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Trump fundraising intensifies, Democrats post big hauls and other first-quarter takeaways

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump’s fundraising operation picked up the pace during the first three months of the year while Democratic Senate and House candidates reported massive quarterly hauls as the battle for Congress takes shape, new federal filings show.

Democrats and Republicans are defending narrow margins in the Senate and House, respectively, and control of Congress is likely to come down to just a handful of seats this fall.

In the fight for the Senate, Democratic incumbents and nonincumbents alike raised millions in the first quarter that ended March 31 while stockpiling crucial cash reserves for what are likely to be expensive general election contests, several featuring wealthy Republican opponents.

And on the House side, the latest reports show many vulnerable Republican incumbents under pressure, with Democratic challengers from California to New York outraising them during the first quarter.

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Here are a few takeaways from the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission as of March 31:

Trump boosts his fundraising

As Trump’s hush money trial in New York began Monday, the new filings show his fundraising has cranked up. Big donors began writing six-figure checks to support a new fundraising arrangement he established with the Republican National Committee and state parties after he became his party’s presumptive nominee last month.

The Trump 47 Committee, as the new joint operation is known, reported raising more than $23 million in the first quarter of the year – including from nearly two dozen people who donated at least $600,000 apiece to the effort.

Those Republican megadonors included TD Ameritrade founder J. Joe Ricketts, former Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler and billionaire investor John Paulson, who hosted a Trump fundraiser earlier this month that the campaign said brought in $50.5 million for Trump and the GOP.

The committee transferred about $10 million to the RNC, which had started the election year facing a serious cash crunch.

The Trump 47 Committee – formalized last month – is also designed to direct money to Save America, a leadership PAC that the former president has relied on to help pay his personal legal bills, but the filing covering January 1 through March 31 did not show any immediate transfers to Save America.

A separate and long-standing Trump committee, called the Trump Save America Joint Fundraising Committee, reported bringing in more than $65 million during the first quarter of this year.

Monday’s filings offer a partial snapshot of the fundraising and spending by Trump’s political organization. Other groups in his orbit are slated to file reports later this week.

Trump is scrambling to catch up with President Joe Biden’s financial operation. Biden and the Democratic Party previously reported bringing in $90 million in March, far surpassing the $65.6 million that Trump reported raising with the Republican Party in that month alone.

Biden said his team entered April – and the general election showdown – with a war chest of $192 million, more than double the cash stockpile Trump and the GOP announced.

Biden has used that financial advantage to start spending heavily – as he tries to combat persistently low approval ratings and gain a polling advantage over Trump.

In March alone, the president’s principal campaign committee reported more than $29 million in disbursements – more than four times the roughly $6.3 million the campaign spent during the previous month, according to a report filed late Monday.

Among the big-ticket items: Nearly $21.8 million to produce and place campaign ads. Another $1.7 million went to “text message outreach.”

The campaign’s report was not due to federal regulators until Saturday, but the Biden campaign filed it early – alongside reports for other parts of his political apparatus.

Democrats raise big sums in Senate battlegrounds

Democrats dominated CNN’s most recent list of the top 10 Senate seats most likely to flip, with the most of the races taking place in states that either Trump carried or Biden narrowly won four years ago.

But at least in the money race, FEC records show the Democratic incumbents or front-runners in these battleground states well armed for the fall fight, several of whom are likely to face wealthy Republican challengers.

In Montana, vulnerable Democratic Sen. Jon Tester raised $8 million in the first quarter and ended March with $12.7 million in the bank. In Ohio, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown reported a first-quarter haul of more than $12 million, which his campaign touted as an Ohio record, and entered April with nearly $16 million on hand. Both senators are running in states that backed Trump twice and have drawn wealthy GOP challengers who have already put in seven-figure sums into their campaigns.

Other Democratic incumbents posting big hauls in the first quarter include Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey ($5.7 million), Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin ($5.4 million) and Nevada’s Jacky Rosen ($5 million, which her campaign touted as a quarterly record for the state). Casey and Baldwin are facing Republican challengers who have demonstrated strong self-funding capabilities, while the GOP front-runner to take on Rosen is Purple Heart recipient Sam Brown, who raised $2.4 million in the first quarter.

Democratic candidates in open battleground seats also took in massive sums during the first quarter. In Arizona, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego significantly outraised his likely GOP opponent, 2022 gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, $7.5 million to $4.1 million. And Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin took in about four times the amount raised by former Rep. Mike Rogers, the leading GOP candidate, $4.4 million to $1.1 million.

Self-funding Senate GOP candidates make their mark

Awaiting several of these Democrats in the fall will be GOP challengers hailing from a variety of business backgrounds and some with net worths in the hundreds of millions.

Ohio businessman Bernie Moreno, who, buoyed by a Trump endorsement, clinched the GOP nomination to take on Brown last month, loaned his campaign $1.5 million in the first quarter, bringing his total self-funding so far this cycle to $4.5 million.

In Montana, entrepreneur and retired Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy, who appears well positioned to win the GOP nod in June, has loaned his campaign nearly $1.5 million so far, including $500,000 in the first quarter.

Former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick, who recently secured Trump’s support, made a nearly $1 million first-quarter loan to his campaign in Pennsylvania. (He loaned his unsuccessful 2022 bid for the state’s other Senate seat more than $14 million.) And in Wisconsin, Republican bank executive Eric Hovde lent his campaign $8 million since launching his challenge to Baldwin in February, according to the latest reports.

