All posts by MPolitics

Alaska Governor Drops Re-Election Bid, Backs Democrat

Alaska Governor Bill Walker, a political independent, halted his re-election campaign Friday and endorsed his Democratic challenger, ending a three-way race in which the Republican candidate had appeared to possess an insurmountable lead.

With 18 days remaining before the Nov. 6 election, Walker, 67, said he concluded that he could not win a second term in a race against former U.S. Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat, and former state legislator Mike Dunleavy, a Republican.

Walker’s withdrawal came three days after his former running mate, Byron Mallott, abruptly resigned as lieutenant governor over admitted but unspecified “inappropriate comments” in a scandal that threw the governor’s campaign into disarray.

Republican well ahead in polls

But public opinion surveys were already showing Dunleavy well ahead of the two other men and indicated Begich had greater support than the incumbent governor.

Consulting for days on whether Walker or Begich had a better shot at running a competitive race against Dunleavy, the “determination was made that, at this point, Begich has the better odds,” the governor said in a statement posted on his campaign’s website.

Walker also said Begich’s positions on various key issues “more closely align with my priorities for Alaska,” including their support for Medicaid expansion in Alaska and state action on climate change. Dunleavy opposes both.

“Today’s developments leave Alaska voters with a clear choice,” Dunleavy’s campaign said after learning Walker halted his re-election campaign.

A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, Dunleavy has focused his campaign on criticizing Walker for reducing the annual oil-fund dividends all Alaska residents receive.

Walker has said limiting the payout was necessary to address big budget deficits. Dunleavy has advocated deeper spending cuts and more oil and mining development.

The latest announcement came at the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives, a powerful constituency in the state, just before Walker, Begich and Dunleavy were all scheduled to participate in a gubernatorial debate.

Begich and Walker, whose name will remain on the ballot despite his withdrawal, were widely seen as likely to take votes away from each other in a three-way race.

Walker a former Republican

Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to independent before launching his successful 2014 campaign for governor on a “unity” ticket with Mallot, a Democrat, as his running mate.

In his remarks at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference, Walker said his supporters would have to decide for themselves who they favored in a two-man race but said he planned to vote for Begich.

Walker’s campaign spokesman previously acknowledged that representatives for the governor and Begich had been in talks on a “path forward” even before Mallott stepped down from office.

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Alaska Governor Drops Re-Election Bid, Backs Democrat

Alaska Governor Bill Walker, a political independent, halted his re-election campaign Friday and endorsed his Democratic challenger, ending a three-way race in which the Republican candidate had appeared to possess an insurmountable lead.

With 18 days remaining before the Nov. 6 election, Walker, 67, said he concluded that he could not win a second term in a race against former U.S. Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat, and former state legislator Mike Dunleavy, a Republican.

Walker’s withdrawal came three days after his former running mate, Byron Mallott, abruptly resigned as lieutenant governor over admitted but unspecified “inappropriate comments” in a scandal that threw the governor’s campaign into disarray.

Republican well ahead in polls

But public opinion surveys were already showing Dunleavy well ahead of the two other men and indicated Begich had greater support than the incumbent governor.

Consulting for days on whether Walker or Begich had a better shot at running a competitive race against Dunleavy, the “determination was made that, at this point, Begich has the better odds,” the governor said in a statement posted on his campaign’s website.

Walker also said Begich’s positions on various key issues “more closely align with my priorities for Alaska,” including their support for Medicaid expansion in Alaska and state action on climate change. Dunleavy opposes both.

“Today’s developments leave Alaska voters with a clear choice,” Dunleavy’s campaign said after learning Walker halted his re-election campaign.

A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, Dunleavy has focused his campaign on criticizing Walker for reducing the annual oil-fund dividends all Alaska residents receive.

Walker has said limiting the payout was necessary to address big budget deficits. Dunleavy has advocated deeper spending cuts and more oil and mining development.

The latest announcement came at the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives, a powerful constituency in the state, just before Walker, Begich and Dunleavy were all scheduled to participate in a gubernatorial debate.

Begich and Walker, whose name will remain on the ballot despite his withdrawal, were widely seen as likely to take votes away from each other in a three-way race.

