Politics & Government

A Democrat outraised Tom McClintock more than two-to-one. Does it matter for 2020?

Congressman Tom McClintock speaks to GOP’s loss of House

Congressman Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, speaks to the GOP’s loss of House at his election night party, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Roseville.
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Congressman Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, speaks to the GOP’s loss of House at his election night party, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Roseville.

Democrat Brynne Kennedy outraised Republican Rep. Tom McClintock more than two-to-one over the last three months, new fundraising reports show.

But after being outraised by a similar margin in 2018 — and still winning by 8 percent — it’s not clear that McClintock’s sluggish fundraising is a sign of real vulnerability in California’s 4th district, the most Republican congressional district in the state.

Republicans have a 12.5 percent registration advantage in the district, which stretches from Lake Tahoe all the way down to Fresno County. It includes the Sacramento suburbs of Roseville and Placerville.

“The makeup in the electorate in the 4th District just means that any Democratic candidate, no matter how much money she raises, is going to have an incredibly steep mountain to climb,” said Darry Sragow, publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which tracks political data.

In 2018, Democrat Jessica Morse raised $3.8 million for her campaign compared to McClintock’s $1.8 million. McClintock won his race with 54 percent percent of the vote to Morse’s 46 percent, although it was his lowest margin of victory in a decade.

Kennedy, an entrepreneur who recently moved from the Bay Area to Roseville, raised $391,000 since launching her campaign on April 30. McClintock, meanwhile, raised $173,000 between April 1 and June 30, boosted by $21,000 from a joint fundraising committee formed by fellow California Republican Kevin McCarthy for GOP House members.

Another Democratic challenger, Placerville Union School Board of Education member and local businessman Sean Frame, raised $77,000 in the same time period.

At a forum in Auburn on Friday, Kennedy argued that outraising McClintock “means we can win.”

“That means we can get our message out. That means that not only can we turn out people to vote, we can persuade people to vote for us, to join our Democratic party, our values, our movement,” she told the crowd.

But Kennedy also faces pushback from local Democratic activists who complain that she’s a recent transplant to the district. They have seized on old social media posts she wrote criticizing labor unions and worker strikes while living in England.

Nearly two dozen local Democratic leaders have signed onto an open letter denouncing Kennedy’s “anti-labor comments” and “pro-authoritarian stances,” and called for other Democrats to “withhold support for her campaign.”

Kennedy issued a statement last week apologizing for her “insensitive, immature and sarcastic social media posts from nearly a decade ago.”

“Those old posts do not remotely reflect my view of organized labor, working people or the world in the years since,” she said.

The Frame campaign says it had no role in publicizing Kennedy’s posts, and even asked others not to distribute them. But since they became public, Frame has made a point of emphasizing his union ties.

“Labor is at the center of the Democratic party. And it’s something I’ve known my whole life,” Frame said during his opening remarks at the Indivisible Auburn Forum. He’s also campaigning on his deep connections to the local community.

In a statement on his fundraising, Frame’s campaign said, “Our grassroots campaign is powered by the people and we are proud that the overwhelming majority of our donations are both local and small-dollar.”

But more than money, Frame argued at Friday’s forum that Democrats can win in the district by ”talking about issues in the way that they matter to everyone, not in ideological terms.”

The challenge for Democrats, however, is that “there’s just not that much crossover voting anymore,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan elections newsletter from the University of Virginia Center for Politics. In other words, voters who support President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket are highly unlikely to support a Democrat running for Congress on the same ballot.

And in a district like McClintock’s, which is predominantly older and white, it’s not clear the Democratic Party’s candidate will get much of a turnout bump in the 2020 presidential year compared to 2018.

Historically, young people and minority voters turn out to vote in larger numbers in presidential elections, while skipping midterms. And those voters lean Democrat, giving the party what tends to be an extra edge in presidential election years. But 2018 saw exceptional midterm turnout for Democrats, as they sought to put a check on President Donald Trump.

Sragow said that it’s telling that the 4th District was not one of the seven Republican-held congressional seats that Democrats won as part of the 2018 “blue wave.”

“There is a reason we did not pick it up and that is, it is an incredibly Republican district,” he said.

Kondik agreed. While it’s never a good thing for an incumbent to be outraised, he said, “you’d still expect the Republican to have an advantage in a district like this.”

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and policy for McClatchy’s California readers. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.
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