The presence of these self-funding Republicans could help ease pressure on national party finances and offset what has been a recurrent disadvantage for the GOP, which has struggled to match Senate Democrats’ powerful small-dollar fundraising machine.

Meanwhile, the biggest self-funder by far this cycle is Maryland Rep. David Trone, who is seeking to succeed retiring fellow Democrat Ben Cardin. The owner and founder of Total Wine and More, Trone reported loaning his campaign $18.5 million in the first quarter, his fillings show, bringing his self-funding total for the cycle to almost $41.8 million – a Senate primary record.

Trone’s main challenger for the Democratic nomination is Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who hauled in $2.1 million during the first three months of the year. The race, which debuted on CNN’s Senate rankings this month, has taken on added importance with the entry of Republican Larry Hogan, a popular former governor who has raised GOP hopes in the deep-blue state.

Democrats hold fundraising edge in House swing seats

A competitive fight is also underway for control of the US House as Republicans look to hold on to their narrow majority, which has been further eroded - at least temporarily - through a series of member exits in recent months.

Across several battleground districts, the first-quarter reports show House Democratic candidates matching their Senate counterparts in the money race. Of the 22 races rated as “Toss Up” contests by The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, the top Democratic fundraiser overperformed the top Republican in 20 of them during the first quarter.

Many of these Republican incumbents are from either California (John Duarte, David Valadao, Mike Garcia and Ken Calvert) and New York (Anthony D’Esposito, Mike Lawler and Marc Molinaro). The two states collectively host the biggest concentration of GOP lawmakers holding seats that Biden would have won in 2020. All the Republicans mentioned above, save for Calvert, fit this definition.

Meanwhile, vulnerable Democratic incumbents posted bigger first-quarter hauls than their top GOP challengers in several battleground races, including in Ohio (Marcy Kaptur and Emilia Sykes), Pennsylvania (Susan Wild and Matt Cartwright), Colorado (Yadira Caraveo), Maine (Jared Golden), North Carolina (Don Davis) and Washington state (Marie Gluesenkamp Perez).

‘Squad’ members armor up for primary fights

Several members of the House ‘squad’ of progressive Democrats who face competitive primaries reported strong first-quarter hauls.

Pennsylvania Rep. Summer Lee, a first-term lawmaker from the Pittsburgh area, outraised challenger Bhavini Patel, a local council member, nearly $920,000 to roughly $291,000 through early April, according to pre-primary reports filed with the FEC. But Patel has had significant support from an outside group called the Moderate PAC, which says it backs champions of “moderate fiscal policy.” Jeffrey Yass, a major Republican donor, has been a top contributor to the PAC, according to federal records.

The race could serve as an early test of how the Israel-Hamas war affects congressional contests, with the Gaza conflict becoming a flashpoint in the primary. More broadly, pro-Israel groups have pledged to spend heavily in several key House races to elevate more moderate candidates.

Other “squad” members facing strong primary challenges include New York’s Jamaal Bowman, Missouri’s Cori Bush and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar. Bowman was lapped in fundraising during the first quarter by Westchester County Executive George Latimer, while Bush underperformed against primary challenger Wesley Bell, the elected prosecutor for St. Louis County.

Omar, who reported raising nearly $1.7 million in the first quarter, faces a host of primary challengers, including former Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels, whom she narrowly defeated in the 2022 primary. He posted a first-quarter haul of roughly $400,000.

Some McCarthy foes face well-funded challengers

Virginia Rep. Bob Good – one of eight Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy as House speaker last year – raised more than $307,000 during the first three months of the year, new filings show.

It marked the House Freedom Caucus leader’s strongest fundraising quarter of the 2024 cycle, but primary challenger John McGuire, a state senator, raised nearly as much – about $290,000 over the same period. His haul included a $10,000 infusion in late March from McCarthy’s leadership PAC.

As CNN previously reported, some House Republicans – embittered by the party infighting that led to McCarthy’s ouster – are looking for ways to boost McGuire ahead of the June primary.

South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace and top primary challenger Catherine Templeton reported raising similar first-quarter hauls, though Templeton, who served in former Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration, received more money from individual contributors than Mace did.

Mace, however, has Trump’s endorsement – a valuable commodity in a GOP primary.

In Arizona, Rep. Eli Crane, the only House Republican freshman who voted to boot McCarthy, raised more than $1.1 million in the first three months of the year, fueled, in part, by small-dollar contributions. He recently drew a primary challenge from Jack Smith, a former Yavapai County supervisor.

At least two Republicans who helped push out McCarthy are not returning to Congress next year: Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale is retiring, and Colorado’s Ken Buck resigned last month.

Celebrity sightings

Celebrity donors during the first quarter included actor Sean Penn, who gave $5,000 to former Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s independent House campaign for a GOP-held Ohio seat, and “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane, who gave $1 million to Future Forward PAC, a key super PAC supporting Biden’s reelection.

Several media personalities wrote checks to former CNN anchor John Avlon’s bid for New York’s 1st Congressional District on Long Island, including Ken Burns, Maury Povich, Connie Chung and Barry Diller. Avlon is seeking the Democratic nomination to take on freshman Republican Nick LaLota.

Former Republican Rep. George Santos, who is challenging LaLota as an independent, filed a report showing that he raised zero dollars from March 7 through March 31. Santos, who faces a slew of federal charges, represented a neighboring district before his expulsion from the House last year.

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