Political Insider

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Ga. lawmakers stockpile cash in anticipation of tough midterm climate


Some of Georgia’s GOP members of Congress stepped up their campaign fundraising during the first three months of the year, stockpiling cash as party leaders warn about a tough political climate in the upcoming midterm elections. 

U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, who won the most expensive House race of all time last year, raised $375,000 between Jan. 1 and the end of March, according to new federal campaign finance reports. That’s a personal best for the 2018 cycle and a more than 43 percent increase from the money her campaign pulled in during the final months of 2017. 

She kicked off April with a formidable $792,000 in the bank.

Meanwhile, the campaign of U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, ended the first quarter with $472,000 on hand. Unlike Handel, he faces a primary challenger next month and may need to spend some of his money earlier. 

Woodall brought in roughly the same amount of money in the first quarter as he did in the final months of 2017, about $155,000, but he was outraised by Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux. 

Georgia’s 6th and 7th congressional districts are being targeted by Democrats this fall as the party searches for a path to retake control of the House. 

Midterm elections have historically been tough for the party in control of Congress and the White House, and there is real anxiety within the GOP about defending the party’s majority on Capitol Hill amid sustained political energy on the left. The leader of the National Republican Campaign Committee, the party’s House campaign arm, reportedly met individually with the nearly four-dozen Republican incumbents who were outraised by Democrats in late 2017 to convince them to beef up their fundraising. 

Despite this year’s political tides, incumbents traditionally have major built-in advantages over their challengers, and fundraising is not the only factor that helps determine the winner of elections. 

6th District 

Fundraising was not a problem for Handel in the north Atlanta suburbs, where she easily bested her four Democratic opponents. 

“I remain honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve the citizens of the 6th District in Congress and am grateful that so many people continue to show their tangible support for my re-election with their contributions, volunteer efforts, and kind messages of support and prayer,” she said. 

As is the case with most congressional incumbents, a sizable chunk of Handel’s donations came from political action committees, or interest groups that pool their resources to support various causes or candidates. Like Woodall, about half of the money she raised in early 2018 came from PACs. 

Former TV news anchor Bobby Kaple led the Democratic field in fundraising. He took in $192,000 in the first months of 2018 and also loaned himself another $110,000 for his run. Kaple, who has rolled out a slate of endorsements recently and sought to frame himself as the consensus Democratic candidate, said his fundraising haul showed that his health care-focused message “is resonating across the district.”

Businessman Kevin Abel attracted more than $156,000 in new campaign donations, and he also reached into his own pocket to finance $100,000 worth of loans.

One of the most closely watched challengers of the cycle, Democrat Lucy McBath, raised a far smaller amount in her first campaign finance report: $42,000. 

The gun control advocate initially planned to challenge state Rep. Sam Teasley for his statehouse seat but surprised Georgia’s political establishment when she decided to switch races at the last minute to take on Handel. An aide attributed the campaign’s relatively low fundraising total to that surprise decision in early March. The campaign had to return the more than $100,000 previously raised for McBath’s statehouse bid and had less than a month to fundraise before the filing deadline, the staffer said. 

Steven Knight Griffin, a former CDC staffer, raised $940 for his run. 

7th District 

A few miles to the east, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux proved to be the breakout fundraiser in the first 7th District filings for 2018. The Georgia State University professor brought in $219,000, besting Woodall and more than doubling the haul of the next-strongest Democratic fundraiser. 

“Our donations are coming from thousands of middle class families who are saying they have had enough” of Woodall, she said in an emailed statement. 

A Woodall campaign aide said the fourth-term lawmaker is “excited about the opportunity campaigns bring to highlight the good work that's been done and his conservative vision for the future, and the fundraising goal, as always, is to ensure he has the resources necessary to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Lawyer Ethan Pham raised $80,000 in early 2018 and loaned his campaign $10,000, ending the quarter with $140,000 on hand. 

Businessman David Kim loaned himself $120,000 to help supplement the $39,000 he brought in during that period. And the race’s three other Democratic candidates -- Kathleen Allen, Melissa Davis and Steve Reilly – all brought in less than $15,000. Ditto for Woodall’s primary challenger, former Marine Shane Hazel. 

Read more of the AJC’s coverage of local congressional races:

Georgia congressional race pulled into national gun control debate

Georgia races attract many first-generation Americans

Why Georgia Democrats are zeroing in on Atlanta’s suburbs

Congressional challengers face a difficult path in Georgia


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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.