Well-Funded, Longshot GOP 2020 Candidates Crash and Burn (along with a lot of money)
While there are still several important races that have yet to be called from the 2020 elections, there are many lessons that can be learned from the results so far. The Republicans are on track to gain anywhere from 5–15 seats in the US House, beating mainstream expectations of Republicans losing seats in the House; however, there are 4 House race in particular that, while receiving a large amount of attention on social media and being well-funded because of such promotion, utterly failed to defeat the Democrat candidates they went up against. The most high profile of these race is that from a district in inner-city Baltimore whose GOP candidate, Kim Klacik, was showered with attention on social media for her pledge to clean up and improve the run down, trash-filled streets of Baltimore. Her reason for running was different than the other 3 races’ candidates, who all three ran in districts represented by members of the “Squad”. These candidates similarly recieved a lot of social media attention, and along with it a plethora of small-dollar donors who made sure their campaigns were well-funded. However, the influx of money and social media attention did not lead to electoral success. Instead, millions of dollars from well-intentioned Republican voters and activists across the country were wasted by campaigns that were hopeless from their inception. To better understand the scale of money wasted in each of these races, and why they shouldn’t have recieved the funding they did in the first place, I’ll break down each of the four races in detail.
Note: The last available campaign finance reports at the time of writing this article were from mid-October, so the final amount of money raised and spent by the candidates is yet to be finalized.
The highest profile of the 4 races in question is that from Maryland’s 7th Congressional District. The district covers just over half the city of Baltimore, with some portions of Baltimore County and the majority of Howard County. The seat as never elected a Republican to Congress since its modern formation after the 1950 Census. The district’s area is 95% urban and its constituent makeup is 59% Black and 34.9% White. However, Klacik managed to gain social media fame with a viral ad of her walking the streets of Baltimore’s trash-filled streets. The video is currently sitting at 2.7 million views on Twitter alone, and her Twitter account has over 498K followers while her Facebook page has over 251K likes.
This social media fame resulted in an outpour of financial contributions to her campaign. Her campaign recieved over $7.3 million in contributions, with over 65% of those in the form of donations that were $200 or under, also known as small-dollar donations. Her campaign spent over $4.8 million. Her opponent, incumbent Kweisi Mfume, raised $859K and spent $602K. Her massive financial advantage, however, did not lead to electoral success. The election result, with 80% of precincts reporting at the time of writing this, has Klacik losing to Mfume, with a result of 71.8% to 28.2%. While Klacik did improve on the Republicans’ margins from 2016 and 2018 (both candidate in those elections finishing with just under 22% of the vote), the fact that it took nearly $5 million in campaign funds to do so is proof that the efforts of Klacik and the thousands of well-intentioned donors should have been directed elsewhere to more viable races across the country.
The most well-funded of these races is that of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. The district covers the entire city of Minneapolis and includes some surrounding suburbs. The seat has not been held by a Republican since the early 1960s. The district’s area is 100% urban while its racial demographic makeup is somewhat more representative of the country as a whole for an urban district being 63% White, 17% Black, and 9% Hispanic. The seat’s current representative, Ilhan Omar, has been a favorite target for attacks by Republicans because of her very left-wing views and controversial comments, including ones about 9/11. Her rhetoric motivated over 40-year Minneapolis resident Lacy Johnson to run against her as a Republican. Her infamy among those on the Right meant Johnson quickly gained social media attention, with his Twitter account sitting at over 229K followers while his Facebook has amassed over 73K likes.
Johnson’s campaign funds quickly swelled to a massive over $10.1 million. Over 74% of that money came from under $200, small dollar donations. The campaign spent over $9.7 million. Ilhan Omar raised over $5.4 million and spent over $5.2 million. Lacy Johnson ended up recieved 25.9% of the vote to Omar’s 64.5%, with 93% of precincts reporting. This was an improvement on 2018’s result of 21.7% and 2016’s result of 22.3%, but was it worth spending over $9.7 million?
