Rep. Tom McClintock’s email to supporters on Sept. 26 sounded desperate. “The fundraising figures from this quarter will very likely determine whether this district is again targeted by Democrats,” the note read.
Over the summer, the Elk Grove Republican noted that two Democrats running for his 4th District seat, which spans the foothills including eastern Madera County, combined to outraise him nearly three-to-one.
“I cannot afford to be outraised by this kind of margin two quarters in a row,” McClintock wrote.
The pleas appear to have worked. After lagging Democrats in fundraising throughout his 2018 race and early in the 2020 election cycle, the six-term congressman more than doubled his cash haul in the latest quarter, compared to the three months prior.
He raised $333,000 for his reelection campaign between July 1 and Sept. 30, pushing his total receipts for the 2020 race to $729,000, according to campaign finance reports filed Oct. 15. McClintock had more than a half-million dollars in the bank as of Sept. 30, moving him ahead of his leading rival, Democrat Brynne Kennedy.
Kennedy, a former San Francisco-based technology entrepreneur, has made her ability to raise money a key part of her pitch to district voters looking to oust McClintock. But after raising nearly $400,000 over the spring and summer, Kennedy’s cash haul dropped to $159,000 in the third quarter. She reported having $330,000 in cash on hand at the end of September.
For McClintock, the fundraising numbers mark a major turnaround. He was consistently outraised by Democrat Jessica Morse in the 2018 race, and ended up being outspent more than two-to-one. McClintock still ended up winning the Republican-leaning 4th District by 8 percentage points, but it was his closest margin of victory this decade.
As McClintock observed in his fundraising pitch to supporters in September, his fundraising advantage — or lack thereof — will play into how much attention the national Democratic party and affiliated groups pay to the district in 2020. Morse’s eye-popping fundraising was a key reason that the party put the district, which stretches from Lake Tahoe all the way down to Fresno County, on its list of targets in 2018. It has not yet done so in 2020.
“Our goal is always to raise enough money to get Congressman McClintock’s message of secure borders, limited government, and freedom out to the voters of the 4th Congressional district,” McClintock spokesman Chris Baker said. “We’re well on our way to meeting that goal and are confident that Congressman McClintock is in a strong position heading into the 2020 election.”
Kennedy’s campaign, however, pointed out that she has now raised more than any previous McClintock challenger at this point in the campaign. And “over half of her contributors are here in the 4th District,” noted spokesman Todd Stenhouse.
This past quarter, Kennedy saw not only a “huge influx of support inside the district but a 25 percent increase in the number of contributors,” Stenhouse added.
Kennedy also enjoys an important advantage that McClintock’s challenger in 2018 did not: she will not face the same sort of bruising primary that split local Democratic activists. Fellow Democrat Sean Frame, a member of the Placerville Union School Board of Education member and local businessman, dropped out of the race in early September, leaving Kennedy with a clear path to the general election against McClintock.
That means Kennedy will be able to focus her fire — and her resources — on the GOP incumbent.
Kennedy has tried to position herself as a moderate, business-friendly Democrat. Stenhouse said she will concentrate in the coming months on “building an organization that is responsive to the needs of this district, which is really about healing and repairing the artificial divisions that McClintock has created.”
McClintock remains an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, who is historically unpopular in California. On Wednesday, he was one of just two California Republicans who voted against a House resolution rebuking the president for withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria, allowing Turkey to attack Kurdish forces there.
The 4th District, however, is the state’s most conservative, in terms of Republican voter registration. Trump won the district with 54 percent of the vote in 2016.
Emily Cadei: 202-383-6153, @emilycadei