Walker a former Republican

Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to independent before launching his successful 2014 campaign for governor on a “unity” ticket with Mallot, a Democrat, as his running mate.

In his remarks at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference, Walker said his supporters would have to decide for themselves who they favored in a two-man race but said he planned to vote for Begich.

Walker’s campaign spokesman previously acknowledged that representatives for the governor and Begich had been in talks on a “path forward” even before Mallott stepped down from office.

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Saudis Admit the Death of Khashoggi; Crown Prince in Charge of Investigation

Saudi Arabia has admitted that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is dead. Saudi state-run media says Khashoggi died after an altercation in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and it is promising a one-month investigation. VOA’s diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine reports from the State Department on the dramatic developments in Riyadh.

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Saudis Admit the Death of Khashoggi; Crown Prince in Charge of Investigation

Saudi Arabia has admitted that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is dead. Saudi state-run media says Khashoggi died after an altercation in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and it is promising a one-month investigation. VOA’s diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine reports from the State Department on the dramatic developments in Riyadh.

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Hackers Breach HealthCare.gov System, Get Data on 75,000

A government computer system that interacts with HealthCare.gov was hacked earlier this month, compromising the sensitive personal data of some 75,000 people, officials said Friday.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made the announcement late in the afternoon ahead of a weekend, a time agencies often use to release unfavorable developments.

Officials said the hacked system was shut down and technicians are working to restore it before sign-up season starts Nov. 1 for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

About 10 million people have private coverage under former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Consumers applying for subsidized coverage have to provide extensive personal information, including Social Security numbers, income, and citizenship or legal immigration status.

The system that was hacked is used by insurance agents and brokers to directly enroll customers. All other sign-up systems are working.

CMS spokesman Johnathan Monroe said “nothing happened” to the HealthCare.gov website used by the general public. “This concerns the agent and broker portal, which is not accessible to the general public,” he said.

Federal law enforcement has been alerted, and affected customers will be notified and offered credit protection.

President Donald Trump promised to repeal “Obamacare” but failed.

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Hackers Breach HealthCare.gov System, Get Data on 75,000

A government computer system that interacts with HealthCare.gov was hacked earlier this month, compromising the sensitive personal data of some 75,000 people, officials said Friday.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made the announcement late in the afternoon ahead of a weekend, a time agencies often use to release unfavorable developments.

Officials said the hacked system was shut down and technicians are working to restore it before sign-up season starts Nov. 1 for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

About 10 million people have private coverage under former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Consumers applying for subsidized coverage have to provide extensive personal information, including Social Security numbers, income, and citizenship or legal immigration status.

The system that was hacked is used by insurance agents and brokers to directly enroll customers. All other sign-up systems are working.

CMS spokesman Johnathan Monroe said “nothing happened” to the HealthCare.gov website used by the general public. “This concerns the agent and broker portal, which is not accessible to the general public,” he said.

Federal law enforcement has been alerted, and affected customers will be notified and offered credit protection.

President Donald Trump promised to repeal “Obamacare” but failed.

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Trump Administration Rethinks Foreign Aid With Eye Toward China

A gleaming new $3.2 billion railway cuts in half the travel time from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, to the coast. Major investments in transportation, energy and maritime infrastructure are turning Pakistan into a major economic corridor. A new industrial zone in Thailand boasts solar, rubber and industrial manufacturing plants and is slated to host 500 companies by 2021.

All are parts of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, featuring billions of dollars in infrastructure investment across Asia, Africa and the Pacific. The global impact is forcing the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to rethink elements of its plan to cut back on foreign assistance under an “America First” strategy.

When “very senior people” in the administration traveled abroad and “saw that China was eating our lunch, they thought to themselves, ‘We have to do something,’ ” said Daniel Runde, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

And in a number of quiet moves affecting private investment, humanitarian aid and women’s empowerment abroad, the administration and the U.S. Congress have been doing just that.

Major policy reversal

In what is being seen as a major policy reversal, Trump this month signed the so-called BUILD Act, described by the nonpartisan CSIS as “the most important piece of U.S. soft power legislation in more than a decade.”

