Jul 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP's grassroots money problem

Illustration of money dropping in to a MAGA hat

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats across the 10 most competitive Senate races are out-raising Republicans by more than $75 million among small-dollar donors — those giving less than $200 — according to an Axios analysis of Federal Election Commission records.

The big picture: Inflation, Trump-induced donor fatigue and other factors are impacting the GOP grassroots, prompting Republican candidates to rely more heavily on high-dollar donors.

Between the lines: One Republican seeing huge small-dollar fundraising success is Donald Trump, whose political operation has hoovered up more than $60 million from under-$200 donors this cycle.

  • But Trump isn't a 2022 candidate, and he's steered just a tiny portion of his war chest to GOP midterm hopefuls.

Why it matters: A concerted Republican effort to build a small-dollar fundraising apparatus independent of Trump's brand appears to be faltering, while Democrats are building on the massive grassroots financial success they saw in 2020.

Zoom in: Even the GOP's best small-dollar performers are being swamped by huge grassroots backing on the other side.

  • Georgia's Herschel Walker raised nearly $8 million in "unitemized" donations through June 30. But Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock has raked in $14 million in small-dollar money through June.
  • In Florida, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio has reported nearly $12.7 million in small donations. Democratic challenger Val Demings has more than doubled that small-dollar total.

The biggest gap is in Arizona, where Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly's reelection campaign has raised nearly $23 million from small-dollar donors.

  • His top three potential GOP challengers — Blake Masters, Jim Lamon and Mark Brnovich — have cumulatively brought in less than $2 million.

Just one Republican in those 10 contests is topping his Democratic competition in grassroots money.

  • Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson has brought in nearly $5 million in unitemized donations, narrowly besting the combined total of his top three potential Democratic challengers.

The other side: The GOP's high-dollar donors are keeping the money race competitive. And Republicans' national party committees are breaking fundraising records.

  • Their top House super PAC, the lCongressional Leadership Fund, is out-raising its Democratic counterpart by substantial margins, while the Senate Leadership Fund, its Senate alternative, nearly keeps pace with its Democratic counterpart.
  • Super PACs backing candidates such as Ohio's J.D. Vance and Arizona's Blake Masters are making up for some fundraising shortfalls. Others, such as Pennsylvania's Mehmet Oz, are pouring millions into their own campaigns.

Flashback: Democrats dominated among small-dollar donors in 2020 as well, contributing to record-breaking fundraising hauls among the party's top Senate recruits.

  • That mismatch spurred some Republicans to try to boost their side's grassroots money operation, including by leveraging that super PAC success to try to build up candidates' small-dollar fundraising programs.

Yes, but: Money isn't everything. The glut of grassroots Democratic cash steered millions in 2020 to candidates like Kentucky's Amy McGrath, who still lost by double digits.

The bottom line: The GOP's fundraising problems — in addition to the elevation of flawed or extreme candidates — are contributing to fears of a Senate debacle in what should be a favorable political environment for Republicans.

Go deeper