Intra-Party Battles Fuel Primary Spending

Voters still have more than eight months before the 2018 general elections, but some incumbent members of Congress are facing much earlier primary tests from members of their own party.

While these elections might not determine who controls the House and Senate next year, they could shift the ideological balance of power within the two parties.

Here, we explore the money side of some of the earlier contests where the incumbent faces being “primaried.”

Illinois has one of the country’s earliest primaries, and two Illinois congressional races are seeing Democratic incumbents struggle to raise money against primary challengers. In Illinois’ 7th District — which covers downtown Chicago and extends to the western suburbs — incumbent Danny Davis faces Anthony Clark, a high school teacher and local activist. Although neither candidate has raised much money (Davis has raised $189,000, and Clark has raised only $47,000), Clark has raised more money from individual donors both large and small than Davis.

Davis, having represented the district since 1997, has the advantage of a sizable war chest with close to $300,000 cash on hand compared to Clark’s $9,000. Clark is best known as a progressive activist, but Davis isn’t particularly moderate and has previously received the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America.

The 3rd District faces what appears to be a closer race, certainly as far as money is concerned. The 3rd District shares some borders with the 7th but is more suburban. Businesswoman Marie Newman is challenging Rep. Daniel Lipinski — who originally won the seat thanks to the influence of his father, Rep. William Lipinski — and has outraised him among individual donors. She also has received some money from prominent political action committees, including Planned Parenthood and Kirsten Gillibrand’s Off the Sidelines leadership PAC, which is rare for a challenger.

Lipinski is seen as one of the most moderate Democrats in the House, and Newman’s campaign is positioning her to his left. Although the amount of money raised this cycle puts Newman just slightly behind Lipinski ($530,894 to his $695,149), he has $1.6 million cash on hand compared to her $236,612, which demonstrates how difficult it can be for challengers to compete with incumbents. In the heavily Democratic district, the March 20 primary is essentially a general election, but the winning candidate is likely to face Art Jones, a Holocaust denier and the only candidate seeking the Republican nomination.

Illinois and Texas have the first primary elections, so candidates in all other states still have over three months in which to fundraise. North Carolina’s primary elections are in early May, and unlike in Illinois, the incumbents fighting off challengers from their own party are Republicans. Walter Jones Jr., who represents the coastal 3rd District, is being outraised by Scott Dacey, a local county commissioner. Jones voted against the Republican tax bill, arguing that it would increase the deficit, and Dacey is positioning himself as more in line with President Trump’s agenda. Although no candidate is raising record sums, Dacey is outraising Jones $264,000 to $200,000. It is extremely rare for a challenger to outraise an incumbent — only 15 incumbents are being outraised by challengers so far, and only three of those are challengers from the same party. Dacey, a federal lobbyist, may have connections other challengers usually don’t.

In a much more expensive race in North Carolina’s 9th District, Republican incumbent Robert Pittenger is facing well-financed challengers in both the primary and the general. Pittenger is seen as vulnerable in the general election and has raised $780,000 compared to his Democratic challenger Dan McCready’s $1.2 million. First, he needs to fend off his primary challenger — pastor and activist Mark Harris — who has raised more than twice as much money from individual donors as Pittenger. Harris also has nearly as much cash on hand as does Pittenger ($221,911 compared to Pittenger’s $286,607). Harris was narrowly defeated by Pittenger in 2016, so this race looks like a tight one for Pittenger both in May and November, if it makes it that far.