The Republican money faucet is now turned on.
So is the Democratic one.
However, the Republican faucet is flowing faster, particularly in House of Delegates races.
When we last looked at campaign finance reports — the July-August reports that came out in September — Democrats held a financial advantage in most of the competitive General Assembly races across the state.
Now a new round of reports is out, covering September, and they show just the opposite. Thanks to big infusions of cash from political action committees associated with top Republican leaders, Republican candidates now generally have the cash advantage in most competitive districts. That’s more true in the House than the Senate, however. I don’t know if that reflects a Republican concern that they need to make sure they hold their majority in the House and are less certain about the Senate, or if it’s a fluke of cash flow.
Before we go further, let me deliver my customary advisory on campaign money: It doesn’t matter as much as some people think. Oh, money matters, don’t get me wrong. It’s always good to have more. However, campaign fundraising is not always predictive of election outcomes. Lots of lesser-funded candidates win. Candidates don’t necessarily need more money than their rivals — although that always helps. What they really need is enough money to get their message out. If two candidates are relatively close in fundraising, it probably doesn’t matter much who’s ahead; both will have enough. If one candidate is way ahead, then, yes, the other side is in danger of having its message drowned out.
I would not look at this change in financial fortunes and say, whoa, Republicans are going to win, just as we shouldn’t have said that about Democrats last time around. However, with these latest reports, we can now see more clearly where both parties are placing their biggest bets. If top party leaders on either side aren’t putting a lot of money into a race, that’s a sure sign that they don’t consider it competitive — they either think they’ll win easily or expect the other side to win easily. At this point in the campaign, there’s no place for sentiment. Both parties are making cold-eyed calculations about where their money is best spent.
We should also keep this in mind: Most of this money isn’t being spent to sway undecided voters. It’s being spent to energize each party’s base. Even though this election cycle has the most offices on the ballot — the entire General Assembly plus lots of local offices — it’s typically the state’s lowest voting cycle. In the 2020 presidential election, 75% of registered voters in Virginia cast ballots. In the 2021 gubernatorial election, 54.9% did so. In last year’s congressional mid-terms, 49% turned out. But in the 2019 General Assembly cycle, only 42.4% showed up — and that was historically high. In the comparable 2015 elections, only 29.1% voted; in 2011, just 28.6%. This election will be won by whichever party does the best job motivating its base voters to go to the polls in an election where most people usually stay home. On both sides, all this money is being spent to motivate those base voters.
With that lead-up, let’s take a look at the latest campaign finance reports that came out earlier this week. I’ll start with the most competitive races in Southwest and Southside (which aren’t many), then look at some of the swing districts around the state that will decide the majority in both houses. One other important addendum: We talk about fundraising, but the point of fundraising is fund-spending, so at this point of the election, two figures are worth noting: how much money the candidates have raised, but also how much they still have in the bank. Also: Thanks to the Virginia Public Access Project, which has compiled all the data, so if you’re interested in other races, you can find both House and Senate fundraising on VPAP.
HD 41: Franklin (D) continues to outraise Obenshain (R)
This district is the most competitive House race west of the Blue Ridge. The precincts in this district went 55% for Glenn Youngkin 2021 but saw the Republican share slip to 53% in the 2022 congressional midterms. Given that Republican tilt in this district, I have been consistently surprised by Lily Franklin’s fundraising prowess. In the most recent reporting period, which covers September, Franklin outraised Chris Obenshain, $228,432 to $90,319. Going into the final stretch of the campaign, Franklin has the most money in hand: $215,378 to Obenshain’s $143,277. Can that money advantage overcome the inherent Republican lean of this district?
Franklin’s biggest donation was $48,169 from the Save the Children Action Network, which describes itself as “the political voice for kids.” Obenshain’s biggest donation was $25,000 from Deputy House Majority Leader Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County. One sign of how different the candidates are: Obenshain received $10,000 from the Dominion Energy PAC, while Franklin took in $10,000 from Clean Virginia, a renewable energy PAC that is aligned against Dominion. (Disclosure: Dominion is also one of our donors, but donors have no say in news decisions; see our policy.)
