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In 2014, Democrats and their donors aimed high, and they missed badly.

By this point in that election cycle, Democratic general election nominees running for statewide, legislative and federal office had raised a total of $49.3M. Then-Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), a national political celebrity for her filibuster against an abortion bill, accounted for $21.7M, or 44% of the total, plus millions more for Battleground Texas, a group charged with organizing Democratic voters. She went on to receive 39% of the vote against then-Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott (R), losing by 20 points.

This year, Democrats on the general election ballot have raised a total of $57.1M, an increase of 16% over four years ago. However, the distribution of those funds reveals a dramatic shift in strategy. Instead of funding a high-profile but ultimately futile governor’s race, donors are aiming at the other top-of-the-ballot race and, to a much greater extent than four years ago, congressional and legislative challengers.

Chart by Visualizer

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Lupe Valdez has raised just $788K, which is the lowest amount raised by a Democratic nominee for governor since modern campaign finance reporting began in 1993. Her contribution total accounts for just 1.4% of the total raised by Democratic candidates statewide.

Instead, the top fundraiser is U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), who has raised $19.3M, including $10.2M during the last three months, accounting for just over a third of all funds raised by Democratic candidates to date. His 2014 counterpart, David Alameel, had raised $4.4M by this point in the campaign, mostly from himself. Alameel would go on to receive 34% of the vote against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R), which is the lowest share of the vote ever received by a Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in state history. O’Rourke has out-raised U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) by more than $9M so far this election cycle, which is roughly the amount Alameel was out-raised by Cornyn.

Democratic congressional nominees have raised $20.8M, more than double the amount raised by this point four years ago. Democratic incumbents and the candidates running for the Democrat-held open seats have raised $8.5M so far, down slightly from the $8.7M raised by such candidates four years ago. The dramatic growth in fundraising by congressional candidates has been fueled entirely by nominees challenging Republican incumbents or seeking Republican-held open seats. Collectively, those Democrats have raised $12.3M so far this year, which is almost 25 times as much money as their counterparts raised four years ago. This figure excludes millions more raised by other Democratic candidates who did not win their respective nominations.

Over the entire 2013-14 election cycle, just one Democrat seeking a Republican-held congressional seat raised more than $100K. So far this cycle, 15 Democrats on the general election ballot have raised at least $100K. Five of them have raised at least $1M, and four of them have out-raised their Republican opponents thus far.

Democratic nominees running against Republican legislators or for Republican-held legislative seats have raised nearly $5.5M so far this election cycle, a better than 450% increase over four years ago. So far this cycle, six nominees for the Senate and eight nominees for the House seeking Republican-held seats have raised at least $100K. In 2014, just one Senate nominee and three House nominees had done so by this point in their campaigns.

Four years ago, just 3% of all contributions received by Democratic general election candidates went to those running for Republican-held legislative and U.S. House seats. So far this year, 31% of those contributions have gone to such candidates. Of course, most of Democrats’ energy and enthusiasm four years ago was created by and followed a pair of pink shoes.

This year, by aiming lower and wider, Democrats are looking to spread that energy to potentially winnable races and, with O’Rourke, a stronger candidate at the very top of the ballot.

©2018 Texas Election Source LLC