The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

About two months out from the opening of early voting in this fall’s General Assembly elections, Democrats are outraising Republicans by wide margins.

How wide?

Based on campaign finance reports compiled by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, Senate Democrats have raised more than twice as much as Senate Republicans: $3,141,445 to $1,434,121.

Meanwhile, House Democrats have a somewhat narrower advantage, but still an advantage: $2,357,182 to $1,538,048.

Does this portend a Democratic blowout in November? I would not jump to that conclusion, or any other.

The campaign finance reports released this week offer a good checkup on the financial health of campaigns but we should be careful — very careful — how we read the results.

My usual advisory on campaign fundraising

Whenever the conversation turns to campaign fundraising, I always issue this big caution: Money doesn’t matter as much as people commonly think it does.

Yes, it’s always better in politics to have more money than the other side. However, a big campaign treasury does not automatically translate into electoral success. After the recent primaries, I wrote a column highlighting all the campaigns where the lesser-funded candidate won — presumably because voters liked their message better than whoever else was running. Candidates have to have enough money to get their message out but they don’t need to outraise the other side. They just have to hope that voters are more excited about what they have to say than what the other side is saying.

So keep that in mind as we walk through some of the fundraising numbers — these figures are important (good news for the candidates with the most money) but they’re not always predictive (hopeful news for the candidates with smaller bank accounts).

For instance, those overall fundraising numbers I just cited can be misleading: They are skewed by fundraising in the recent primaries. Since Democrats had more primaries than Republicans, it’s only natural that their overall numbers are higher.

Here’s an example: The top fundraiser in the state, House or Senate, is Democrat Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg, who has raised $544,274. She also spent almost all of that in her challenge to state Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond. She won that primary and is now the Democratic nominee in a district that’s rated 56% Democratic. The overall Democratic totals are inflated by her fundraising — and the fundraising of all the other Democratic primary candidates, many of whom were running in strongly Democratic districts that won’t be competitive this fall. None of that really is helpful in looking ahead to November. 

That’s why a better measure of overall fundraising isn’t what’s been raised, but what’s still on hand for the fall campaigns.

By that measure, things are a lot closer. Senate Democrats have $6,754,521 and Senate Republicans have $6,559,096. In the House, Republicans have the money advantage — $7,800,236 to $7,347,714.

That feels a lot closer to the electoral reality we’re facing — two narrowly divided chambers that could go either way. 

Even those figures are skewed in other ways.

Party leaders typically amass a lot of money precisely because they are party leaders. They’ll typically use some of that to help out other candidates this fall — that’s how they get to stay party leaders. They’ll also hang onto a lot of it to ward off potential intraparty challengers. Of that $7.8 million that House Republicans have, more than $1.2 million of that is in the campaign kitty of Del. Barry Knight of Virginia Beach, chair of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. He’s in a safe Republican district (63% Republican) but if you’re in an industry that has a particular interest in what’s in the budget, you’d be wise to write him a check. Hey, I didn’t write the rules. I’m just telling you how the system works. And this year that system is seeing campaign fundraising 43% higher than four years ago, according to VPAP.

If you want to be on the safe side, you’ll also write a check to Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William County, who was chair of House Appropriations the last time Democrats controlled the House and likely would be again if they prevail. He’s in a safe Democratic district (61% Democratic) but he has the fourth-biggest treasury of any House member ($498,404). Since Republicans currently control the House and Democrats control the Senate, we shouldn’t be surprised that the biggest cash-on-hand amounts belong to House Republicans and Senate Democrats. Some money is ideological, but some is simply practical: If you’re the head of, say, the hypothetical Virginia Radish Growers Association, you might have a personal partisan preference but for business purposes, you’re going to give your biggest donations to the majority party regardless of who the majority party is because you’d like a favorable hearing for whatever legislation it is that radish growers care about.

This also doesn’t address money in other places. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s political action committee has $6.26 million in the bank, an unprecedented amount for a Virginia governor. Much of that money is going to wind up somewhere. A cynic might say “yeah, sure, the Iowa caucuses,” but the reality is that if Youngkin’s presidential hopes are to be realized, they’ll be much higher if Republicans win control of the General Assembly in November. For him right now, investing in a legislative race in Isle of Wight County is as good as investing in Iowa. Likewise there are all sorts of other pots of money out there — party funds, special interest groups raising their own money and the like. Consider all those funds something of a strategic reserve. 

I’ve seen the fundraising reports characterized in different ways: Democrats outraise Republicans (which is true, but, as we’ve seen, misleading). Fundraising reaches new heights (which is true). Youngkin stockpiles a lot of money (also true). For now, let’s concentrate on the fundraising by specific candidates in the most competitive districts — the ones whose outcomes will determine which party controls the General Assembly come January, even though we know some of these other reservoirs of funds may eventually be dumped in.

VPAP, drawing on previous election results, has identified four Senate races it considers competitive and seven House races it considers competitive. Side commentary: This shows how polarized our state is, much like the nation. We have 40 Senate races and only four are competitive districts? We have 100 House races and only seven are competitive districts? Most voters this fall are in districts where the elections really don’t matter because those places are either dark red or dark blue on the map. The voters who are in these handful of competitive districts are the ones who really matter because their choices will decide who governs the rest of us.

Campaign cash in competitive race

Here’s the campaign cash on hand in the races that the Virginia Public Access Project has identified as the most competitive in Virginia. They are color-coded to indicate which party has the most money in that district.