The new law merges and boosts agencies and programs that had once been targeted for deep budget cuts, creating a new entity tasked with providing loans, political-risk insurance and equity stakes to U.S. firms investing in developing countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia.

The agency will be known as the U.S. International Development Finance Corp., or USIDFC, and have a $60 billion budget. It will absorb the existing Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC) and more than double that agency’s current budget of $29 billion.

The USIDFC is “a much-needed instrument of commercial diplomacy that the U.S. has been sorely lacking,” said Witney Schneidman, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, in a recent blog post for the Brookings Institution.

In a follow-up phone interview, Schneidman said he thought the new agency would help “get U.S. companies interested in Africa on its own merit. … It does put the U.S. on level with the Chinese” by matching Beijing’s policy of making equity investments in companies seeking to do business overseas.

​Dwarfed by China

Even at $60 billion, the new U.S. program will be dwarfed by Chinese investments in Asia and Africa. But Brookings analyst George Ingram said its impact can be magnified by partnering with other international lending organizations.

“The French, the British, the Scandinavians – they all have similar organizations,” Ingram said. “And now that the [USIDFC] has equity authority, this new entity will be able to be a much more effective partner than OPIC could be.”

The BUILD Act has its critics, especially among free-market conservatives who believe the government should not get involved in private business decisions.

“The idea of equity participation was kind of sold politically that it was going to be the U.S. responding to China’s One Belt, One Road [initiative] and yet there was no mention of China in the legislation at all,” James M. Roberts, an editor for the Washington-based Heritage Foundation’s annual “Index of Economic Freedom,” told VOA in an interview.

By ensuring equity stakes, “that means the government is going to be a shareholder in foreign companies,” added Roberts, who has listed a potential for “cronyism and misallocation of capital” among his concerns.

Advocates of the plan include Mark Green, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose Development Credit Authority is being folded into the USIDFC. By encouraging U.S. private investment abroad, he has said, the new enterprise will “spur economic growth in less developed countries and advance the foreign policy interests of the United States.”

Interviewed last week for VOA’s “Plugged In With Greta Van Susteren,” Green, a former Republican congressman who later served as ambassador to Tanzania, said there’s a “fundamental difference” between U.S. and Chinese approaches to development abroad.

China favors loans that can include “unsustainable financing that mortgages a country’s future,” he said. In contrast, USAID expects recipients to implement reforms. 

“We ask them to respect certain rights and values. What we want for them is to become eventual trading partners, but equal partners,” Green added.

Other measures

The Trump administration has demonstrated a renewed openness to international aid in other ways as well, including a recent five-year extension to an anti-hunger measure known as the Global Food Security Act. It supports USAID programs such as Feed the Future initiative. It partners with governments, NGOs, private enterprise and others “to strengthen agricultural markets and then entire food systems,” said Beth Dunford, who oversees the initiative.

Pending in Congress, meanwhile, is the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act, aimed at improving women’s access “to economic participation and opportunity.”

It calls for supporting women’s property and inheritance rights and ending gender-based violence. It also requires that USAID integrate efforts to empower women in all of its programs, and it broadens support for women-run small- and medium-size businesses.

The bill, which enjoys bipartisan backing, is being promoted by first daughter Ivanka Trump. She tweeted her thanks this week to four members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for advancing the bill.

“Women’s economic empowerment doesn’t always get a lot of attention in Congress, so this bill is something we’re quite excited about,” said Nicole Ellis, who manages policy communications for the international relief agency CARE.

Gayatri Patel, CARE’s senior policy advocate, said the agency is working closely with legislators, noting they want “practical recommendations and approaches.”

That might include endorsing approaches such as the Village Savings and Loan program that CARE started in Niger in 1991. “You get women in a community to save, they give each other loans,” Patel said. “It’s really an entry point for women for more formal economic endeavors … to start businesses or pay for their children’s education, to connect with the market and mentor or be mentored by others in the community.”

The goal, she said, is to encourage aid that has “a catalytic effect on women, their families and their communities.”

