Republican congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn’s campaign has raised more than twice as much money as that of Democratic opponent Morris “Moe” Davis, but Davis entered the homestretch of the race for Western North Carolina’s 11th District U.S. House seat with the most money in the bank.
A short speech before the Republican National Convention, the attention generated by a June 23 runoff primary, an extensive and expensive fundraising effort and $361,000 Cawthorn loaned his campaign all contributed to the $3.2 million Cawthorn had raised as of Sept. 30.
Through the same date, according to reports the campaigns filed with the Federal Election Commission, Davis had raised $1.5 million but had $825,830 left to spend versus the $516,612 Cawthorn had on hand.
Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, says the numbers suggest the race in the Republican-leaning 11th is closer than originally expected, or at least is perceived that way.
“People don’t give money to surefire losers and they don’t give much to surefire winners, particularly ones who wouldn’t have much power in the chamber,” he says.
Fundraising by the major party nominees in the 11th hasn’t reached this year’s heights since 2006, when Democrat Heath Shuler and Republican Charles Taylor pulled in a total of $6.2 million. After state legislators redrew the district in 2011 to put much of Democratic stronghold Buncombe County in the 10th District, Republican Mark Meadows regularly won the 11th by wide margins and had little need to raise large sums while Democratic challengers typically struggled to attract donations.
Court-ordered changes to the district last year put all of Buncombe back in the 11th, but the district still favors the GOP. Areas now in the 11th gave President Donald Trump 57% of the vote in 2016, according to figures Cooper compiled.
Cooper says the $1.5 million Davis had brought in so far is “definitely” enough for him to run a competitive campaign.
The costs of Cawthorn’s runoff campaign and significant fundraising expenses explain some of the difference in the amount of cash on hand each candidate reported. Cawthorn and Davis both ran in party primaries held March 3, but the Democratic primary was a sleepy affair that Davis won easily, while the GOP primary was hotly contested and wasn’t settled until the June runoff.
And Cawthorn spent heavily to bring money in. Most of the roughly $740,000 the campaign reported in direct expenditures on fundraising in the third quarter of this year alone went for fundraising commissions to eight different companies and one individual. Davis reported spending $43,358 on fundraising consultants and services during that period, none of which was identified as commissions.
“I don’t think we are at that much of a disadvantage [financially],” Davis campaign manager Graeme McGufficke says. “Possibly we were more cost effective” in raising money.
Cawthorn has received donations from almost every state, while Davis may have pulled in a larger share of his funds from donors who live in North Carolina.
Campaigns are not required to report the identity of donors who give a total of less than $200, so it is impossible to identify the geographic origins or timing of all donations using campaigns’ public filings. However, a Mountain Xpress analysis did find more than $545,000 that Davis got from individual North Carolina donors versus the roughly $384,000 in identifiable donations Cawthorn got from individuals within the state. Actual figures are likely much higher.
Donations to Cawthorn from each of three other states — California, Florida and Texas — exceeded $95,000. Davis also drew money from around the country, but totals were smaller. At about $49,000, New York donors gave the most to Davis of any state other than North Carolina.
Cawthorn’s national fundraising efforts benefited from media attention following his overwhelming runoff win over a Trump-endorsed candidate, the 25-year-old’s remarks to the GOP convention and the backing of Club for Growth, a major conservative political action committee. The club, which has a strongly right-wing anti-tax and anti-regulation agenda that sometimes leads it to oppose mainstream Republicans it deems insufficiently conservative, endorsed Cawthorn and has been a conduit for some donations to him.
Using braces and a walker to stand from his wheelchair, Cawthorn urged viewers of the Republican National Convention on Aug. 26 to “be a radical for freedom, be a radical for liberty and be a radical for the republic for which I stand.”
Cawthorn’s campaign raised at least $30,146 that day, more than $74,000 the next and a total of more than $199,000 the week after his remarks.
“That did create a national stage for Madison Cawthorn, and the fundraising followed,” Cooper says. He says Davis having more money on hand as of Sept. 30 may not matter much as Cawthorn has shown he can keep raising funds.
Not surprisingly, both campaigns said the financial status of the race indicates their candidate is in a good position.
“At a time when Republicans are facing headwinds nationally, Madison Cawthorn’s ability to double his opponent’s fundraising totals shows that youthful, optimistic conservatism has a bright future,” Cawthorn spokesman John Hart says. “Voters are embracing Madison’s positive and patriotic message that celebrates freedom and opportunity, and rejecting Moe Davis’ violent and vitriolic partisanship.”
McGufficke says he always expected Cawthorn to raise more than Davis, and the large number of smaller donors to Davis within the district bodes well for his prospects: “We’re very, very happy with how much money we’ve raised to date. It’s in line with where we thought we needed to be to be competitive.”