House of Delegates:

HD 21 (Prince William County): Josh Thomas (D) has $106,766; John Stirrup (R) has $90,874

HD 22 (Prince William County): Ian Lovejoy (R) has $100,758; Travis Nembhard (D) has $72,584

HD 57 (Henrico County): David Owen (R) has $166,179; Susanna Gibson (D) has $77,435

HD 65 (Fredericksburg area): Joshua Cole (D) has $144,920; Lee Peters (R) has $79,161

HD 82 (Petersburg, Dinwiddie County): Kim Taylor (R) has $177,062; Kimberly Pope Adams (D) has $67,067

HD 89 (Chesapeake, Suffolk): Baxter Ennis (R) has $45,515; Karen Jenkins (D) has $24,194

HD 97 (Virginia Beach): Karen Greenhalgh (R) has $134,579; Michael Feggans (D) has $122,308.


SD 17 (eastern Southside, Hampton Roads): Clint Jenkins (D) has $65,932; Emily Brewer (R) has $62,258

SD 24 (Peninsula): Monty Mason (D) has $774,180; Danny Diggs (R) has $423,658

SD 27 (Fredericksburg area): Tara Durant (R) has $59,548; Joel Griffin (D) has $25,032; Monica Gary (I) has $7,222

SD 31(Fauquier, Loudon): Juan Pablo Segura (R) has $409,344; Russet Perry (D) has $98,878.

In those four competitive Senate districts, Democrats have more cash on hand in two of them and Republicans have more in the other two. In those seven competitive House districts, Republicans have more in five of them and Democrats in only two. That puts a whole different spin on things, now doesn’t it?

In some cases, the difference isn’t much. One of the two competitive Senate districts where Democrats have the most is Senate District 17 in eastern Southside — Del. Clint Jenkins, D-Suffolk, has less than a $4,000 advantage over Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk. This also comes after Brewer had to spend her way through a competitive primary, something Jenkins didn’t have to do. While Jenkins has the most money right now, if I were a Republican, I’d be feeling pretty good about where Brewer is financially.

By contrast, in Senate District 31 in Loudoun and Fauquier counties, Republican Juan Pablo Segura has more than four times as much cash on hand as Democrat Russet Perry. On the other hand, Perry just emerged from a primary campaign; Segura did not. She spent much of her money winning that. The question now is whether she’ll be able to close that fundraising gap. Given how competitive this district is, I assume Democrats will pump money into the race so this disparity in funds may only be temporary.

All these campaign finance reports are much like polls: They’re snapshots in time. Things can change.

We don’t have many competitive races in Southwest and Southside — a function of that geographical polarization I mentioned. The ones we do have, though, both merit some discussion.

Senate District 4, which covers Roanoke, Salem and parts of Roanoke and Montgomery counties, falls just outside VPAP’s range of competitive districts. Democrat Trish White-Boyd just had to deal with winning a three-way primary, something that state Sen. Dave Sutterlein, R-Roanoke County, didn’t have to worry about. As of these reports, he had $412,618 in the bank, while she had just $9,671. That’s a 42.6-1 advantange.

For context: Suetterlein has the 10th-biggest campaign treasury of any state Senate candidate this cycle, and the biggest for any Senate candidate outside the urban crescent. White-Boyd presently has one of the smallest of any candidate in a competitive — or near-competitive — Senate district in the state. (Republican Bill Woolf, who just won a primary to face Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, has a slightly smaller one.) The big question here is whether Democrats are going to invest in White-Boyd or write her off and focus elsewhere. If the latter, Democrats may face the question of why they’re not sufficiently backing a Black woman running in a potentially winnable district. If the former, they face the question of whether that money could be better spent in districts elsewhere.

The region’s most competitive House district is District 41, which covers part of Montgomery and Roanoke counties. For a non-incumbent, and a Democrat west of the Blue Ridge, Democrat Lily Franklin has proved to be a surprisingly strong fundraiser. She currently has $77,141 in hand to $28,745 for Republican Chris Obenshain. We have to remember that Obenshain had to spend money in a competitive nomination process. However, even when you factor in the total amount of money they’ve raised, dating back to last year, Franklin has outraised Obenshain, $188,538 to $118,858.

While this district was rated almost dead even based on the 2017 election results (that was a Democratic year), more recently it’s trended Republican (in what were admittedly Republican years). Accordingly, VPAP doesn’t list House District 41 as one of its competitive districts. In fact, VPAP lists five other “leaning Republican” districts as more competitive than this one. I wonder, though, whether Franklin’s fundraising prowess is going to persuade Democrats to put more money into this race — which, in turn, might force Republicans to do the same, thereby diverting resources from other districts. For context, Franklin has more cash on hand than the Democratic candidates in four of the seven districts that VPAP does rate as competitive — and a clearer financial advantage than the two Democrats in competitive districts who are ahead of their Republican opponents.

It’s far too early to make pronouncements about who will win this fall, but I’m sure both parties right now are looking at all these numbers and starting to make decisions about where to place their financial bets.

If all this talk of campaign money boggles your mind, here’s more context: The total amount of campaign cash raised so far is about 56 times our annual budget here at Cardinal News. It takes less to run a news organization than it does some political campaigns, but it does take something. You can make a tax-deductible donation to Cardinal to make sure there’s independent journalism in Virginia. 

Yancey is editor of Cardinal News. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at