I have three things to say about this.
Thara Narasimhan, who hosts an Hindu radio program in Houston, has already given $1,200 to a Democrat running against Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, who once drove around his solidly conservative Texas district with a “NEVER HILLARY” bumper sticker on his pickup. Her plans to donate even more bewilder friends.
“It’s not the question of why I have to support a failing candidate,” said Narasimhan, mingling at a fundraiser for Democrat Sri Kulkarni on a sweltering Texas summer night. “Unless you put some faith in it, you’re not going to make it work.”
The November midterms are on pace to shatter records for political spending. While more than $1 billion raised so far nationally is helping finance battlegrounds that are poised to decide control of Congress, restless donors aren’t stopping there — they’re also putting cash into races and places they never have before to help underdog Democrats.
At a crowded house party in suburban Austin for Democrat MJ Hegar, Jana Reeves found a seat on a kitchen bench that was a long way from her own Hill Country home that isn’t even in Hegar’s congressional district. Hegar has raised more $1.7 million in large part due to a polished six-minute campaign ad called “Doors” that got attention online and enticed donors like Reeves to give her a hand.
“Even though it’s hopeless? You know why?” Reeves said of the giving to Hegar and other Democratic challengers. “Even though maybe my paltry money can’t do much, I still want to support these people in the deep red districts, because the Democrats (at party headquarters) aren’t going to do it.”
Near Fort Worth, Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez has raked in more than $358,000 and has campaigned through summer with more money than her heavily favored Republican opponent, Ronald Wright. They’re both running to replace GOP Rep. Joe Barton, who represented the district for more than 30 years but abandoned plans for re-election after a nude photo of him circulated online.
Sanchez bemoaned the “fish fries and pancake breakfasts” that candidates used in the past to raise money and spends six hours a day on the phone, competing with a half-dozen campaigns that she said are “sucking up most of the money” from big donors. On her list of ways to spend that money: hiring a campaign manager who has previous flipped a Republican district.
“People who say, ‘Money doesn’t vote,’ have never run a campaign,” Sanchez said.
1. In a wave environment like we have this year, “longshot” candidacies serve two important purposes. One is that a couple of these longshots are likely to win, thanks to a combination of the overall climate, changing demographics in the district in question, candidate quality, local issues, and more. The larger the group of viable candidates, the bigger the wave has the potential to be. Two, it forces the party that’s on the defensive to spend money where it doesn’t want to and didn’t expect to, and ultimately to strategic about where it deploys its resources. If you can’t afford to protect everyone, you have to make decisions about who gets defended and who gets left to fend for themselves.
(By the way, since this story was written Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball upgraded CD22 from Safe Republican to Likely Republican. Still a long shot, and dependent to a decent degree on the national environment, but well within the realm of the possible.)
2. Supporting these lower-tier candidates is also an exercise in party-building, which we have discussed here before and which is greatly needed on the Democratic side in Texas. Infrastructure built to help these candidates can and will be re-used in future elections. Many more people will now have the experience of working on a serious campaign. The candidates themselves may run for other offices if they don’t win the ones they’re in now. I’ve said before, I expect at least one unsuccessful Congressional candidate here in Houston to run for something in 2019. All these first-time candidates this year have been a huge breath of fresh air and new energy, but there’s real value in candidates who have done this before.
3. It’s a missed opportunity to write a story like this and not mention the fundraising prowess of Dayna Steele in CD36, who has raised more money than either Kulkarni or Sanchez, in a district that is considerably more hostile. Her career as a radio DJ gives her an advantage that most other candidates don’t have, but her success at raking in donations, especially in a 70%+ Trump district, is just mind-blowing. Honestly, if some reporter doesn’t do a full feature on her candidacy and its fundraising success, it will be a tragic oversight.