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Democratic hopefuls unveil third-quarter fundraising figures as John Cornyn's financial advantage grows

Tuesday was the deadline for candidates to report their third-quarter fundraising numbers to the Federal Election Commission.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks to the press at the University of Texas at Austin tower in Austin on June 14, 2019.

The newest entrants in the crowded Democratic primary for U.S. Senate disclosed their first major fundraising numbers Tuesday, bringing into focus which candidates may be viable for the nomination as the Republican incumbent, John Cornyn, continues to build a huge financial advantage.

Tuesday was the deadline for the field to detail its fundraising to the Federal Election Commission for the last three months, a period that saw four of the more prominent candidates enter the race. None was able to immediately catch up with former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar, who has been in the primary since late April and has built a clear — but not overwhelming — lead in the intraparty money race.

Here's how the latest primary contenders stacked up:

  • State Sen. Royce West of Dallas took in $550,000 between when he launched his bid in mid-July and the end of the quarter, which was Sept. 30. A little over $200,000 of that came from loans that West made to his campaign. West spent $173,000 over the roughly two-and-half-month period, leaving him with $377,000 cash on hand.
  • Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who also declared her candidacy in mid-July, raised $557,000 through the quarter, but it all came from contributions. She spent $220,000 and ended up with $338,000 in the bank.
  • Progressive organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who began her campaign in mid-August, raised $459,000 over the roughly month-and-a-half period, spent $234,000 and has $225,000 in reserves. Her campaign said her total raised crossed the $500,000 mark Tuesday.
  • Chris Bell, the former Houston congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee, filed FEC paperwork for the race in early July and began campaigning over the summer before making a formal announcement in mid-September. In any case, Bell posted a $207,000 haul for the quarter, a total that included a $10,000 loan to himself. He spent $95,000, which left him with $112,000 cash on hand.

Hegar, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House in 2018, reported raising $1 million in the third quarter, her second million-dollar quarter after she took in a similar amount between when she launched her candidacy in late April and the end of June. She spent $731,000 over the past three months, giving her a cash-on-hand tally of $894,000.

Cornyn's third-quarter report, meanwhile, continued to affirm his financial might as he seeks a fourth term. He raised $3.2 million, spent $1.5 million and has $10.8 million cash on hand.

Before they can get to Cornyn, though, Democrats have to pick their nominee in a process that seems likely to go to a runoff. Hegar's campaign sought to press its primary advantages as it unveiled its latest fundraising figures Monday, saying in a memo that Hegar is "in the strongest position to meet the demands of a Texas-sized winning Senate race."

As Hegar's campaign has grown, though, bringing on additional staff and vendors, so has her spending. Her third-quarter burn rate was 71%, meaning she spent $7 out of every $10 she raised.

Though further behind in fundraising, Hegar's intraparty rivals found causes for optimism. West's campaign said last week it saw a "great surge of grassroots donations over the past few weeks from voters all across Texas, so this is a sign that our numbers will be increasing over the next few months." The campaign of Tzintzún Ramirez, meanwhile, said it exceeded its $400,000 fundraising goal for the third quarter, giving it the resources to go on a campus tour targeting young voters.

Before Tuesday, it was already known how much some of the newest Democratic candidates raised in the immediate aftermath of their launches. Tzintzún Ramirez said she received over $200,000 in her first day as a candidate; Edwards said she netted roughly the same amount in her first 24 hours.

A total of 10 Democrats are running to unseat Cornyn. However, beyond Hegar, West, Tzintzún Ramirez, Edwards and Bell, none reported significant fundraising in the third quarter. One of the primary candidates, Midland City Councilman John Love, did not start his campaign until after the third quarter ended, meaning he will not face his first FEC deadline until mid-January.

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