Money talks: Introducing Real-Time’s new competitive primaries page

image of Real-Time FEC campaign finance page with list of competitive primaries
Sunlight’s Real-Time FEC tracker now includes a page that tracks the most competitive primary races based on the candidates’ fundraising. Click on the image to go to the page.

When Rep. Steve Stockman made a surprise move to challenge fellow Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn in the state’s GOP primary, the outspoken conservative drew plenty of publicity. But the returns from Tuesday’s balloting in Texas — the first primary in the 2014 election cycle — showed that Stockman’s much ballyhooed campaign was, in the local parlance, all hat and no cattle.

Stockman’s trouncing by Cornyn — who bested a field of seven challengers with better than 59 percent of the vote — was forecast in the fundraising. The two-term senator outraised the two-term congressman by a margin of nearly 100 to one.

Serious campaigns raise serious cash, which is why Sunlight has created a new tool to help identify hot primary elections with one of the leading indicators we follow: campaign fundraising. The competitive primaries page (shown above) on Sunlight’s Real-Time FEC tracker shows all of the country’s races in which two or more candidates from the same party have raised a significant amount of money.

We found that there’s a distinct difference between the parties when it comes to preliminary competitions: Nearly all the Senate primaries that register as competitive in terms of fundraising are Republican. Though recent studies from the Pew Research Center point to a growing rift in the Democratic party, nine “competitive” primaries for Senate feature Republicans, while only one race features more than one Democrat with fundraising numbers in the six figures.

Our good friend and pundette par excellence, Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report, has pointed out an error in the earlier version of this story. Contrary to what we previously reported, there is one competitive Democratic Senate primary in which two candidates have more than $100,000 in cash on hand. The primary for Hawaii’s 2014 special Senate election pits former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (the chosen successor of deceased Sen. Daniel Inouye) and the man appointed to his seat, Brian Schatz in a battle between the old and new guard of the Rainbow State’s Democratic party. Year end reports show the former congresswoman had raised just over $1.6 million heading into the new year, while the fresh-faced incumbent had raked in around $3.4 million.

MORE: See Real-Time FEC’s new competitive primaries page.

While it’s unlikely we’ll see another Tea Party wave à la 2010, some populist conservatives have tapped into serious campaign dough. Chris McDaniel in Mississippi and Matt Bevin in Kentucky both have the benefit of substantial outside support from conservative groups in their efforts to upset Senate titans Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Groups backing the upstarts include Club for Growth — through its PAC and super PAC, along with FreedomWorks and Senate Conservatives Action and the Madison Project. In Mississippi, they have all combined to spend nearly a million dollars of advertising in McDaniel’s favor.

There are four other Republican primaries in which incumbents face challengers with more than $100,000 in their campaign coffers:

But, unlike Bevin and McDaniel, the challengers in these races so far have failed to capture the financial backing of well-funded national groups, giving them a much steeper hill to climb. Two candidates with Tea Party ties in South Carolina have each raised around $250,000 for their campaigns, but they will be hard pressed to keep pace with the advertising and get out the vote efforts of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., (whose campaign boasts nearly $7.7 million in cash on hand) without major financial backing from an outside spending group.

In House races, our tracker does find some competitive Democratic primaries, though there is no clear ideological strain uniting the outsiders. With a threshold of $50,000, 17 primaries feature more than one Democratic candidate, including some challengers who are outpacing incumbents in the fundraising marathon.

Exhibit A is Rohit Khanna, a Silicon Valley lawyer and former Department of Commerce employee in President Barack Obama’s administration, whose connections to the digital heartland have given him a warchest of $1.9 million — more than triple the cash on hand of his opponent, Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif.

Most House races, however, follow the familiar pattern of incumbent-led fundraising. Republican challengers are competitive in 29 House races, 10 of which have an incumbent.

The Texas results are instructive about the significance of money as an indicator of performance at the ballot box: In the one race where a challenger outraised the incumbent, former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe made it into a runoff against Rep. Ralph Hall, a one-time Democrat turned Republican who, at 90, is the oldest member of the House. Also making it into a GOP runoff in the state’s politically competitive western corner, where former Rep. Francesco “Quico” Canseco is hoping to win his old job back in the fall: former CIA agent Will Hurd. Hurd raised almost twice as much as Canseco for the campaign cycle. The two will face off in May for the chance to challenge Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Texas, this fall. In the crowded GOP primary for the House seat that Stockman is vacating, it was the two top fundraisers — Ben Streusand and Brian Babin — who made it into the runoff.

In two other barely competitive Lone Star State primaries, however, the incumbents’ advantage in fundraising proved a predictor of easy victories. Reps. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and Marc Veasey, D-Texas, easily won renominations in their parties primaries against challengers who, though better funded than most, couldn’t come close to matching the incumbents they were challenging. While Veasey’s challenger, Republican-turned-Democrat Tom Sanchez appeared to keep in step with the congressman in fundraising, that was due largely to Sanchez’ own personal fortune. The telecommunications lawyer has donated nearly $1.5 million to his own campaign.