WASHINGTON — It’s no secret that money isn’t everything when it comes to political campaigns. In this year’s midterms, at least a couple dozen candidates in competitive races were outspent but still beat their better-funded opponents.
That was clear in filings with the Federal Election Commission that were submitted by midnight on Thursday. The reports covered from Oct. 20 through Election Day on Nov. 8, plus a post-election period through Nov. 28.
They showed that numerous wealthy candidates who pumped millions of their own dollars into campaigns still lost. At the same time, some candidates also came up short after attracting millions of dollars in support from donors.
Candidate money only tells part of the story, and in some cases, outside groups such as super PACs — which don’t face contribution limits the way campaigns do — carried candidates that didn’t raise much by footing the bill for pricey TV advertising. The House GOP super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund, boosted several Republican House candidates in New York who ultimately won, such as Mike Lawler.
Lawler, whose campaign disclosed spending $1.3 million in New York’s 17th District, prevailed against Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who led his party’s campaign arm this cycle. Maloney’s campaign, by contrast, spent more than $6.3 million, FEC filings show. CLF and the National Republican Congressional Committee invested more than $8.8 million against Maloney, disclosures showed.
Lawler wasn’t the only New York Republican to beat a better-funded Democrat. Brandon Williams, whose campaign spent less than $1 million, beat Democrat Francis Conole, whose campaign spent nearly $3 million, according to FEC records. Ditto for Republican George Santos, who won in New York’s 3rd District despite being outspent by about $100,000.
Oregon House races offered another cluster of winning candidates who were outspent, including in the state’s three most competitive races. Democrat Val Hoyle in the 4th District, Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the 5th District and Democrat Andrea Salinas in the 6th District all won despite being outspent.
Others who won while being outspent included Alaska Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, who beat the state’s former governor and one-time GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, as well as Republican Nick Begich.
Neither incumbency nor a big stash of campaign cash were enough for some of the most vulnerable members to win reelection, including Iowa Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne, who lost to Republican Zach Nunn, despite her major cash advantage. Axne’s campaign spent $7.3 million to Nunn’s $2.4 million.
The same was true for Virginia Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, whose campaign spent $10.7 million. Luria lost to Republican Jen Kiggans, whose campaign spent $3.3 million, according to FEC disclosures. New Jersey Republican Tom Kean Jr. beat Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowksi in the 7th District, even as the incumbent spent $9.1 million to Kean’s $4.4 million.
Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell, whose campaign spent $4.3 million, lost to Democrat Gabe Vasquez, whose campaign spent $3.6 million, in New Mexico’s 2nd District.
Partisan tilt tough to overcome
In Senate races, the disclosures show Democrats who won the key battleground races that kept the chamber under the party’s control all raised and spent more than their opponents.
But there were also races where oodles of money raised by Democrats couldn’t overcome a state’s partisan tilt. Republican Marco Rubio easily beat Democrat Val Demings, even as Demings’ campaign spent just shy of $80 million to Rubio’s $48.1 million.
Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson’s campaign spent $33.3 million and beat Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes, whose campaign spent $39.8 million.
The pattern also played out in two high-profile open seat races. Republican J.D. Vance beat Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio, despite Ryan’s $55.5 million in campaign spending compared with Vance’s $14.5 million. Republican Ted Budd’s campaign spent $14.7 million compared with Democrat Cheri Beasley’s $38 million in North Carolina’s race, which Budd won.
Beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine, who largely funded her Missouri Senate campaign spending of nearly $17 million, still lost to Republican Eric Schmitt, the state attorney general, whose campaign spent $5.5 million.
These self-funders came up short
Busch Valentine loaned her campaign $16.4 million, including $6 million between Oct. 20 and Oct. 31, and lost by 13 percentage points.
All told, losing candidates in competitive races loaned more than $74 million of their own money to their campaigns, with Pennsylvania Republicans topping the list for both the House and Senate.
Pennsylvania Senate hopeful Mehmet Oz loaned his campaign $26.8 million, including $4 million between Oct. 20 and 24, days before his 5-point loss to Democratic Sen.-elect John Fetterman.
On the House side, Republican business owner Lisa Scheller was the top self-funding candidate to lose. She dipped into her own wealth for more than $3.2 million for her bid to unseat Rep. Susan Wild in Pennsylvania’s 7th District. Scheller’s self-funding included $1.2 million in loans in the campaign’s final days.
Other top self-funders to lose House seats were Republican Brian Maryott, who put $2.9 million of his own money into an unsuccessful effort to oust Democratic Rep. Mike Levin in California’s 49th District; New Jersey Republican Robert Healy Jr., who loaned $2.8 million to his campaign against Democratic Rep. Andy Kim, and Oregon Republican Mike Erickson, who put $2.7 million of his own into a bid for the new 6th District seat won by Democrat Salinas.
Democrat Adam Frisch, whose apparent 554-vote loss — out of 327,000 votes cast — to Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert is still the subject of a mandatory recount in Colorado’s 3rd District, loaned his campaign more than $2.2 million during the cycle. He had plenty of cash at the end of the race, in fact, and reported repaying $715,000 back to himself on Nov. 19 and had another $538,000 on hand on Nov. 28.
Of course, not every self-funder lost. Vance, the senator-elect from Ohio, put $1.4 million of his own money into the race, for example.
And Maryland Rep. David Trone, owner of the chain of Total Wine stores, put $12.6 million of his own into a race against Republican Neil Parrott who raised just over $1 million. Trone won by 9 points.