Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, senior elections analyst): Money makes the campaign world go round — and last weekend, we got our first glimpse at the money race so far in the 2024 cycle. April 15 was the deadline for federal candidates to report their fundraising activity for the first quarter of 2023 (January through March), and some candidates got off to a blistering start, while others disappointed. So for this week’s politics chat, FiveThirtyEight’s most perspicacious political minds are going to tell us what they found most interesting in the Q1 fundraising reports — and what the numbers tell us about 2024. Ready, guys?
alex (Alex Samuels, politics reporter): Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!
geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, senior elections analyst): I’ve made spreadsheets of fundraising data, so I must be ready to go.
maya (Maya Sweedler, editor): I have a spreadsheet that’s less fancy than Geoff’s, so I too am ready to go.
nrakich: First up: the GOP presidential primary. Many expected contenders (*cough* Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis *cough*) aren’t yet officially in the race, so they didn’t have to file a report, but among the declared candidates, former President Donald Trump raised $14.4 million, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy raised $11.4 million ($10.3 million of which was self-funded) and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley raised $5.1 million for her main committee. What did you guys make of these numbers?
alex: We’d be remiss if we didn’t start with Haley’s muddled math, right? 😉 Or should we start with Trump, considering he raised the most?
geoffrey.skelley: Let’s start with Trump. He’s the front-runner, and the fact that he raised the most is in keeping with that. But as a point of comparison, Trump raised around $30 million in the first quarter of 2019 when he was seeking reelection. Maybe that’s not terribly shocking — with multiple contenders this time around, Trump isn’t the only place for GOP donors to put their money.
It’s also worth pointing out, before we get to Haley, that tracking the exact amount a candidate raised is a bit more complicated than simply what their campaign committee raised. For instance, Trump has relied a great deal on his joint fundraising committee (most of what his campaign committee raised this quarter came from that, actually). And with super PACs out there potentially aiding a candidate — even if super PACs aren’t technically allowed to coordinate with campaigns — fundraising numbers are murkier than ever.
alex: Definitely not surprised Trump raised the most money so far, Geoffrey. And this shouldn’t come as a shock to our readers, but Trump’s filings seem to suggest that the indictment helped him both politically — and financially. It’s worth noting, though, that the amount he reported only captures the start of what the campaign said was a fundraising surge that has likely continued into the second quarter. The actual indictment came a day before the first quarter ended, so depending on how long that fundraising boom lasted, it might have elevated Trump’s fundraising power to another level.
geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, the campaign said it raised $15.4 million in the two weeks after charges were filed. Now, we have to be careful with how campaigns report their own fundraising numbers — Haley is Exhibit A — but that’s a big number that we will get better certainty about at the end of the second quarter.
nrakich: Yeah, let’s talk about Haley, Geoffrey. Her campaign initially announced that she had raised $11 million in her first six weeks as a candidate. But that’s not what the fundraising reports showed, right?
geoffrey.skelley: No. All told, her campaign committee, joint fundraising committee and leadership committee raised $8.3 million. Essentially, her campaign double-counted transfers from her joint committee to the campaign and leadership committees to get to that $11 million figure. This will, of course, make reporters skeptical of anything her campaign says about its fundraising going forward (before we have the actual reports), but we should note this isn’t original behavior. In fact, some reports about Trump’s haul in the last quarter of 2022 showed he’d brought in $9.5 million, but that actually included double-counted funds from his joint committee, too, as he actually raised around $5 million.
alex: And there’s an obvious incentive for campaigns to present their filings in the most favorable light (even if it involves inflating those totals to the press): Fundraising is a measure of enthusiasm, and quarterly totals especially are closely watched as a metric of campaign strength.
maya: The funny thing is, based off these figures, I don’t think there’s any reason to suspect Haley can’t fundraise (though the ethics of this math … more questionable). I didn’t find the real number particularly bad for her, considering she only formally declared in mid-February, halfway through the quarter.
