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House Democratic Candidates Outraise Republicans In Effort To Hold On To Majority


Presidential hopefuls are competing for campaign contributions ahead of 2020, but they're not the only ones. Another money chase is underway in the fight to control the House of Representatives. Democrats hope to cement their hold on the one part of the federal government they control, and Republicans want to recoup their losses from last year's midterm elections. NPR's Peter Overby reports.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What do you say? Twenty-three million - that's not bad.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: President Trump recently headlined a big annual fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee. That's the primary vehicle for party money in the House. Trump teased them about losing their House majority and segued into an applause line.


TRUMP: You know what? We're going to do great. I really believe it. We're going to do great. We're going to take the House back. We are. I feel totally confident...

OVERBY: But the first round of campaign finance disclosures suggests the GOP has work to do. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics tracks political fundraising. It found that House Democratic candidates outraised Republicans $56 to $46 million in the first quarter of 2019. Cole Leiter is national press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC.

COLE LEITER: Democrats have put up really strong fundraising numbers, and that's crucial for a number of reasons. One, it deters potentially strong Republican challengers from stepping up, and two, it allows us here at the DCCC to grow the battlefield.

OVERBY: For a party that netted 40 House seats last year, it's pretty audacious to say they can still win more. NRCC spokesman Bob Salera said Republican incumbents won't be so vulnerable this time.

BOB SALERA: We are seeing our incumbents getting an earlier start to fundraising.

OVERBY: Two years ago, Republicans were slow to start asking for serious money. Salera said this time is different.

SALERA: I think that's partly because there's a more concerted effort to do it and partly because Republican donors - both small donors and larger donors - see the urgency.

OVERBY: And the NRCC is helping endangered incumbents with what it calls the Patriots Program. Ten incumbents are in it so far. The Democratic version of this is the DCCC's Frontline program - 44 Democrats, almost all freshmen, from districts that either voted for Trump or came close. The DCCC chair is Cheri Bustos, a congresswoman from rural Illinois.

CHERI BUSTOS: These 40 freshmen who are in these tough districts - they're focusing on what they need to focus on.

OVERBY: Such things as local issues and constituent concerns. Still, at the same time, candidates are under pressure to raise money, especially small-dollar contributions, the most talked-about money this election cycle. Again, Bob Salera of the NRCC.

SALERA: Our candidates are certainly making appeals to the small-dollar donors and have been successful at it. Yeah, we're seeing impressive across-the-board numbers.

OVERBY: Numbers posted by many Democratic candidates have been even stronger. But there's also another channel for cash to influence the House elections. Super PACs and tax-exempt groups are expected to spend more than $665 million by Election Day 2020. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.