The fundraising reports are in and the candidates for the 24th Congressional District raised a combined $1.1 million in the second quarter of 2019.
U.S. Rep. John Katko, a three-term Republican, led the field with $521,641 in total receipts. Francis Conole was the top Democratic contender with $226,372.
Dana Balter, a Syracuse Democrat who challenged Katko in 2018, raised $190,919 in her first fundraising quarter of the 2020 election cycle. Roger Misso, the first of the Democratic candidates to enter the race, received $167,406 in contributions.
Here are five takeaways from the candidates' fundraising reports:
1. There is a lot of interest in the 24th Congressional District race. More than $1.1 million raised by four candidates when the election is over a year away. That's significant when you consider that at this point in the 2018 election cycle, one Democrat entered the race but wasn't actively raising money at that point. There weren't any second quarter fundraising reports from Democratic candidates because they didn't enter the race that early.
The ability of Democrats to raise more than a half million dollars with a primary likely is impressive. In 2018, Democrats had trouble raising money when there were multiple candidates in the field. The challenges were due, in part, to the perception of the race. After Katko's 2016 win by more than 20 points, NY-24 wasn't a top target for national Democrats in 2018. There wasn't a lot of money flowing into the district to support Democratic candidates.
What the second quarter showed is that Democrats are energized. They see this as a pickup opportunity in 2020. Each of the candidates — Dana Balter, Francis Conole and Roger Misso — reported fundraising hauls that past candidates in this Syracuse-area race didn't come close to matching.
On the Republican side, Katko had his second-best fundraising quarter in four election cycles. It's clear why he used that haul to officially announce his re-election bid. He made a statement that while Democrats may view him as vulnerable and a target for defeat in 2020, he's not going to roll over. He's proven in the past two elections that he's a tough incumbent. That reputation isn't going away.
2. Individual donors matter. An issue in the NY-24 race will be campaign finance reform. Katko supports a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which has been blamed for the greater role money has played in campaigns over the last eight-plus years.
But Katko, his potential Democratic foes note, has accepted millions in contributions from political action committees and other groups. In his most recent filing, he reported raising $309,900 from PACs and other committees.
Individual donors gave $138,693 to Katko's campaign.
Balter, Conole and Misso each raised more from individuals than Katko. Balter and Conole reported few donations from PACs or other groups. The Democratic candidates have pledged not to accept donations from corporate PACs.
This was a point mentioned during the 2018 campaign, but it will likely get more play leading up to the 2020 election. Democrats will use their acceptance of mostly individual contributions to hit Katko for his PAC-heavy financial reports.
3. Potential Democratic challengers have pockets of support. How were the candidates able to raise so much money this early in the race? The reports offer some hints.
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For Balter, she was able to tap into academia and many of the same supporters who backed her 2018 bid. Yes, there are Democrats who are donating to other candidates who supported her in the general election. But there are those, especially from the progressive wing of the party, who have been with her since late 2017 and, as the records show, continue to donate to her campaign.
Conole's central New York roots were on display in his filing. Many family members and friends contributed to his nascent campaign. He has made his longstanding ties to the community a centerpiece of his campaign. That was reflected in his first fundraising quarter.
Misso, too, tapped into his family and friends for support. But he also received several contributions from military service members located across the country. He and Conole are Navy veterans and while Conole received support from service members, Misso appeared to have more in his filing.
4. House GOP leaders really want to keep this seat. We already knew Democrats view this race as a top target. GOP leaders have shown their desire to keep the seat by naming Katko to the National Republican Congressional Committee's Patriot Program for vulnerable incumbents.
As Katko's filing shows, Republicans are doing more to help him. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's Majority Committee PAC gave $10,000. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise's Eye of the Tiger PAC contributed an additional $10,000. Scalise, through his campaign committee, chipped in $4,000.
The Take Back the House 2020 joint fundraising committee transferred more than $61,000 to Katko's campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records. Katko received $11,490 more from another joint fundraising committee, Americans United for Freedom, that was set up to help a select number of Republicans in House and Senate races.
Katko and Republicans will have the resources to compete in what could be the most expensive Syracuse-area congressional race in history.
5. Can the Democrats keep this up? This is unprecedented for this district. This is an early start to a campaign and the candidates raised a lot of money out of the gate. Can it continue?
For now, that's one of the big questions for Democrats. As they continue to develop policy proposals and meet with voters, can they continue to raise the money necessary to compete in a primary and general election?
Of the three candidates, Balter is the only one with a track record. She out-raised Juanita Perez Williams before the June 2018 primary and reported a record $1.5 million haul in the only full quarter before the general election.
Conole and Misso showed that they can keep pace. (In Conole's case, he out-raised Balter this quarter.) Now they need to show that they have the campaign infrastructure to compete.
They are doing many of the same things that made Balter a competitive candidate in 2018. They're holding house parties. They're meeting with voters at events. They're traveling the district. Building that support will decide who is the Democratic nominee. Money alone won't decide it, but it will help support those outreach efforts.
Since the start of the third quarter earlier this month, the Democratic candidates haven't let up. Balter has been traveling the district appearing at events. Conole launched "Conole On Your Corner," a (for now) monthly series of events that will take him across the region. Misso took a break after his wife gave birth to their second child, but he's remained active on social media and plans to be back on the campaign trail soon.
Will the Democratic candidates continue to raise money at this rate? Will it go up? Down? We'll find out in October.