House freshmen faring well as incumbents


A vast majority of the freshmen swept into office two years ago on an anti-incumbency tide managed to survive their first reelection as incumbents, and while some appear to have been helped by last-minute infusions of cash from outside spenders, in many cases, independent expenditures don't appear to have made much of a difference.

Of the 89 lawmakers elected for the first time in 2010, at least 76 will be returning for a second term. Three were eliminated in primary races; eight lost on Tuesday. Two freshmen are still awaiting the results of their races. 

An analysis of the most competitive races involving freshmen members of Congress found that the ability to attract outside spending was not necessarily an indicator of success at the ballot box.

Fewer than half the candidates with an edge in outside spending won their seats. The analysis looked at 26 competitive House races involving one-term representatives, where the race was rated "leaning" or "toss-up" by the Cook Political Report. Twelve candidates won their seats despite lacking an advantage in outside money—meaning money from super PACs, political non-profits, and other spending groups—whereas 11 of the winners did have an edge.

Two races have yet to be decided:

  • Voters in Louisiana will decide in December whether freshman Rep. Jeff Landry gets a second term in a redistricting matchup with fellow Republican Charles Boustany. Neither of the two incumbents, who were paired in a district merged by redistricting, got 50 percent in Tuesday's balloting, forcing a December runoff.  
  • In Florida's 18th Congressional District, fundraising phenom Allen West is running behind Democrat Patrick Murphy defeat despite attracting more than $17 million worth of donations for his own campaign. 

Given that many of the freshman represent districts where neither party has an overwhelming advantage, and that they lack the benefit of lengthy tenures, these contests provide an interesting laboratory for measuring the effectiveness of outside money.

But it appears that contributions of the more traditional variety — the kind that are given to campaign committees and strictly limited in amount — are better indicators of success than the unlimited dollars from outside interest groups. In 14 cases, the candidate who raised the most money won, compared to nine races where the fundraising champ lost. 

To see an overview of the total spending in all of this year's competitive races, and which candidates won on Nov. 6, check out our Competitive Races page on Follow the Unlimited Money.

Here's a race-by-race breakdown of how freshmen in the most competitive races fared:

California's 10th — $8,051,577 in outside cash

Republican freshman Rep. Jeff Denham handily beat Democrat Jose Hernandez, a former astronaut.

Denham held the advantage in outside support, with $4.4 million to Hernandez's $3.6 million. American Action Network, a political non-profit started by former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., put $2.5 million behind Denham; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $600,000. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee also weighed in with $2.6 million and $1.2 million to support Hernandez. 

Colorado's 6th — $6,394,772 in outside cash

Though the outside money advantage went to Democratic challenger Joe Miklosi, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman received more than twice Miklosi's total campaign contributions, which may have contributed to Coffman's six-point lead in the election. 

Florida's 18th — $6,883,901 in outside cash

After election night, Republican Rep. Allen West trails Democrat Patrick Murphy by 2500 votes, but he's refusing to concede and demanding a hand recount of some ballots. The two candidates split the $6.8 millionthat outside spenders poured into the race almost evenly. But West, a tea party favorite, far outpaced Murphy in the amount of money he was able to raise, pulling in $17.1 million to the Democrat's $3.7 million. 

Illinois's 10th — $6,337,298 in outside cash 

Republican freshman Rep. Robert Dold lost to Democratic challenger Brad Schneider, despite Dold's three-to-one outside spending advantage and his sizable lead in offical campaign contributions. Besides regular spenders like the NRCC and DCCC, the race received attention from Independence USA, a late-spending super PAC started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC linked to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the American Action Network. Both the Bloomberg and Boehner PACs supported Dold. 

Illinois's 17th — $8,842,992 in outside cash 

Despite the slight advantage for Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling, both in outside spending and campaign fundraising, Democratic challenger Cheri Bustos won the race with almost a six-point lead. The race was one of the highest grossing freshman races in terms of outside money, which broke slightly for freshman Schilling. He had a $200,000 outside money advantage over Bustos about a $300,000 edge in campaign fundraising.  

Large independent expenditures came from DCCC (for Bustos), and (for Schilling) the NRCC, and Crossroads GPS, a political non-profit started by GOP strategist Karl Rove. Together, the groups' money made up more than $6.3 million of the $8.8 million outside spending total. 

Minnesota's 8th — $9,146,428 in outside cash 

Former Rep. Rick Nolan of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor-Democratic Party denied a second term to freshman Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack. The race was a huge magnet for outside cash, drawing large expenditures from heavy-hitting groups, such as the DCCC, NRCC, American Action Network, and House Majority PAC.

All told, the race drew more than $9.1 million in outside expenditures — the second-highest total for any freshman race. Only Ohio's 16th, where freshman Rep. Jim Renacci beat a more senior Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton in an incumbent-on-incumbent race created by redistricting, drew more independent expenditures. 

Texas's 23rd — $6,476,106 in outside cash

The outside groups won out in this district. Outside groups such as the Sierra Club, the NRCC, the DCCC, and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees put $6.5 million into the race, helping Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego oust freshman Republican Rep. Francisco Canseco.