Republican Edwards crushes challengers in race to raise, spend campaign cash

FUNDRAISING BONANZA: Republican incumbent Chuck Edwards, center, holds a commanding lead in campaign contributions over Democratic opponent Caleb Rudow, left, and Republican challenger Christian Reagan, right. // Photo credits, from left: Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego, official congressional portrait 2023,

By Tom Fiedler,

When Democrat Caleb Rudow stood before a room of enthusiastic supporters to announce his candidacy for Congress in November, he portrayed himself like Rocky of movie fame, entering the ring against an overmuscled opponent who, in this narrative, is Republican Chuck Edwards.

“You know, we love an underdog story,” the 37-year-old Asheville state legislator said. “Because it’s the story of winning against the odds.”

Just how long those odds may be has taken form in one measure: money. And it isn’t close.

Candidate finance reports covering all of 2023, including the first weeks of the 2024 campaign, show Edwards crushing Rudow and his Republican primary challenger, Christian Reagan from rural Clay County. The reports, mandated under federal election law, detail the amount of money each candidate has collected from individual donors and political action committees, as well as how much and where the candidates spent the money.  

Perhaps like Rocky, Rudow and Reagan are taking a whuppin’ in the early rounds.

“Money matters to establish competitiveness,” said Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper, adding that Edwards’ “haul is fairly impressive for a first-term member of Congress who is not in a competitive district.”

Edwards, who lives in Flat Rock in Henderson County, reported raising $868,814 from 592 donors spanning the gamut of major special-interest groups, corporate political action committees and well-known individual donors.

Most prominent among the noncorporate interest groups is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the most influential of the pro-Israel organizations active in U.S. politics. Numerous corporate PACs, including KFC, Dunkin’, Home Depot, Lowe’s, FedEx and McDonald’s — whose franchisees include Edwards — each contributed the $5,000 maximum allowed under the law.

Numerous celebrity donors also gave the $3,300 legal limit for individuals, among them Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn, ex-North Carolina congressman and NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, Texas financier Ross Perot II and Budweiser beer icon Augustus Busch III.

By contrast, Rudow reported collecting $69,700, of which more than $4,000 was his own.  Reagan, despite his made-for-Republican-candidacy name, barely made it into five figures. The newly arrived Texan and ardent Donald Trump backer, reported $16,320, more than half of which came from his own $9,000 contribution.

Rudow acknowledged that the reports reflected his underdog status, but he found reason to be optimistic, in part because local voters may perceive that Edwards is relying on Washington, DC-based “insiders” rather than constituents for his financial support.

“You don’t call yourself a Washington outsider and then take money from all the Washington insiders,” Rudow said, referring to special-interest PACs. “When you think about how that reflects his support in Western North Carolina, it says a lot. … It isn’t representing the people who live here.”

Edwards’ campaign director, Aubrey Woodard, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the reports.

The largest bloc of money came through AIPAC, which has long backed incumbents of both political parties who have demonstrated unwavering support for Israel.  Edwards’ report included 20 donations from AIPAC totaling more than $30,000.

All the money came after the Oct. 7 attack on Israeli villages by the Palestinian militant organization Hamas based in the Gaza Strip. The attackers killed more than 1,000 Israelis of all ages and kidnapped about 240, most of whom remain hostages in Gaza. The attack ignited the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, which has killed an estimated 27,000 Palestinians.

Congressional financial support for Israel has been crucial to the country’s response to the Hamas attack, and AIPAC has mobilized its donors in that effort. Since the war began, AIPAC has funneled $3.7 million to House and Senate members based on a single standard.

“We have endorsed Representative Edwards because of his solid record of supporting the alliance between the U.S. and Israel since he came to Congress,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said in a statement to The Watchdog.

Cooper, whose research focuses on the politics of Western North Carolina, said AIPAC’s operating philosophy is in line with that of other major special-interest groups that have contributed to Edwards’ campaign.

“It underscores how campaign cash works,” he said.  “Large-dollar donors and PACs spend their money wisely. … They don’t invest in people they need to convince to be on their side — they invest in people who are already on their side.”

Both of Edwards’ challengers, Rudow and Reagan, have expressed support for Israel since the outbreak of the war. Rudow co-authored a resolution in the N.C. General Assembly pledging support for Israel. Reagan has also done so in campaign appearances.

But, Cooper said, AIPAC seems to have decided Edwards is likely to be reelected in November.

“PACs don’t invest in candidates who might win,” he said. “They invest in candidates who will win.”

McCarthy-funded PAC gives to Edwards’ campaign

Among the Republican’s contributors is the PAC funded by former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted by his own House Republicans in October by hard-liners who accused him of cooperating with Democrats to avert a government shutdown.

PACs aligned with McCarthy contributed $10,000 to Edwards last March. Edwards remained loyal to McCarthy during the House revolt.

Several of his contributors also aligned with his committee assignments, the critical spot where legislation is drafted. Edwards serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees legislation affecting federal highways, aviation, mass transit, ports and waterways.

And among his contributors with potential interest before that committee are FedEx, the National Auto Dealers Association, several interstate railroad operators, Wells Fargo and the National Air Traffic Controllers PAC.

Edwards also was given a seat on the powerful House Budget Committee by former Speaker McCarthy, which positions him to put an imprint on most federal spending programs — a powerful magnet for attracting contributions. A freshman rarely wins a Budget Committee assignment.

The FEC reports also detail where the candidates spent the money, which offers insight into their campaign strategies. Edwards’ report shows he has spent $305,629 since the day he was elected, with most of it going to Washington-based political consultants, fundraisers and a local campaign staff headed by Woodard, a veteran Republican Party functionary and Edwards loyalist.

This formidable campaign infrastructure reinforces the consensus among political analysts that toppling Edwards will be difficult. Cooper, the political analyst, told The Watchdog that Edwards’ fundraising capability and “lack of major controversy,” provides a strong foundation to withstand challengers.

But, he added, “It’s not always the case that the candidate with more money wins.”

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Tom Fiedler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning political reporter and former executive editor of The Miami Herald. Email The Watchdog’s reporting is made possible by donations from the community. To show your support for this vital public service please visit


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2 thoughts on “Republican Edwards crushes challengers in race to raise, spend campaign cash

  1. Voirdire

    The fix is on for Edwards… the well heeled NC MAGA fascists have got their stooge all teed up and ready to go. If he [Edwards] wasn’t so pathetic it would all be kind of an amusing farce. Well, they’ll get what they deserve …no worries there. For the rest of the gerrymandered out of our votes folks… it’s just more of the lame as it gets same. sigh.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    Whew! Glad to see CAIR is not donating to Edwards ! Voir , remember how NC democrackkks gerrymandered NC for 100+ years without a whimper from anyone ? I do.

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