Another thing about this district that baffles me: The early vote is relatively low here. I’d have thought it would have been higher, given that Democrats are predisposed toward early voting and Youngkin this year has pushed Republicans to vote early. The early vote by Republicans may be lower because of sheer distance — for instance, in Roanoke County the early voting locations are on the other side of the county from much of that district. Franklin, though, will need a big turnout from Democratic-voting Blacksburg.
If you’re interested in this race, I encourage you to check out the video from that campaign forum that Cardinal News and the Blacksburg Library sponsored earlier this month. And if you want more analysis of the early vote, sign up for our free weekly politial newsletter, West of the Capital, delivered each Friday afternoon. This week, I’ll look at the latest early voting trends.
SD 4: White-Boyd (D) outraises Suetterlein (R) but he has far more cash on hand
For the period, Trish White-Boyd raised the most money: $61,239 to state Sen. David Suetterlein’s $39,400. On the other hand, he hasn’t needed to raise much money because he had so much already. In terms of cash on hand, he has 21.5 times as much: $423,098 to her $19,637.
In terms of fundraising, White-Boyd’s September haul might be more than Suetterlein’s, but it’s also in the same neighborhood as some candidates in lightly contested or even uncontested races elsewhere in the state. For instance, Republican John McGuire, who is running unopposed for a state Senate seat in a district that runs from Hanover County to Appomattox County, raised $71,993 in September.
Neither campaign had an individual donation for the period greater than $5,000. This race doesn’t seem to be a financial priority for either side. The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus gave six figures to other Senate Democratic candidates but none to White-Boyd. Likewise, there’s no big Republican leadership money flowing Suetterlein’s way, either. Feel free to draw your own conclusions from that. You can draw your own conclusions another way, too: On Thursday night Cardinal will sponsor a campaign forum between the two candidates. The event at the Jefferson Center is sold out but you can watch a livestream of the event on Cardinal’s YouTube channel. We’ll be posting a link on our site Thursday.
SD 17: Brewer (R) easily outdistances Jenkins (D) in Southside race
In theory, this ought to be one of the closest Senate races in the state — two sitting delegates running against each other in a district that went 52.3% Republican in 2021 and 50.39% Democratic in 2022. And on Election Day, maybe it will be. It’s sure not close in fundraising, though.
For the period, Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, took in $579,757, compared to $189,384 for Del. Clint Jenkins, D-Suffolk. As for cash on hand, Brewer has $149,770 to Jenkins’ $46,344. That gap between what Brewer has taken in and what she’s got left tells me that she’s spent a lot of money so far in this district.
This is also telling: Brewer’s biggest donor for the period was the Republican State Leadership Committee, which gave her $314,000 — more than Jenkins’ entire campaign raised.
HD 51: Fariss (R turned I) raises no money but still has big cash advantage
Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell County, is running as an independent in a three-way race with Republican Eric Zehr and Democrat Kim Moran — except I’m not sure whether “running” is the right verb. Fariss is on the ballot but shows little sign of activity. Cardinal’s Markus Schmidt reports that Fariss’ website hasn’t been updated. The campaign finance report shows he raised $0 for the period, which is exactly what he raised in the previous fundraising period. He also spent very little money, either — just $386, most of which has gone to a software company that appears to offer newsletter services. Nonetheless, going into the final full month of the campaign, Fariss has more than twice as much money as his Republican opponent — and almost twice as much money as both opponents combined. Fariss has $41,947 in the bank, Zehr $20,005 and Moran $1,506. If Fariss choses to spend that money, could that make a difference? Or will his felony indictments in a hit-and-run case be sufficient to sink him? Some interesting complications: About half of the voters in this district are new to Fariss. On the other hand, the last time Zehr ran for something, he lost — his seat on the Campbell County Board of Supervisors.
