The 2018 cycle’s biggest losers and smallest winners
Sometimes money isn’t everything.
In more than a dozen races this cycle, the congressional candidate with twice as much money as their opponent managed to lose, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
In almost all such cases, cash-strapped Republican candidates in red districts defeated their much-wealthier Democratic opponents.
The most vulnerable Democratic Senators raised significantly more than their opponents by the time election day rolled around, but it wasn’t enough. The outspent Republican Senate candidates benefitted from outside spending, which somewhat offset the Democratic fundraising boom.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) spent four times as much money as the man who unseated her, GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, the largest spending advantage of any losing candidate this cycle.
The one-term Senator received a rush of contributions after her opposition to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh but couldn’t spend it fast enough, ending November with nearly $6.8 million cash on hand.
Heitkamp spent nearly $170 for each vote she obtained, by far the highest number of any major Senate candidate.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was also a huge financial favorite, spending three-and-a-half times more than Republican challenger Josh Hawley in her losing effort. When factoring in outside money, however, McCaskill had just one-and-a-half more money behind her than Hawley.
Also among this cycle’s biggest losers was Republican New Jersey Senate candidate Bob Hugin spent $38.6 million, self-funding $36 million of his own campaign. That’s nearly triple what incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) spent to get re-elected.
Hugin’s spending spree might have taken the cake in another cycle, but Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) has him beat this time around, shelling out an all-time record $78.9 million in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign. Rejecting PACs, O’Rourke raised pretty much of all his money from individual donors and nearly $37 million came from small donors.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was heavily outraised, but he still managed to spend more than $45 million, the second-most of any 2018 Senate candidate, and had slightly more outside money behind him.
On the House side, Democratic hopefuls capitalized on the national unpopularity of their incumbent Republican opponents by raising large sums, but didn’t win enough votes in their home district.
In an ultimately-unsuccessful campaign, J.D. Scholten tripled the fundraising numbers of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who saw donors fleeing over his association with neo-Nazis.
Republican House candidates Ross Spano — who admitted to committing campaign finance violations during the election — and federally indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) both won their elections despite being outraised by more than two-to-one.
Every year, a handful of candidates win despite spending next to nothing. Even in the midst of the most expensive midterm election cycle ever, 2018 was no different.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) spent just $3.35 million through Nov. 7, the lowest number of any winning Senator, but one that should increase as fundraising numbers come in for the Nov. 27 run-off election.
Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Angus King (I-Maine) don’t get much media attention. They also didn’t get much money in 2018 as they didn’t need it, spending less than $5 million each to easily win re-election.
Representing New York’s 15th District in The Bronx — arguably the most liberal district in the nation — Rep. Jose Serrano didn’t need to do much to win his race. He spent just $231,921 this cycle, or $2.06 per vote.
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