5 things to watch for at campaign cash deadline

5 things to watch for at campaign cash deadline
© Getty Images

Campaigns are already gearing up for a pivotal midterm cycle next year.

Candidates must file their third-quarter fundraising reports — which include figures from July through September — by Sunday. These numbers will give us the latest glimpse at the financial health of the campaigns as they ready for battle.

As more numbers continue to trickle in, here are five things to look for in third-quarter fundraising reports:

Can incumbents continue to dominate fundraising?

Vulnerable Senate Democrats posted strong fundraising numbers last quarter, a good sign for a party that needs to defend 10 Democratic seats in states won by President Trump in 2016.

While GOP Sens. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe siren of Baton Rouge Big Republican missteps needed for Democrats to win in November What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (Nev.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March Outgoing GOP rep: Republican Party 'heading into trouble' in election MORE (Ariz.) are considered the two most vulnerable Republican incumbents up for reelection in 2018, they also raised significant sums of money that put them in a good position — especially as primary challenges from the right loom.

Early figures released by the campaigns ahead of this deadline show that incumbents are on track to add millions more to their already formidable war chests in the third quarter. 

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownLawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves Dem senator shares photo praising LeBron James after Laura Ingraham attacks Trump gets recommendation for steep curbs on imported steel, risking trade war MORE (D-Ohio) raised another $2.6 million in the third quarter, according to his campaign. He now has an eye-popping $8.3 million cash on hand at the end of September. Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterWith vote against Brownback, Democrats abandon religious freedom Democrat Manchin: Pence attacks prove ‘they don't want bipartisanship’ in Trump admin Tester invited the Border Patrol Union’s president to the State of the Union. What does that say to Dreamers?   MORE (D-Mont.) raised $1.2 million and has $5.4 million cash on hand. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Toomey to introduce bill broadening background checks for firearms Scott Walker backs West Virginia attorney general in GOP Senate primary MORE (D-W.Va.) raised a little shy of a million dollars and has $4.1 million in his campaign account.

Heller hasn’t released his numbers yet, but Flake raised $1.1 million and has $3.4 million cash on hand, according to the Washington Examiner. Fundraising could be particularly important for Republicans this time around, as Stephen Bannon, former White House chief strategist and Breitbart News head, prepares to endorse primary challengers to GOP incumbents.

Can insurgent candidates compete? 

While Democrats have far more seats to defend in 2018, Republicans will likely have to deal with a spate of insurgent primary candidates challenging incumbent senators from their right flank.

Bannon wants to challenge every GOP Senate incumbent, with the exception of Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE. To do that, Bannon and his candidates will need cash.

So far, only two significant primary challengers have launched bids against incumbent Republicans — former Arizona state Rep. Kelli Ward, who is challenging Flake, and Nevada’s Danny Tarkanian, who is running against Heller. Bannon is expected to back both.

The recent GOP primary victory by former Alabama judge Roy Moore proved that candidates can still win even if they’re outspent. But it remains to be seen whether Ward and Tarkanian have been able to translate the newly unearthed anti-incumbent fever sweeping the party into hard dollars.

Any candidate backed by Bannon and his allies will likely benefit from super PAC money raised to support those efforts as well. But since most of those groups file semiannually, those numbers won’t be available until early next year.

Does Trump’s small-dollar army keep pace? 

President Trump’s prolific success among small donors has been one of the hallmarks of his political bid. He raised more from donations below $200 than any candidate in history during his 2016 campaign, and his success with those donors has continued to boost both his and the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) coffers. 

Presidents are always boons to party fundraisers. That’s proven to be true with Trump — The Washington Post reported last week that, through August, the RNC raised more than $40 million in small donations, almost 60 percent of all money raised directly. And through June, Trump had raised three-quarters of his individual contributions in donations of $200 or less. 

Look to the campaigns’ latest figures on “unitemized individual contributions” to see if Trump continues his success amid high-profile clashes with Democrats and even his own party. 

Can the DNC make a dent in RNC’s cash advantage?

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has repeatedly lagged in fundraising behind to its GOP counterpart, fueling internal frustration that Democrats can’t turn anti-Trump fervor into cash.

In August, the RNC outpaced the DNC by almost $3 million, raising $7.3 million compared with the DNC’s $4.4 million. At the end of that month, the DNC had $6.8 million cash on hand and was $4 million in debt. It’s a stark difference from the RNC’s eye-popping $45.9 million in the bank.

The DNC and RNC are required to file fundraising reports on a monthly basis. But national Democrats’ figures from September could reveal if they’ve been able to make up more ground on Republicans and quell the party’s frustrations.

Can fundraising separate crowded Senate and House primary fields?

Senate Democrats have more seats to defend, but before general election season, Republicans will need to get through some potentially bruising primaries. Fundraising will be one way that candidates can distinguish themselves in a crowded field and prove they can be viable general election nominees.

In Wisconsin’s GOP primary to face Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinAmerican women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 elections Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees 10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump country MORE (D), Marine Corps veteran and businessman Kevin Nicholson has the backing of the conservative Club for Growth and GOP mega-donor Richard Uihlein, who has donated to a super PAC supporting him. State Sen. Leah Vukmir has her own wealthy backer, with billionaire Diane Hendricks as her finance co-chairwoman.

In Montana, state auditor Matt Rosendale is seen as a top GOP candidate, but businessman and veteran Troy Downing can afford to self-fund.

Hyper-competitive Senate GOP primaries in Indiana and West Virginia will also be worth watching to see who has the fundraising edge.

For House primaries, the fields are still taking shape on both sides. But there are races cropping up across the country that have more than half a dozen candidates. Strong fundraising quarters could set those candidates apart early.