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Trump Administration Rethinks Foreign Aid With Eye Toward China

A gleaming new $3.2 billion railway cuts in half the travel time from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, to the coast. Major investments in transportation, energy and maritime infrastructure are turning Pakistan into a major economic corridor. A new industrial zone in Thailand boasts solar, rubber and industrial manufacturing plants and is slated to host 500 companies by 2021.

All are parts of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, featuring billions of dollars in infrastructure investment across Asia, Africa and the Pacific. The global impact is forcing the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to rethink elements of its plan to cut back on foreign assistance under an “America First” strategy.

When “very senior people” in the administration traveled abroad and “saw that China was eating our lunch, they thought to themselves, ‘We have to do something,’ ” said Daniel Runde, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

And in a number of quiet moves affecting private investment, humanitarian aid and women’s empowerment abroad, the administration and the U.S. Congress have been doing just that.

Major policy reversal

In what is being seen as a major policy reversal, Trump this month signed the so-called BUILD Act, described by the nonpartisan CSIS as “the most important piece of U.S. soft power legislation in more than a decade.”

The new law merges and boosts agencies and programs that had once been targeted for deep budget cuts, creating a new entity tasked with providing loans, political-risk insurance and equity stakes to U.S. firms investing in developing countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia.

The agency will be known as the U.S. International Development Finance Corp., or USIDFC, and have a $60 billion budget. It will absorb the existing Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC) and more than double that agency’s current budget of $29 billion.

The USIDFC is “a much-needed instrument of commercial diplomacy that the U.S. has been sorely lacking,” said Witney Schneidman, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, in a recent blog post for the Brookings Institution.

In a follow-up phone interview, Schneidman said he thought the new agency would help “get U.S. companies interested in Africa on its own merit. … It does put the U.S. on level with the Chinese” by matching Beijing’s policy of making equity investments in companies seeking to do business overseas.

​Dwarfed by China

Even at $60 billion, the new U.S. program will be dwarfed by Chinese investments in Asia and Africa. But Brookings analyst George Ingram said its impact can be magnified by partnering with other international lending organizations.

“The French, the British, the Scandinavians – they all have similar organizations,” Ingram said. “And now that the [USIDFC] has equity authority, this new entity will be able to be a much more effective partner than OPIC could be.”

The BUILD Act has its critics, especially among free-market conservatives who believe the government should not get involved in private business decisions.

“The idea of equity participation was kind of sold politically that it was going to be the U.S. responding to China’s One Belt, One Road [initiative] and yet there was no mention of China in the legislation at all,” James M. Roberts, an editor for the Washington-based Heritage Foundation’s annual “Index of Economic Freedom,” told VOA in an interview.

By ensuring equity stakes, “that means the government is going to be a shareholder in foreign companies,” added Roberts, who has listed a potential for “cronyism and misallocation of capital” among his concerns.

Advocates of the plan include Mark Green, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose Development Credit Authority is being folded into the USIDFC. By encouraging U.S. private investment abroad, he has said, the new enterprise will “spur economic growth in less developed countries and advance the foreign policy interests of the United States.”

Interviewed last week for VOA’s “Plugged In With Greta Van Susteren,” Green, a former Republican congressman who later served as ambassador to Tanzania, said there’s a “fundamental difference” between U.S. and Chinese approaches to development abroad.

China favors loans that can include “unsustainable financing that mortgages a country’s future,” he said. In contrast, USAID expects recipients to implement reforms. 

“We ask them to respect certain rights and values. What we want for them is to become eventual trading partners, but equal partners,” Green added.

Other measures

The Trump administration has demonstrated a renewed openness to international aid in other ways as well, including a recent five-year extension to an anti-hunger measure known as the Global Food Security Act. It supports USAID programs such as Feed the Future initiative. It partners with governments, NGOs, private enterprise and others “to strengthen agricultural markets and then entire food systems,” said Beth Dunford, who oversees the initiative.

Pending in Congress, meanwhile, is the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act, aimed at improving women’s access “to economic participation and opportunity.”