David “Dude” Dudenhoefer
The least funded of these 4 races is that of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. The district covers parts of Detroit and some of the surrounding suburbs. The seat has not been held by a Republican since the late 1940s. The district’s area is 100% urban while the racial demographics of the district are 56.3% Black and 33.4% White. The current representative of the district is Rashida Tlaib, a member of the “Squad” who has gained a high profile due to her left-wing stances. David Dudenhoefer, who goes by the nickname “Dude”, ran against Rashida after being a longtime resident of Detroit for the past twenty-five years. David has more modest social media following than the previous two candidates, with over 25K followers on Twitter and over 8.5K likes on his Facebook page.
David’s campaign raised over $900K in funds, with over 71% of that money coming from under $200, small dollar donations. Rashida Tlaib raised over $3.7 million and spent over $3.3 million. David Dudenhoefer ended up receiving 18.8% of the voter compared to Rashida’s 77.9%, with 90% of precincts reporting. While the GOP did not run a candidate in 2018, David did improve on the GOP’s margin from 2016 which was 15.7%, though it took nearly $700K spent to do so.
John C. Cummings
The race with the most high profile incumbent is that of New York’s 14th Congressional District. The district covers the eastern portion of The Bronx and part of north-central Queens. The seat has not been held by a Republic since 1992. The district is nearly 100% urban while its racial makeup is very diverse, being 49.8% Hispanic, 18.4% White, 16.2% Asian, and 11.4% Black. The current representative of the district is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC. She is the highest profile member of the squad, with her left-wing stances on issues being a prime target for attack by many on the Right. In particular, her recent support for defunding police departments angered many Americans, include John C. Cummings, who decided to run against AOC. John, while being born and raised in the district, also served as a police officer in the area for nearly a decade. John has gained over 27K followers on Twitter and over 19K likes on Facebook.
John raised over $9.5 million for his campaign, with over 70% of the money coming from under $200, small-dollar donations. His campaign spent over $8.4 million. Meanwhile, AOC raised over $17.2 million and spent over $13.5 million. As of writing this, with 71% of precincts reporting, John won 30.6% of the vote to AOC’s 68.8%. The previous two elections saw the GOP candidate win 13.8% in 2018 and 15.5% in 2016. So while John did improve upon the previous election’s performance by over 17%, it took almost $10 million to do so.
The Lesson From These Races
When it comes to elections and political campaigns, money isn’t everything but it is vital in assisting candidates in getting their message to voters. Among the supporters of both parties, there is only so much money that everyday Americans are willing to donate to candidates, whether locally or across the country, to further their party’s goals and policies. This finite amount of money, then, should be spent wisely by donating it to candidates who have a good chance at defeating their opponent, and therefore shouldn’t be donated to hopeless races. The four races above can safely be safely classified as hopeless races. I do believe that the four GOP candidates highlighted above want what’s best for their communities, and truly ran their campaigns to do just that. However, I believe it is irresponsible of both the candidates and those who promoted them that over $27 million was funneled into their campaigns with nothing to show for it. If your goal is to effect change in Congress by defeating Democrat candidates and incumbents, then voters should not be mislead to donate to races that can not be won. There were dozens of other US House races across the country that could have used the money donated to the races above to greatly improve on their already decent chances of winning. A few examples of these would be Alek Skarlatos in Oregon’s 4th District, Jesse Jensen in Washington’s 8th District, and Kyle Van De Water New York’s 19th District. All three of these races came within 6% or less of winning, while the margins lost by the candidates highlighted above were at best 38% and at worst 58%.
The social media hype surrounding the 4 races highlighted, with their pledges to “fight socialism”, unfortunately led well-intentioned Republicans nationwide to donate to races that were going nowhere. Hopefully, with these races as examples, Republican activists and voters will be smarter in future election cycles when deciding which elections are worth donating money and time to, and which ones are currently out of the realm of possibility for a Republican candidate.