This would seem to be an easy race for Zehr — this is a district that’s been 78% to 79% Republican in the past two cycles — but Fariss’ money advantage is interesting, at the very least.
HD 52: Walker (R) barely leads Woofter (D) in money
This race shouldn’t be close. The district went 57% for Youngkin 2021, yet Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, and Democrat Jennifer Woofter are nearly even in terms of money. For the period, Walker raised $35,734; Woofter raised $31,003. As for bank accounts, he has $60,418 cash on hand, she has $56,699. For what ought to be a non-competitive race, Woofter has an impressive amount of money left to spend.
Now let’s turn to swing districts across the state, the House first, the Senate second.
HD 21: Stirrup (R) has more than twice as much as Thomas (D)
When we looked at the previous batch of campaign finance reports in September, Democrat Josh Thomas was outraising Republican John Stirrup and held a cash advantage. Now the situation in this 51% Youngkin district is reversed. For the most recent period, Stirrup outraised Thomas $851,296 to $748,458 and now holds a big cash advantage, as well: $657,534 to $308,127.
We’re seeing Republicans pour a lot of money into this race: $470,000 of Stirrup’s September take came from the Republican Commonwealth Leadership PAC — i.e., House Speaker Todd Gilbert’s political action committee. Another $100,000 came from the Republican State Leadership Committee and $75,000 from Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia. There’s likely a lot more where that came from.
Democrats haven’t kept up the pace: Thomas’ biggest donation for the period was $125,000 from the Virginia House Democratic Caucus.
HD 22: Lovejoy (R) has more than twice as much as Nembhard (D)
There’s a good chance the route to a majority for either party runs through these districts on the outskirts of Northern Virginia. If money is the key (and, as noted earlier, it may not be), Republicans currently have the advantage. Republican Ian Lovejoy has outraised Democrat Travis Nembhard $690,508 to $349,326 and now holds a cash advantage of $489,950 to $225,840.
This is also another place where the Republican leadership is investing big: Lovejoy has $260,000 from Gilbert’s PAC, $100,000 from Youngkin’s and $94,214 from the Republican Party of Virginia. Nembhard’s biggest donor for the period is the Democratic House Caucus: $74,905.
HD 57: Gibson’s (D) money advantage disappears
Democrat Susanna Gibson is the candidate who The Washington Post reported had been performing sex with her husband online for tips. In the previous campaign finance reports, which were compiled before that news broke, she held a significant money advantage over Republican David Owen. Now things have reversed. In September, he outraised her $564,608 to $488,872 and now has a cash advantage of $539,473 to $378,952.
It’s hard for me to say that her fundraising has slowed. For the period, she was still the sixth most prolific Democratic fundraiser among all the party’s House candidates. Owen, though, saw his treasury fattened by an infusion of Republican leadership money: $151,500 from Gilbert’s PAC, $100,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee, $73,911 from the Republican Party of Virginia and $50,000 from Youngkin’s PAC.
Gibson’s biggest donor for the period is Planned Parenthood, which gave $135,206. Party-related PACs don’t appear to have pulled their support. Her report shows five-figure donations from the Democratic Party of Virginia and the House Democratic Caucus after the Post story appeared. The Wexton for Congress campaign of U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Fairfax County, sent $2,500 well after the story ran. Nonetheless, the fact remains: Gibson no longer has a financial advantage here.
HD 82: Adams (D) outraises Taylor (R) but Taylor has cash advantage
This is a race where both parties are pouring in a lot of money. Democrat Kimberly Pope Adams raised $1,004,909 for the period — more than any other House candidate in the state. That topped the $902,686 for Del. Kim Taylor, R-Petersburg, the fourth-biggest House fundraiser in the state. But Taylor holds a cash advantage going into the final weeks: $562,086 to $355,222. That’s something she didn’t have in the last report.
The House Democratic Caucus put $245,146 into Adams’ campaign and a labor group called Workers Vote kicked in $213,465. Meanwhile, over on the Republican side, Gilbert’s PAC has given Taylor $380,000 while Youngkin’s has given her $150,000.