I took a quick look through her state filings from South Carolina, where she won three state House races and two gubernatorial races, and what I saw gave me no reason to suspect she’s going to struggle with raising money. She tallied almost $1 million in her first run for governor in 2010 and raised over $8 million for her reelection campaign. By comparison, her successor, Gov. Henry McMaster — who was technically an incumbent, having taken office after Haley resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. — raised about $4.4 million in a fairly competitive race that saw the Republican primary go to a runoff.
geoffrey.skelley: I think it’s about getting that double-digit figure, Maya. They wanted something splashy, and $11 million sounds better than $8-ish million. If you read the media reports surrounding the initial report of $11 million, they’re filled with glowing comments from campaign watchers and consultants who say the figure suggests she’s a really serious contender.
maya: For sure. Getting that topline number — though incorrect — out there as early as she did was quite smart.
nrakich: Did any other candidates post noteworthy totals in the presidential race?
alex: Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who launched an exploratory committee last week, had even more money in his Senate campaign account at the end of last year — $21.8 million — than Trump ended the quarter with. And Scott could transfer all of that to his presidential campaign account if he decides to officially run.
maya: Yeah, I was also pretty struck by that cash-on-hand figure, Alex!
There’s been coverage of Scott’s relationships with deep-pocketed donors for quite some time.
alex: Right! He’s always been a fundraising powerhouse!
geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, Alex, if you add in his Senate campaign committee, Scott would have more cash on hand than any of his potential presidential opponents. That gives him a nice base with which to start hiring and putting together a campaign apparatus. Given his ample fundraising for an uncompetitive Senate race in 2022, it’s almost like he’s been thinking about running for president for a while! 🙂
Moreover, the super PAC aligned with him, Opportunity Matters Fund, had about $16 million across a pair of committees at the end of 2022, so he could have a ton of money backing him if he becomes a full-on candidate.
maya: Larry Ellison is getting a really thoughtful thank-you note for that, I’m sure.
nrakich: OK, now let’s talk about the really interesting fundraising reports — those filed by wannabe U.S. senators! Our friends at National Journal Hotline had a good roundup of how much each Senate candidate raised. What were your biggest takeaways?
maya: Don’t turn on a television in California between February and November 2024. That state is going to be blanketed in ads.
With longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein retiring and two fundraising powerhouses in Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter vying to replace her, the Senate race is going to be so expensive. Already, the race’s candidates have reported over $20 million in total receipts!
alex: I’ve been keeping an eye on Arizona, where it looks like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema could be in trouble. Her leading opponent, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, outraised the independent incumbent $3.8 million to $2.1 million. Of course, Sinema hasn’t yet formally declared her intention to seek a second term, but she definitely has the resources if she chooses to go that route. According to Federal Election Commission filings, she ended March with nearly $10 million cash on hand to Gallego’s $2.7 million.
geoffrey.skelley: Sinema’s number suggests to me that she is indeed going to run for reelection. That race is going to be a mess, but history suggests it’s going to take something special for her to win as an independent if she’s running against both a Democrat and a Republican. And it looks like that’s the challenge she will face in 2024: On top of Gallego, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, a Republican, recently announced he’s running.
In the race for Senate control, though, arguably the most important contests are the Democratic-held seats in three Republican-leaning states: Montana, Ohio and West Virginia. And two of the Democratic incumbents in those races had sizable fundraising hauls. Montana Sen. Jon Tester raised $5 million, while Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown brought in $3.6 million.
In Montana, no notable Republican has yet declared against Tester, but of the state’s two GOP representatives, Rep. Matt Rosendale raised only $127,000 — not exactly a number that shouts “I’m running for Senate.” Despite that pedestrian figure, Politico reported yesterday that sources close to Rosendale had divulged that the representative has said privately that he plans to run. Rosendale’s counterpart, Rep. Ryan Zinke, raised $571,000, a number more in line with statewide ambitions, so he may also be eyeing a race against Tester.
alex: Meanwhile, Geoffrey, Brown’s main opponent so far, Ohio state Sen. Matt Dolan, collected $3.3 million over the same span — although most of that was a loan from himself.
geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, Dolan gave his own campaign $10.6 million in Ohio’s 2022 Senate race (when he finished third in the Republican primary), so you know he’s going to be willing to spend on his own behalf (his family owns MLB’s Cleveland Guardians). But Dolan doesn’t have the primary to himself anymore: Businessman Bernie Moreno just announced he’s in, and there are many rumored candidates as well.
Finally, in West Virginia, Rep. Alex Mooney has already declared he’s running for Senate, and he actually outraised incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, $505,000 to $371,000. That may raise some eyebrows — does it suggest Manchin isn’t going to seek reelection? His haul wasn’t tiny, by any means, but it’s also not nearly on the level of many prior quarters for him — he raised more than $8 million across the 2022 election cycle, for instance. Still, Manchin has $9.7 million in the bank, so he does have plenty of money. But his slowdown is certainly cause for wonder.
