Texas 2020 Elections

5 takeaways from the latest congressional fundraising reports

The filings were due Friday and shed new light on Texas' massive U.S. House battlefield, which includes seven Democrat-targeted seats, six open seats, two Republican-targeted seats and a couple of serious primary challenges.

Voting signs near the Travis County Granger Building election site on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2019.

The fourth quarter of 2019 was a critical time in Texas' most hotly contested U.S. House races as candidates who announced earlier in the fall went through their first full fundraising periods and newer entrants looked to make a splash in their first weeks.

The congressional battlefield this cycle in Texas is huge. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is working to flip seven Republican-held seats, three of which feature incumbents not seeking reelection. There are three more seats open in safe Republican territory, and they have drawn massive GOP primaries. And the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee is hoping to flip back two seats it lost in 2018.

Plus, there are at least a couple of primary challenges that have drawn national attention.

Here is what we learned about where these races stand from the latest campaign finance reports, which were due Friday to the Federal Election Commission.

The delegation's most endangered Democrats remain very well funded while Republicans sort through their primaries.

After flipping their districts last cycle, Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher of Houston are the top Republican targets in Texas. Their FEC reports continue to show they are more than ready for battle in the fall, especially considering neither faces primary competition.

Both are approaching $2 million cash on hand after raising well over half a million dollars each in the fourth quarter — $550,000 for Fletcher, $663,000 for Allred.

Six Republicans are jockeying to challenge Fletcher, and Army veteran Wesley Hunt remains the top fundraiser. He took in another $345,000 over the past three months, bringing his campaign balance to $808,000.

Meanwhile, five GOP candidates are competing to take on Allred. One of them, education-technology executive Genevieve Collins, led the way with $338,000 in donations in the fourth quarter and a $100,000 loan to herself, while another, former Navy SEAL Floyd McLendon, collected $287,000. Collins, however, maintains a nearly 5-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage.

In some of the hottest Republican primaries, self-funders are leading the way.

Kathaleen Wall, who spent over $6 million of her fortune on her unsuccessful 2018 bid for the 2nd District, is continuing to massively self-fund now that she is running in the neighboring 22nd District, where 15 Republicans are vying to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. She put $1 million of her money into her campaign during the fourth quarter, following a $600,000 personal infusion in the previous period. The seat is a national Democratic target.

In other crowded GOP primaries, the latest reports revealed for the first time who has been self-funding because candidates did not launch their campaigns until the fourth quarter. Chris Ekstrom, one of 15 Republicans running to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Amarillo, loaned himself $500,000. George Hindman, who is among 11 GOP candidates for the seat held by retiring Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, gave himself $400,000. Both Thornberry's district and Flores' are solidly Republican.

In a GOP primary for a more competitive seat — the one held by Fletcher — one candidate kickstarted her campaign for the final two months with six figures of self-funding. Maria Espinoza, one of six Republicans running for the NRCC-targeted seat, injected $205,000 into her bid in late December after raising only $11,000 in the previous quarter.

A pair of Democratic challengers in battleground districts continue to impress.

Democrats' two biggest fundraisers in their targeted districts remain Wendy Davis and Gina Ortiz Jones. Davis, the former gubernatorial nominee, is running to unseat Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, while Jones is running to replace retiring Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, after nearly beating him in 2018.

Davis raised $910,000 in the fourth quarter, more than double Roy's haul, marking the second quarter in a row that she has taken in more than him. She also pulled virtually even in cash on hand, with both reporting $1.2 million in reserves.

Jones, meanwhile, raked in $828,000, blowing away the Republican field, which got off to a late start after Hurd announced his retirement in August. The GOP's top fourth-quarter fundraiser in the district was Navy veteran Tony Gonzales, who took in $234,000.

The three other DCCC-targeted incumbents — Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Dan Crenshaw of Houston and Michael McCaul of Austin — had no problem staying ahead of their Democratic opponents financially, though there were some notable developments in the challenger primaries. Crenshaw, a rising conservative star, pulled in $1.6 million over the last three months, though a late entrant in the Democratic primary for his seat, Houston lawyer Sima Ladjevardian, had an impressive debut with $408,000 raised in her first three weeks. In the three-way Democratic primary to challenge McCaul, Austin physician Pritesh Gandhi was the No. 1 fundraiser for the first time, taking in $258,000 in the fourth quarter.

Big Republican names yield mixed fundraising success.

The Texas congressional battlefield this cycle is dotted with well-known names, at least in political circles — and the latest filings show they have had varied success raising money. On one end, there is Pierce Bush, of the famous political family, who raked in $663,000 in his first three weeks as a candidate, easily leading the 22nd District GOP primary in fourth-quarter fundraising, excluding Wall's self-funding.

In the Republican primary for Flores' seat, former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas could not break six figures in the fourth quarter, reporting $76,000 raised. However, partly thanks to money left over from his unsuccessful 2018 reelection campaign, Sessions still has more cash on hand — $220,000 — than most of his primary rivals.

Then there is Ronny Jackson, the former White House doctor and President Donald Trump's onetime nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. He jumped into the primary for Thornberry's seat on the filing deadline day — Dec. 9 — and raised a paltry $30,000 over the following few weeks.

One primary challenger out-raises an incumbent, while another primary challenger's fundraising slows.

In the state's most closely watched primary challenge, Laredo attorney Jessica Cisneros out-raised Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, for the first time, $517,000 to $431,000. Cuellar still has a huge war chest totaling $2.9 million; Cisneros has about a fifth of that in the bank.

In Fort Worth, GOP Rep. Kay Granger is confronting a serious primary challenge from ex-Colleyville City Council member Chris Putnam, who turned heads by raising $206,000 in the third quarter and loaning himself $250,000. His fundraising slowed in the fourth quarter, though — he took in $80,000, $9,000 of it from himself — while Granger posted a $419,000 haul. She has $774,000 cash on hand; he has $407,000.

It is important to note, however, that in both races, each campaign's fundraising does not tell the whole story. Outside groups are already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in each primary, aiming to narrow the cash gap between the challenger and the incumbent.

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