HD 97: Greenhalgh (R) has nearly three times as much cash as Feggans (D)
In the previous report, Democrat Michael Feggans was outraising Del. Karen Greenhalgh, R-Virginia Beach, although she had more in the bank. This time around, she outraised him and now has a lot more money than he does.
For the period, she brought in $979,477 to his $915,966. That’s not much of an advantage, but this is: She now has $865,317 in the bank while he has $300,020.
By now, you will not be surprised to learn that her biggest donor is the speaker’s PAC, at $315,000, with $200,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee and $150,000 from Youngkin’s PAC. Feggans’ biggest donor was the House Democratic Caucus: $312,186.
Greenhalgh now ranks as the second biggest House fundraiser in the state, Feggans third.
Onto the Senate, where Democrats are trying to preserve their majority — and where Republicans would be content with a 20-20 tie because then Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears could cast the deciding vote.
SD 16: Dunnavant (R) outraises VanValkenburg (D), holds small cash advantage
This Senate district overlaps with the Gibson-Owen race in House District 57, so what happens in one contest could influence another. The race is also fascinating in its own right: The Republican candidate, state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, is an OB-GYN who is running on parental rights; Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg is a teacher running on abortion.
For the period, Dunnavant outraised VanValkenburg $1,259,777 to $785,233 on the strength of money from Youngkin’s PAC. Going into the home stretch, she has a much smaller cash advantage: $493,052 to $408,385.
I mentioned the Youngkin cash advantage: The governor’s PAC has put $727,000 into this race. By contrast, the $125,000 from the Republican Senate Caucus seems small. So does VanValkenburg’s biggest donation: $125,000 from the Virginia League of Conservation PAC.
SD 24: Mason (D) outraises Diggs (R) but has slightly less cash
This is an exception to the general trend of Republicans outraising Democrats. State Sen. Monty Mason outraised Republican Danny Diggs by $1,233,585 to $725,666. However, Diggs has a small cash advantage: $285,041 to $225,988. In political terms, that advantage is negligible. What’s more notable in this district is the large early vote — the third-highest in the state. A lot of that early vote is coming from House District 69, where Republican Chad Green is unopposed — and which has the second-highest early vote of any House district in the state. Does this suggest a lot of Republicans are coming out to vote early?
Mason’s top contributor for the period: $250,000 from the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus. Diggs’ top contributor: $345,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee.
SD 27: Griffin (D) outraises Durant (R) but she has small cash advantage
At the last report, Democrat Joel Griffin had almost twice as much cash on hand as Republican Tara Durant. Not anymore. He continued to outraise her — $642,661 to $361,356 with $28,155 for independent Monica Gary. However, Durant now has more cash on hand — $99,784 to his $46,757, while Gary has $4,936.
Durant’s biggest donor: $140,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee. His: $275,000 from the Virginia Democratic Caucus.
SD 31: Perry (D) outraises Segura (R), now has big cash advantage
This is the state’s most expensive General Assembly race. For the period, Democrat Russet Perry raised $1,624,983 to Republican Juan Pablo Segura’s $1,075,450. At the end of September, she had a lot more money in the bank: $461,967 to his $26,354.
Perry’s biggest donor: $520,000 from the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus, followed by $125,000 from the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. Segura’s biggest contribution: $250,000 from Youngkin’s PAC.
The bottom line
In both the House and Senate, Democrats slightly outraised Republicans during September. However, Republicans hold an advantage in cash on hand for races in both chambers. Those, however, are overall numbers. In most competitive races, Republicans collected more money — and now have more.
However you feel about that, I’ll point out this: Some of these campaigns have raised more money in a month than Cardinal’s entire annual budget. By definition, half of these campaigns will be gone after Election Day, disappearing like Brigadoon into the mists. But we’ll still be here, covering the winners. You can help us do that by making a donation to us. We won’t even ask you to slap a bumper sticker on your car — we’ll spend your money on producing more journalism, not swag.