In the race for campaign cash, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock has been losing.
Year-end fundraising reports due to the Federal Election Commission Wednesday revealed that McClintock, who represents communities from Roseville to King’s Canyon, was outraised by two upstart Democratic challengers – former MIT Professor Regina Bateson and former U.S. Agency for International Development staff member Jessica Morse. Morse raised $291,000 and Bateson raised $260,000, just surpassing McClintock’s $216,000. Both Democrats are first-time candidates.
It’s the second quarter in a row the two Democrats have posted six-figure fundraising hauls – particularly eye-popping given how little past Democratic campaigns in the district have raised.
Morse ended 2017 with more money in the bank than McClintock – $489,000 to $462,000. Bateson reported $276,000 in cash at year end. A third Democrat, Roza Calderon, also is challenging McClintock.
The donor energy – largely from small-dollar contributors – has Democrats feeling increasingly optimistic about their chances of knocking off the five-term congressman in what has traditionally been a safe Republican district. McClintock won reelection in 2016 by 26 percentage points. District voters also backed Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, albeit by a smaller 16-point margin. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 44 percent to 29 percent.
Bateson tweeted Wednesday that her fundraising haul, “raised at grassroots gatherings and house parties,” shows that “McClintock is vulnerable and WE CAN BEAT HIM!” Local activists have already formed an organization, Sierra Forward, to support a liberal challenge to McClintock. Many of them were involved in organizing angry protests of the congressman last winter during the fight over repealing Obamacare (McClintock voted for the House bill to overhaul the healthcare law, which stalled in the Senate).
National Democrats have also signaled growing confidence about the race’s competitiveness, adding the 4th District to its list of targeted races this past fall. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been bashing McClintock, along with other California Republicans in Congress, for supporting Trump priorities like the new tax law and offshore drilling that they argue hurt the state’s residents.
Political handicappers, however, continue to rate McClintock’s seat as a “safe” one for Republicans. And GOP strategists aren’t panicking, despite the surge in Democratic interest. “Democrats can’t simply wish a seat into play,” NRCC spokesman Jack Pandol said. “This district leans strongly Republican, and Tom McClintock just voted for a tax reform package that is growing more popular by the day as voters begin to see more money in their paychecks.”
Another thing that could help McClintock hold onto his seat: a combative and potentially expensive primary between well-funded Democrats.