It calls for supporting women’s property and inheritance rights and ending gender-based violence. It also requires that USAID integrate efforts to empower women in all of its programs, and it broadens support for women-run small- and medium-size businesses.

The bill, which enjoys bipartisan backing, is being promoted by first daughter Ivanka Trump. She tweeted her thanks this week to four members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for advancing the bill.

“Women’s economic empowerment doesn’t always get a lot of attention in Congress, so this bill is something we’re quite excited about,” said Nicole Ellis, who manages policy communications for the international relief agency CARE.

Gayatri Patel, CARE’s senior policy advocate, said the agency is working closely with legislators, noting they want “practical recommendations and approaches.”

That might include endorsing approaches such as the Village Savings and Loan program that CARE started in Niger in 1991. “You get women in a community to save, they give each other loans,” Patel said. “It’s really an entry point for women for more formal economic endeavors … to start businesses or pay for their children’s education, to connect with the market and mentor or be mentored by others in the community.”

The goal, she said, is to encourage aid that has “a catalytic effect on women, their families and their communities.”

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Democrats Lead in Fundraising, But Will It Be Enough to Topple Republicans?

In the battle for Congress, Democrats are winning the money game. But will it be enough for them to overtake Republicans?

In what is shaping up to be the most expensive U.S. congressional election in history, Democrats have had a distinct advantage in fundraising over Republicans throughout the midterm election cycle as they seek to break the GOP’s stranglehold on Congress.

While Republicans are widely expected to preserve their slim 51-to-49-seat majority in the U.S. Senate and possibly expand it, polls show the Democrats poised to take back the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in seven years. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to retake the House.

WATCH VIDEO:

On the ballot

All 435 House seats as well as 35 of 100 Senate seats will be on the ballot next month. Candidates vying for those coveted seats have raised a record $2.3 billion from individual donors and political action committees (PACs) through Sept. 30, according to the latest filings this week with the Federal Election Commission.

Overall, Democrats outraised Republicans by an unprecedented $411 million. In House races, Democratic candidates raised more than $850 million from individuals and PACs, compared with $576 million generated by Republicans. In Senate contests, Democrats hauled in nearly $490 million, compared with $337 million garnered by Republicans.

The average House campaign spends a little more than $1 million during a two-year election cycle, yet 30 Democrats have raised more than $2 million each so far this cycle.

In the most expensive non-special House race this cycle, a closely fought contest in Southern California between Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros has cost more than $20 million. Among Senate contests, the most expensive race is between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who have raised a combined total of nearly $100 million.

Republicans fared as well or better than the Democrats in raising campaign cash from corporate PACs, those high-powered fundraising operations with minimal disclosure requirements or spending restrictions. But the Democrats crushed Republicans in raising individual contributions through the internet or campaign fundraising events. O’Rourke, a U.S. House member from El Paso, Texas, reported last week that he had raised a record $30 million during the third quarter from 800,000 contributors.

Federal campaign finance law prevents individuals from contributing more than $2,700 to a congressional campaign committee in any one election, while allowing traditional political action committees to donate up to $5,000. However, so-called independent-expenditure committees, or “super PACS,” can raise and spend unlimited amounts to advance their causes or political parties.

“There is a tremendous amount of small-dollar energy going on the Democratic side,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“Democratic House candidates are raising small-dollar donations from donors across the country, who are doing what they can trying to win the House back for Democrats. Republicans are trying to counteract that with third-party groups and outside spending.”

​Fundraising edge, cash on hand

Moreover, Democratic challengers have outraised Republican opponents in a majority of several dozen House races seen as highly competitive. And as the campaign enters its final two weeks, data show Democrats have more cash on hand than Republicans, something that will allow them to fund a last-minute push to mobilize voters.

Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization, said the Democrats’ enormous fundraising edge is “fairly significant and fairly unusual.”

“The trend with election spending is just almost always up due to a variety of factors,” Bryner said. “But this election cycle we have a huge crop of well-funded Democratic challengers and that’s going to increase spending across the board as the incumbents they’re facing try to counteract that spending.”

