Republican worries that the party lacks a standout candidate in Pennsylvania’s critical U.S. Senate race may only intensify after the latest round of campaign fund-raising reports filed Thursday.
None of the Republican hopefuls in the nationally watched contest cracked $600,000 in donations for the quarter that ended June 30. And the two GOP contenders who have received the most attention, Jeff Bartos and Sean Parnell, were outdone by the far lesser-known Kathy Barnette.
By comparison, three Democrats either in the race or likely to join were near or above the $1 million mark, led by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s $2.5 million haul. With some Republicans jittery about the strength of their field, the modest GOP showings could send a welcoming signal to potential candidates still considering a run.
Money is only one factor in a campaign, but it’s a significant one in a sprawling, politically competitive state with numerous media markets — including Philadelphia, one of the country’s most expensive. The Pennsylvania contest is expected to attract massive spending as one of a handful that will decide which party controls the Senate, and with it the fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda after 2022.
The primary is months away, but political insiders use fund-raising as an early gauge of enthusiasm for candidates. Here’s what we learned from the reports covering April, May, and June.
Bartos and Parnell have been seen as the top GOP candidates as Republicans try to keep the seat held by Sen. Pat Toomey, who isn’t seeking reelection.
But Montgomery County’s Barnette, whose previous campaign experience was a long-shot and unsuccessful congressional run last year, drew more support from donors than either of them. The author, vocal Trump supporter, and occasional Fox News guest raised $595,000, a relative surprise that could win her more attention.
Bartos, a Montgomery County real estate developer who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, made up for that by putting in $440,000 of his own money, allowing him to report about $1 million in receipts. But only $557,000 came from other individuals.
Money spends the same no matter where it comes from, and Bartos had $1.85 million on hand, by far the most in the GOP field. But for such a vital race, it’s a warning sign that he and other Republicans haven’t generated more financial support.
Parnell, a former Army Ranger who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year in Western Pennsylvania, couldn’t translate his campaign launch into big money. He took in $561,000, though he had less time to accumulate it after joining the race May 11. The $597,000 in his account is less than a third of what Bartos reported.
Barnette had less cash on hand, $476,000, than Parnell or Bartos, after spending a third of what she raised. She spent heavily on fund-raising consultants, digital advertising, and donations to Republican county parties and other GOP groups — a sign of a candidate trying to build her campaign and ties to the establishment.
Carla Sands, Trump’s former ambassador to Denmark and a recently declared candidate, didn’t have to file a report because she joined the race after the quarterly deadline.
LG: Lotsa green
Fetterman’s $3.07 million in the bank gives him unrivaled financial muscle.
It also reflects how much has changed since 2016, when he ran an underdog Senate campaign that generated buzz but couldn’t match the financial power of his Democratic rivals. Now he’s seen as the early Democratic front-runner.
His cash-on-hand figure is almost five times the amount reported by his next closest declared competitor, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, though Fetterman has been in the race several months longer.
Fetterman raised $2.5 million in the quarter, spending about $1.4 million. A significant amount is going to staff and consulting, money his campaign says will help him build a robust operation that can go the distance.
Roughly 70% of Fetterman’s second-quarter money — $1.8 million — came from donors who contributed less than $200. That means he can keep going back to those supporters for more before they hit federal donation limits, the same strategy that made Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) a small-dollar juggernaut in his presidential campaigns.
Arkoosh strong, Kenyatta struggles
The first report from Arkoosh established her as the clear No. 2 when it comes to financial might — though that could change if U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb joins the Democratic contest, as expected.
Arkoosh raised about $1 million and had $632,000 on hand after her first three months in the campaign. For a top-tier candidate with major backing, but who has never run statewide, party insiders saw that as a solid but not overwhelming start. It’s almost exactly the same as Democrats’ 2016 nominee, Katie McGinty, raised in her first quarter.
But Arkoosh, like McGinty then, also has the support of EMILY’s List, a Democratic women’s group that can spend heavily to aid its chosen candidates.
Another Democrat, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia, continues to lag far behind his main rivals. He raised about $500,000, an improvement over his first quarter, but spent most of what he raised. He had $281,821 on hand, only $65,000 more than at the end of March.
For a charismatic candidate who receives significant media attention, the modest money is a red flag for his prospects.
Waiting for Conor Lamb — and Sharif Street?
Lamb, an Allegheny County Democrat who won a nationally watched special election in 2018, would enter the race with the second-biggest war chest. He had $1.77 million on hand and raised $978,000 in the quarter.
But about 95% of the money he raised came from those who gave more than $200, and many have already given the maximum allowed, meaning Lamb can’t go back to those top donors for more.
(Arkoosh could face a similar challenge: 97% of her haul came from donors giving $200 or more.)
State Sen. Sharif Street, who is also exploring a run, raised $245,000 and had $190,500 in the bank. Those numbers are well behind the field, and leave him trailing Kenyatta, a fellow North Philadelphian.
Vulnerable House incumbents gear up
One Democrat who geared up for a Senate run and passed was left with a huge campaign fund. U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan had a whopping $3.9 million on hand for her reelection campaign, more than even Fetterman has amassed. Her Chester County-based 6th District leans Democratic, but if it gets more conservative in redistricting and Republicans have the momentum that usually propels the party out of power, Houlahan could have a fight.
One Republican challenger, Steve Fanelli, seeded his campaign with $645,000 of his own money, signaling he’s willing to spend.
Several other incumbents in battleground districts also raised big money, sending warnings to potential challengers. U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County Republican, raised $1.1 million and had $1.3 million on hand. U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, a South Jersey Democrat, raised $830,000 and had about $2 million in the bank.
In Pennsylvania’s competitive Lehigh Valley-based 7th District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Susan Wild raised $603,000 and had $962,000 on hand. Wild’s GOP challenger, Lisa Scheller, raised $224,00 and had $795,000 on hand ($500,000 of which came from her own pocket).
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a South Jersey Republican, raised less than other potentially vulnerable incumbents — about $412,000, leaving him with $609,000 on hand. Even so, he appears as politically strong as ever, with his district’s politics shifting rightward.
Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this article.