If Democrats are going to make their first significant gains in more than a decade in the Missouri House, they will have to do it with less than one-tenth of the money raised by Republicans.
In campaign finance reports that were due Monday at the Missouri Ethics Commission, the GOP’s House Republican Campaign Committee reported raising $3.1 million for the election and $2.3 million on hand as of Sept. 30. The committee’s Democratic counterpart, the House Victory Committee, reported it has collected $379,146 for the campaign, with $208,280 left for the final month before the Nov. 6 vote.
Voters ended almost 50 years of Democratic dominance in the lower chamber in 2002 and gave the GOP a supermajority, with more than two-thirds of the 163 seats, in the 2012 election. Democrats have lost seats in all but four election cycles over the past 30 years with their only recovery, picking up seven seats, in the 2006 election.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” said state Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis and co-chair of the House Victory Committee. “I think (a gain of) four or five is pretty realistic. My hope is we see a major turning point to start with this year. 2020 will be better.”
The GOP has used its cash advantage in the past to buy large amounts of television and direct-mail advertising to boost its candidates. Casey Wheat, executive director of the GOP committee, did not respond to requests for an interview Tuesday by deadline.
Three of the approximately dozen seats Democrats hope to flip have a majority of voters in Boone County. They are the 44th District, where veterinarian Maren Jones is challenging freshman state Rep. Cheri Reisch of Hallsville, the 47th District, where Adrian Plank, a union carpenter, opposes two-term state Rep. Chuck Basye of Rocheport and the 50th District, where Michela Skelton is running in a rematch of her 2017 special election against state Rep. Sara Walsh of Ashland.
Republicans have the fundraising advantage in each of those races, with the narrowest gap in the 50th District, which also includes portions of Cole, Cooper and Moniteau counties. Skelton had $38,704 on hand on Sept. 30 after raising $10,740 from 117 individual donors and nine political action or party committees, while Walsh had $41,280 on hand after taking in $16,047 from 31 individuals and 15 political action or party committees. Skelton’s largest donation during the month was $800 from the Moniteau County, while Walsh took in $2,600, the legal maximum, from the conservative group Grow Missouri.
In the 44th District, which covers northeast Boone County and the area around Clark in Randolph County, Reisch had $17,488 on hand after raising $7,850 from 37 donors during the month. Jones had $2,799 on hand after raising $2,805 from 10 donors. Reisch’s largest donation was $2,000 from the Missouri Realtors Association. Jones’ largest contribution was $200 from Richard Munox.
Basye reported a 6-to-1 advantage over Plank in money on hand, $48,213 to $8,080, and double the fundraising in September. Basye’s largest donor during the period was Grow Missouri, which gave $2,600, while Plank reported receiving $600 from the MCSCEW political action committee.
Democrats are only defending one local seat, in the 46th District, where disaffected Democrat Cathy Richards switched parties to run as a Republican against state Rep. Martha Stevens, who defeated Richards in the 2016 Democratic primary. Stevens took in $8,498 during September and increased her balance to $35,552, with 50 individual and 10 political action or party committee donations. Richards raised $5,241 during the month from 27 donations and had $15,503 on hand.
In other Boone County races:Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill, a Democrat, had $17,062 on hand to fend off Republican challenger Matt Cavanaugh, who had $7,860 available. Republican Lisa Ballenger had $5,763 for her campaign to become Recorder of Deeds, triple the money on hand for incumbent Nora Dietzel, who had $1,765. Ballenger works in Dietzel’s office and lost narrowly in 2014. County Clerk Taylor Burks, a Republican, had a 2-1 advantage over challenger Brianna Lennon, with $48,991 on hand to $21,697 for Lennon. Circuit Judge Brouck Jacobs, a Republican, had $89,143 on hand against $5,811 for challenger Finley Gibbs, a Democrat. Associate Circuit Judge Josh Devine, a Republican, had $20,824 on hand compared to $3,001 for Stephanie Morrell, a Democrat.
The Democratic legislative campaign is focusing its money on staff to help candidates reach voters in personal contacts and promote them on social media, which is cheaper than traditional advertising, Merideth said.
“We are not just dumping it all into mail or TV,” he said. “We believe voter contact is more effective when you have a message like ours.”