2020 presidential hopefuls wade into state-level races

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Iowa state Senate candidate Eric Giddens addresses a canvassing kickoff event with Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke behind him (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As Democratic candidates compete with each other for cash and votes, they’re also looking to build support on the ground and one way of doing that is campaigning for state politicians in special elections. So far in 2019, national figures have tagged along in state races in Iowa and South Carolina hoping to expand their political clout.  

One of the recent, and most high-profile, of these special election candidates is State Sen. Eric Giddens (D-Iowa) who won his March 19 election with the help of some better-known figures. In the run-up to the vote, a steady stream of Democratic presidential hopefuls canvassed and fundraised for Giddens. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) reportedly helped raise $40,000 for the Iowa Democratic Party and Giddens and candidates as varied as Andrew Yang, former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) all assisted Giddens on the campaign trail.

According to data from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, Giddens’ campaign raised around $160,344. This is a bit more than the average state legislative campaign which typically costs $150,000.

Another early primary state, South Carolina, also had a state Senate special election at the end of March which attracted a somewhat smaller herd of presidential hopefuls. Tina Belge, who lost her race in a traditionally Republican district by around 11 points on March 26, received some attention from national candidates, but not as much as Giddens. Booker contributed $1,000, while South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) appeared at campaign events with Belge and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recorded a video for her.

Though Belge attracted the support of some candidates, her fundraising did not come close to Giddens’. According to the South Carolina State Ethics Commission, the pre-election candidate campaign disclosure showed that, as of March 22, Belge had attracted just $48,474 in total contributions.  She was outraised by her Republican opponent, Dwight Loftis, a long-time state representative, who received $55,262 in contributions.

Not all special elections, even those that look competitive, receive presidential candidate boosts. And it is questionable whether the appearance of national figures makes a significant impact on a state candidate’s chances.

On April 2, Pam Iovino won a special election and flipped a Pennsylvania State Senate seat from red to blue. Despite receiving no visits from presidential candidates, Iovino raised more than $1 million in her successful effort.

A number of other states had special elections earlier in the year and there’s more scheduled into November, including an April 23 special election for a state senate seat in early-voting South Carolina, and at least three special elections for vacant seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. House races will likely attract the 2020 candidates, as some like Booker have already waded into the competitive 9th District of North Carolina’s special. 

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