Some Democratic Congressional Challengers Showing Early Financial Momentum

WASHINGTON — Some Democratic congressional challengers in Indiana are nipping at the financial heels of GOP House members, according to disclosure reports filed Sunday. But it’s too soon to tell if their early fundraising success is evidence of Democratic momentum in a red state.

“This has been the hurdle. We’ve seen, whether here in Indiana or elsewhere in the country, it’s looked like there’s this excitement for challenging incumbents,” said Andy Downs, a political scientist at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. “But for me, the question has always been, are these going to be real campaigns?”

The most noteworthy numbers for third quarter fundraising were put up in southcentral Indiana where both New Albany attorney Dan Canon and Bloomington attorney Liz Watson each raised more than $200,000. That’s not only more than the $127,400 raised in the past three months by freshman Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Jeffersonville. But it’s also more than the recent amounts raised by any other House candidate in the state except Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Jimtown.

And the 9th District isn’t the only one with active Democratic candidates.

In southwestern Indiana, Terre Haute attorney William Tanoos raised $80,036. That's not much behind the $99,487 raised by four-term Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh, in the third quarter. (Bucshon, though, ended September with $412,015 in the bank compared with Tanoos’ $57,486).

Even in one of the state’s most Republican districts — the Fort Wayne-based 3rd — Democrat Courtney Tritch raised three-quarters of freshman Rep. Jim Banks' $100,086.  That’s more than any Democrat in that district raised in an entire campaign cycle since 2010. (Banks, though, had $268,874 in cash at the end of the quarter compared to Tritch’s $70,044.

Downs said those early numbers by the challengers could be enough to get them to the next level of scrutiny. But it’s also possible that their support could peter out.

“If they’re not able to take it up some numbers of dollars beyond this, people will say, `You got all the money you were going to get. You just got it faster than normal,’” Downs said.

The Democrats face the major challenges of running in GOP districts that President Trump overwhelmingly carried last year, and running against incumbents who can more easily raise money.

And in the 9th District, Hollingsworth has personal wealth which allowed him to largely self-finance his last campaign. In addition, a super PAC funded by his father came to his aid, and potentially could again.

Hollingsworth is still carrying $643,363 in debt from that campaign, most of which is what’s left of the more than $3 million he loaned his campaign that has not been paid off or forgiven.

Hollingsworth's campaign fund ended September with $249,429 in cash. Watson had $169,051 and Canon reported $129,486.

Both Watson and Canon far outraised Hollingsworth in contributions from individuals in the last three months. About three-quarters ($95,150) of Hollingsworth receipts came from political action committees, which typically favor incumbents.

Watson raised $44,500 from PACs, most of which came from labor unions. Watson has the backing of Chuck Jones, the retired United Steelworkers Local 1999 president who had a public dispute with Trump over jobs at Carrier Corp.

Canon has been endorsed by Teamsters Local 89, and by Our Revolution Indy, a chapter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ activist spin-off organization,

None of the challengers to other Indiana incumbents seeking re-election have reported raising much money.

In the 4th District, where Rep. Todd Rokita is running for the Senate, the early fundraising field is dominated by former state Rep. Steve Braun. The Zionsville Republican, who led Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development until August, raised $165,125 since beginning his campaign. His contributors include some GOP heavyweights, such as former state GOP chairmen Jim Kittle and Al Hubbard, Republican National Committee member John Hammond, and former state House Speaker Paul Mannweiler.

Among the Democrats running in the GOP district, Sheryl Shipley, an Ivy Tech Community College dean, raised the most in the third quarter: $6,322.

In the 6th District, where Rep. Luke Messer is also running for the Senate, the fundraising is competitive between state Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, and Muncie businessman Jonathan Lamb. Both raised about $67,000 since August. Most of Lamb’s total was a personal loan to his campaign.

Columbus businessman Greg Pence, brother of Vice President Mike Pence, has not ruled out seeking the seat his brother once held. Greg Pence, who has been leading Messer’s Senate fundraising team, had said he wouldn’t make a decision on his own bid until after the third quarter fundraising was complete.