To be clear, I think Manchin is an underdog if he does seek reelection, but the Democrats’ chances of holding onto West Virginia go from slim to zip, nil, nada if he doesn’t run again. West Virginia, after all, is basically competing with Wyoming for the title of “Reddest State in the County.”
nrakich: Yeah, I’m not sure if Manchin is going to run again, but I don’t think this quarter changed my expectations much. He has so much money socked away that he can afford to take a quarter off fundraising while he decides what he’s gonna do.
I am on retirement watch for a couple other senators, though. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney raised just $112,000, and unlike Manchin, he doesn’t have much cash on hand — only $604,000.
geoffrey.skelley: Romney’s filed for reelection, but his campaign has not clarified if he really will run again. He could face a serious primary challenge, too, as the conservative wing of the GOP in Utah dislikes him, and Romney’s votes to convict Trump in both of his impeachment trials could give him trouble in a GOP primary.
nrakich: And it’s not exactly the sexiest race, but keep an eye on Maryland, where 79-year-old incumbent Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin raised just $15,000. If he decides to retire, there are a bunch of ambitious Maryland Democrats who could make that a super contentious primary.
geoffrey.skelley: Cardin seems like a pretty obvious retirement-in-waiting. That could change, but such a small number is pretty telling.
maya: Maryland’s House members — who would presumably be first in line for an open Senate seat — don’t seem to be a particularly deep-pocketed group, though. Only Rep. Jamie Raskin, who came to national attention during Trump’s second impeachment trial, finished the quarter with more than $1 million on hand.
nrakich: All right, let’s finish up on the House. Obviously, there are 435 races here and we don’t have time to talk about them all, but is there anything that jumped out at you from the House fundraising reports?
geoffrey.skelley: 🥁 George Santos news incoming …
maya: To steal an adjective from every single politics reporter ever, embattled Rep. George Santos isn’t off to a great start in his recently announced reelection bid. The Long Island representative spent more money on reimbursements this quarter than he brought in, and he has less than $32,000 on hand.
alex: I thought the Santos numbers were particularly striking because, by contrast, another first-term congressman who represents a neighboring district, Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, raised nearly $674,000 (including $300,000 from political action committees and other lawmakers) and now has more than $590,000 in his coffers.
nrakich: Yeah, it’s hard to imagine who would donate to Santos after he was caught in so many untruths over the winter — including those about whether he spent money the way he said he was going to spend it! I think the only way he even makes it out of the primary is if there’s such a crowded field that the anti-Santos vote is split six ways to Sunday.
geoffrey.skelley: A net negative fundraising quarter is something to behold for a guy who says he’s running for reelection. A campaign-finance unicorn.
maya: It also seems like he can’t count on much party support. There are six New York-based House districts the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has listed on its “districts in play” for 2024. Four of the Republicans in those seats already received $10,000 from their party committee this year. The two folks from “districts in play” left off are Rep. Nick LaLota (who doesn’t yet have a declared challenger) and … Santos.
geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, Maya, this is true for local Republicans, too: The Nassau County GOP has made it clear that it’s opposed to Santos remaining in office.
maya: Other controversial representatives have been able to persuade the party to give them money. Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, who had a super close call against Democrat Adam Frisch (who is back for a rematch) last year, got $5,000 from her party’s committee. But Frisch still ended with about a quarter million more cash on hand — so that’s another DCCC “district in play” that’ll have a potentially competitive race.
geoffrey.skelley: With the candidate fields still very much in flux, we don’t have a ton to say about other seats we expect to be competitive. But we have seen some activity in a handful of open-seat races, like in California.
maya: Fundraising there has already picked up. If you look at the House races where non-incumbents are raising the most money, three of the top five are in the Golden State.
It’s no surprise to see Porter and Schiff’s Southern California districts — the 47th and 30th, respectively — right up there at the top. Porter’s in a purple Orange County-based seat, so there are well-funded hopefuls on both sides of the aisle. Her 2022 Republican challenger, Scott Baugh, raised over half a million dollars, the most among active candidates. Schiff’s L.A.-based district, meanwhile, is safely blue: Of the seven Democratic hopefuls who made first-quarter filings, four reported raising more than $250,000.
nrakich: Interestingly, one of the three who didn’t raise more than $250,000 was child actor Ben Savage, who got a lot of headlines when he entered the race but raised just $102,000 in the first quarter.
maya: Boy meets real world: It’s hard to raise money!
At least he’s already got a campaign slogan?