Money is the lifeblood of American campaigning. Candidates and their consultants use funds to buy expensive TV airtime, pay for personnel and other campaign expenses, and hold events to raise more funds. Advertising represents the single largest expense of a congressional campaign.

Money will continue to pour in throughout the last two weeks of the campaign, helped by some deep-pocketed benefactors seeking to tip the balance in key races.

Last week, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he was giving $20 million to the Democrats’ Senate super PAC. Most of the money will go toward buying TV airtime for embattled Democratic candidates. That brings to nearly $100 million the amount the billionaire businessman has contributed to the Democrats this cycle, making him one of the largest donors.

“Given the rise of super PACs in the post-Citizens United era, it’s possible for people to make those huge donations late in the game,” Bryner said, referring to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that found spending limits on outside organizations unconstitutional.

“Right now, this is the Wild West in the United States,” said Martin Frost, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and now president of the bipartisan Association of Former Members of Congress. “People can put as much money as they want in politics. Some of that money is disclosed and some of it is not.”

With Republican incumbents struggling in several dozen key races, party leaders and groups have begun to cut their losses, pulling funding from races they think the Democrats will win and reallocating resources to more competitive contests.

In its first act of triage in late September, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, canceled a planned $3.1 million ad buy in two districts in Michigan and Colorado where the Republican incumbents are struggling, the Associated Press reported. That was followed by similar moves in several other congressional districts.

​Infusions of cash or pulling the plug

Parties perform spending triage all the time. But the infusion of cash, such as Bloomberg’s $20 million donation, has put added pressure on the Republicans to pull the plug on uncompetitive races.

“What happens is races that are at the margins, where it’s just going to be a tough slog regardless, they’ll pull out of those races … and they’ll reallocate those resources into races where that $20 million by Bloomberg now may make a difference,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Just how much of a difference the Democrats’ money advantage will make remains to be seen. Money is not always a guarantor of electoral success.

In the 2016 presidential election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suffered an upset despite spending $387 million more than billionaire businessman Donald Trump. In a special election for a congressional seat in Georgia last year, Democrat Jon Ossoff lost to Republican Karen Handel despite a $20 million fundraising advantage.

And O’Rourke’s massive fundraising advantage has failed to cut into Cruz’s substantial seven-point lead in the U.S. Senate race in Texas.

“A lot of people make a big deal about money and sort of think that’s the dark angel of American politics, but I can tell you there are … as many races there where the person with the most money loses as there are where that individual wins,” Steele said. “So at the end of the day, candidates still have to make a credible message, they still have to be credible themselves for the voters … to actually utilize the benefit of those dollars that are getting poured into that campaign.”

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Democrats Lead in Fundraising, But Will It Be Enough to Topple Republicans?

In the battle for Congress, Democrats are winning the money game. But will it be enough for them to overtake Republicans?

In what is shaping up to be the most expensive U.S. congressional election in history, Democrats have had a distinct advantage in fundraising over Republicans throughout the midterm election cycle as they seek to break the GOP’s stranglehold on Congress.

While Republicans are widely expected to preserve their slim 51-to-49-seat majority in the U.S. Senate and possibly expand it, polls show the Democrats poised to take back the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in seven years. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to retake the House.

WATCH VIDEO:

On the ballot

All 435 House seats as well as 35 of 100 Senate seats will be on the ballot next month. Candidates vying for those coveted seats have raised a record $2.3 billion from individual donors and political action committees (PACs) through Sept. 30, according to the latest filings this week with the Federal Election Commission.

Overall, Democrats outraised Republicans by an unprecedented $411 million. In House races, Democratic candidates raised more than $850 million from individuals and PACs, compared with $576 million generated by Republicans. In Senate contests, Democrats hauled in nearly $490 million, compared with $337 million garnered by Republicans.

The average House campaign spends a little more than $1 million during a two-year election cycle, yet 30 Democrats have raised more than $2 million each so far this cycle.

In the most expensive non-special House race this cycle, a closely fought contest in Southern California between Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros has cost more than $20 million. Among Senate contests, the most expensive race is between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who have raised a combined total of nearly $100 million.

