis still had the cash advantage, however. He ended March with $6.5 million in the bank, compared to Cunningham’s $3 million. And Tillis has raised $12.2 million for the full 2020 cycle compared to Cunningham’s $7.7 million.

A sizable chunk of Cunningham’s money in this year’s first quarter came from a fund set up by the fundraising conduit ActBlue, which had been collecting donations since late 2018 that were slated for the Democratic nominee in the race. Cunningham clinched the nomination in early March.

Famous donors who contributed to the campaign in the last quarter include filmmaker Steven Spielberg, director of classics including E.T., Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg donated $2,800 to Cunningham’s campaign on March 27, records show.

Cunningham also picked up $2,800 on March 10 from director and producer J.J. Abrams, best known for his work on the Star Trek and Star Wars series.

The movie moguls and their wives are prolific Democratic donors. Spielberg’s wife, actress Kate Capshaw; and Abrams’ wife and production company partner, Katie McGrath, also each donated $2,800 to Cunningham in March. Campaign finance rules limit individual contributions to $2,800 per candidate for the general election. (There’s a separate $2,800 cap on contributions for primary races)

Democratic politicians also donated to Cunningham in the last quarter, including former senators Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin. Other donors included former Massachusetts Attorney General Matha Coakley and former Obama White House aide Tommy Vietor.

Tillis’ donors included some GOP mega-donors, state politicians and owners of prominent sports teams.

The prolific Republican donor and failed Wyoming gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess donated $2,800 to Tillis in March. Billionaire coal executive Joe Craft contributed $5,600 combined for the primary and the general elections.

Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler donated $2,800 to Tillis’s campaign. She’s facing her own competitive re-election battle in her home state, where she’s facing a primary challenge from Rep. Doug Collins.

Rep. David Rouzer donated to Tillis through his campaign committee. State Republican Rep. Jimmy Dixon also contributed, as did former state Reps. Leo Daughtry and Roger West. Arizona Diamondbacks owner Earl “Ken” Kendricks and Cleveland Browns co-owner Susan “Dee” Haslam are also among Tillis’ donors.

Tillis’ seat is one of four GOP-held seats that the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates a “toss up.” Democrats need to gain at least three seats to take control of the Senate — they’ll need four if President Donald Trump wins in November.

2nd House District

Four-term Republican Rep. George Holding is retiring from his seat, and Cook Political Report rates the race as “likely Democratic,” due to the new district lines.

Former Democratic state Rep. Deborah Ross will face off against Republican Alan Swain in November.

Ross had raised a total of $886,500 for the 2020 campaign cycle, compared to Swain’s $26,800. Ross ended March with $161,300 in the bank, while Swain had $13,900.

6th House District

Three-term GOP Rep. Mark Walker also announced his retirement from Congress at the end of his current term after redistricting threatened his chances of keeping his seat. He said in December that he may run for Senate in 2022, when Republican Sen. Richard Burr has said he’ll retire.

Cook Political Report also rates the 6th District race as “likely Democratic.”

Democrat Kathy Manning has raised more than $1 million this cycle, while GOP nominee Lee Haywood had raised only $8,700 by the end of March.

11th House District

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows left the 11th District seat vacant when he departed to serve as Trump’s chief of staff.

Two Republicans — Lynda Bennett and Madison Cawthorn — are heading for a runoff after both failed to win the GOP primary outright. The winner will face off in November against Democrat Moe Davis.

Bennet, who scored Meadows’ endorsement, has raised $241,800, including $80,000 in self-financing. Cawthorn has raised $388,600 this cycle, including $311,000 in self-financing. Davis has raised $206,400.

1st House District

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (L) and Sandy Smith (R) face off in the 1st House district.

Republican Sandy Smith is challenging nine-term Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield in the campaign for the 1st District. She raised $696,000 by the end of March, although $275,000 of that was a loan she made to her campaign. Butterfield has raised $515,000 so far this cycle and ended March with $615,800 in the bank — far more than Smith’s $115,700 cash on hand.

Butterfield won 69.8% of the vote in 2018 and Cook Political Report rates the race as “solid Democratic,” even with the new district lines.

3rd House District

Incumbent GOP Rep. Greg Murphy — who won a 2019 special election to replace the late Republican Rep. Walter Jones — reported raising $360,600 so far this cycle. Democrat Daryl Farrow won the primary to challenge Murphy in the fall, but Farrow did not appear to have filed a first quarter fundraising report.

4th House District

Sixteen-term Democratic Rep. David Price reported raising $653,300 so far in the 2020 cycle. His Republican opponent, Robert Thomas, did not yet appear to have filed a fundraising report.

5th House District

Rep. Virginia Foxx, an eight-term Republican, reported raising $1.5 million so far in the cycle and had a whopping $3 million in the bank at the end of March.

Here Democratic opponent, David Wilson Brown, raised $33,200 this cycle and had $2,700 left on hand.

7th House District

Incumbent Rep. David Rouzer, a three-term Republican, is running against Democrat Christopher Ward.

Rouzer raised $1.1 million for the contest; Ward didn’t appear to have filed a fundraising report.

8th House District

Four-term Republican Rep. Richard Hudson will face off against Democrat Patricia Timmons-Goodson.

Hudson has raised $2 million so far; Timmons-Goodson raised $214,000, including a $35,000 loan to her own campaign.

9th House District

Freshman GOP Rep. Dan Bishop, who squeaked out a victory in a closely watched Sept. 2019 special election, is running against Democrat Cynthia Wallace.

Bishop raised $635,800 so far for the 2020 race, and had $348,300 in the bank at the end of March. Wallace raised $95,600 for the cycle (including $10,000 in self-financing) and closed March with $65,000 cash on hand.

10th House District

Rep. Patrick McHenry, an eight-term Republican, is facing a challenge from Democrat David Parker.

McHenry has raised $2 million this cycle; Parker has raised $2,500.

12th District

Democratic four-term incumbent Rep. Alma Adams has raised $479,000 this cycle.

Her GOP challenger, Billy Joel Brewster, had raised about $22,000 by the end of September (including $20,500 in self-financing), but does not appear to have filed a more recent fundraising report. The campaign’s treasurer resigned in December and the Federal Election Commission threatened penalties if subsequent reports weren’t submitted.

13th District

Rep. Ted Budd, a two-term Republican, has raised $1.5 million this cycle.

His Democratic opponent Scott Huffman raised $21,300.

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Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender, DC Bureau Chief, coordinates States Newsroom’s Washington, D.C., coverage. She keeps tabs on states’ U.S. congressional delegations and writes about how decisions made by federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts impact states across the country. [email protected]