Out-of-state cash in hot races does little to help Dems

Pennsylvania's Senate race between incumbent Pat Toomey (R) and Democrat Katie McGinty set a new record for spending and drew a gusher of out-of-state money. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)


Given that control of both houses of Congress was in play in last week's election, it seemed that an unusual number of races received national attention.

Often that attention drew contributions from well beyond the borders of a candidate's home state. As it turned out, though, more far-flung donations did not necessarily make a winner.

In the majority of 31 battleground races the Center for Responsive Politics identified, Democrats had a larger share of their funds come in from out-of-state donors than Republicans did. (The 31 races include 24 "hot" races and seven other late-breaking contests.) In the end, though, the Dems were largely unsuccessful on Election Night, taking just 10 of these seats.

Out-of-state money did help candidates pad their campaign accounts, though: Those who brought in a higher percentage of out-of-state contributions usually outraised their opponents. (Our analysis is based only on contributions of more than $200, since identifying information about donors of smaller sums is not disclosed.)

The two highest out-of-state contribution rates came in Senate races where Democrats, desperate to win the majority, fought to flip GOP-held seats. While Gov. Maggie Hassan (N.H.) won and former Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) lost, both amassed almost 84 percent of their contributions from donors living outside their states' borders.

On a nationwide level, OpenSecrets Blog has reported on the enduring value of incumbency: 97 percent of incumbent House candidates and 90 percent of incumbent Senate candidates won re-election this year. Collecting more money than your opponent also helps, as the highest-raising candidates were victorious in their races 94 percent of the time in the House and 96 percent of the time in the Senate.

Both of these trends were borne out in the battleground races, though at far lower rates. Incumbents in these especially competitive contests still won re-election in almost 60.9 percent of races in which they ran.

The candidate with the highest fundraising total was victorious in 16 of the 31 races -- a big step down from the Congress-wide rates, but keep in mind that many of these fierce battles brought a funding arms race.

Democrats, playing catch-up in both chambers, enjoyed higher percentages of out-of-state funding in 20 of the 31 races, while nonlocal donors favored the GOP in only 9 of the contests. But they won just one-third of those seats, dropping crucial Senate contests in which they'd led earlier in the year - the Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Indiana Senate races foremost among them.

Win or lose, the congressional contests helped escalate the cost of the 2016 election. Outside and candidate spending combined (and adjusted for inflation) produced four of the 10 most expensive races in congressional history - the fights for the New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida and Pennsylvania Senate seats. All major party candidates in those face-offs received the majority of their over-$200 contributions from out of state donors, with the exception of Democrat Patrick Murphy in Florida and Republican Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.

Ultimately, as Democrats across the country chased a wave election, their lead in out-of-state contribution rates and subsequent failure to win those battleground contests may be further proof of the axiom that all politics is local.

Here's a list of the races we looked at:
  • House: California's 10th, 25th and 49th Districts Colorado's 6th District Florida's 7th, 13th, 18th and 26th Districts Illinois's 10th District Maine's 2nd District Minnesota's 2nd District Nebraska's 2nd District Nevada's 3rd and 4th Districts New Hampshire's 1st District New Jersey's 5th District New York's 1st, 19th and 22nd Districts Pennsylvania's 8th District Texas's 23rd District Virginia's 10th District
  • Senate: Florida Illinois Indiana Missouri North Carolina New Hampshire Nevada Pennsylvania Wisconsin
Research Director Sarah Bryner and Senior Researcher Doug Weber contributed to this post.