Republicans fared as well or better than the Democrats in raising campaign cash from corporate PACs, those high-powered fundraising operations with minimal disclosure requirements or spending restrictions. But the Democrats crushed Republicans in raising individual contributions through the internet or campaign fundraising events. O’Rourke, a U.S. House member from El Paso, Texas, reported last week that he had raised a record $30 million during the third quarter from 800,000 contributors.

Federal campaign finance law prevents individuals from contributing more than $2,700 to a congressional campaign committee in any one election, while allowing traditional political action committees to donate up to $5,000. However, so-called independent-expenditure committees, or “super PACS,” can raise and spend unlimited amounts to advance their causes or political parties.

“There is a tremendous amount of small-dollar energy going on the Democratic side,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“Democratic House candidates are raising small-dollar donations from donors across the country, who are doing what they can trying to win the House back for Democrats. Republicans are trying to counteract that with third-party groups and outside spending.”

​Fundraising edge, cash on hand

Moreover, Democratic challengers have outraised Republican opponents in a majority of several dozen House races seen as highly competitive. And as the campaign enters its final two weeks, data show Democrats have more cash on hand than Republicans, something that will allow them to fund a last-minute push to mobilize voters.

Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization, said the Democrats’ enormous fundraising edge is “fairly significant and fairly unusual.”

“The trend with election spending is just almost always up due to a variety of factors,” Bryner said. “But this election cycle we have a huge crop of well-funded Democratic challengers and that’s going to increase spending across the board as the incumbents they’re facing try to counteract that spending.”

Money is the lifeblood of American campaigning. Candidates and their consultants use funds to buy expensive TV airtime, pay for personnel and other campaign expenses, and hold events to raise more funds. Advertising represents the single largest expense of a congressional campaign.

Money will continue to pour in throughout the last two weeks of the campaign, helped by some deep-pocketed benefactors seeking to tip the balance in key races.

Last week, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he was giving $20 million to the Democrats’ Senate super PAC. Most of the money will go toward buying TV airtime for embattled Democratic candidates. That brings to nearly $100 million the amount the billionaire businessman has contributed to the Democrats this cycle, making him one of the largest donors.

“Given the rise of super PACs in the post-Citizens United era, it’s possible for people to make those huge donations late in the game,” Bryner said, referring to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that found spending limits on outside organizations unconstitutional.

“Right now, this is the Wild West in the United States,” said Martin Frost, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and now president of the bipartisan Association of Former Members of Congress. “People can put as much money as they want in politics. Some of that money is disclosed and some of it is not.”

With Republican incumbents struggling in several dozen key races, party leaders and groups have begun to cut their losses, pulling funding from races they think the Democrats will win and reallocating resources to more competitive contests.

In its first act of triage in late September, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, canceled a planned $3.1 million ad buy in two districts in Michigan and Colorado where the Republican incumbents are struggling, the Associated Press reported. That was followed by similar moves in several other congressional districts.

​Infusions of cash or pulling the plug

Parties perform spending triage all the time. But the infusion of cash, such as Bloomberg’s $20 million donation, has put added pressure on the Republicans to pull the plug on uncompetitive races.

“What happens is races that are at the margins, where it’s just going to be a tough slog regardless, they’ll pull out of those races … and they’ll reallocate those resources into races where that $20 million by Bloomberg now may make a difference,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Just how much of a difference the Democrats’ money advantage will make remains to be seen. Money is not always a guarantor of electoral success.

In the 2016 presidential election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suffered an upset despite spending $387 million more than billionaire businessman Donald Trump. In a special election for a congressional seat in Georgia last year, Democrat Jon Ossoff lost to Republican Karen Handel despite a $20 million fundraising advantage.

And O’Rourke’s massive fundraising advantage has failed to cut into Cruz’s substantial seven-point lead in the U.S. Senate race in Texas.

“A lot of people make a big deal about money and sort of think that’s the dark angel of American politics, but I can tell you there are … as many races there where the person with the most money loses as there are where that individual wins,” Steele said. “So at the end of the day, candidates still have to make a credible message, they still have to be credible themselves for the voters … to actually utilize the benefit of those dollars that are getting poured into that campaign.”

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