What to watch for in the new presidential campaign finance numbers

1697302299 What to watch for in the new presidential campaign finance scaled | ltc-a

And it’s not just the presidential race on which the coming reports will shed light — it’s also the battle to control the Senate and House next year.

Here are five things I’ll be watching as the filings flow in:

Who — if anyone — can sustain a Trump-slaying campaign?

Former President Donald Trump is running away with the GOP nomination in the polls. But the latest reports will show if he has the money race on lockdown, too.

Trump’s campaign announced last week that he had $35 million in cash on hand as of the end of September. If that’s true, it’s likely to put him miles ahead of his rivals.

Three months ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seemed like the candidate most likely to match the former president dollar-for-dollar. But he’s struggled since.

DeSantis’ campaign and two related vehicles raised $15 million in the third quarter, according to the campaign. That’s actually less than the $20.1 million his campaign collected in the previous quarter — even though he was only an active candidate for half of it. (The campaign says its fundraising was better toward the end of last quarter.) Still, he’s left with only $13.5 million in cash on hand. Just $5 million of that available to use in the primary, the DeSantis campaign confirmed to POLITICO.

One DeSantis item I’ll be looking for: his payroll. His last round of payroll on June 30 included 81 employees. But that was before a series of stories about layoffs and prominent staffers moving from the campaign to Never Back Down, the super PAC that was seeded with DeSantis’ state campaign account in Florida. (Super PACs aren’t required to report their numbers until January.)

Then there’s Nikki Haley, the ascendant former South Carolina governor. Her campaign announced it ended September with $11.6 million in the bank, with $9.1 million available for the primary. (In the first quarter, Haley’s campaign engaged in some fuzzy math during its pre-deadline disclosures to the media, so I’ll be checking these numbers on Sunday.)

That might pale in comparison to Trump’s bank account, but it’s at least a start for a campaign that’s emphasized saving money for the run before Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — and one that’s seen a supportive super PAC, SFA Fund, increase its ad spending in the first two states in recent weeks.

I’ll also be looking for signs of life among other contenders. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina hasn’t announced his fundraising totals yet. Scott had $21.1 million in the bank at the end of June, second behind only Trump. But a large chunk of that was transferred over from his Senate account, and Scott has lost momentum in the polls over the past two months.

And did Vivek Ramaswamy stand up a donor operation this summer? Of the $19.2 million the businessman and first-time candidate had brought in halfway through this year, $15.3 million was self-funded.

Biden builds for the general election

President Joe Biden’s campaign loves to tout its lean operation. But it’s been starting to spend money, and the new report will offer clues about whether it has the fundraising to match.

Famously, the campaign had only four employees at the end of June but has been staffing up since. And in an unusually early start for an incumbent, Biden has been unloading on the swing-state TV airwaves, as polls show a majority of voters disapprove of his job performance.

Biden’s campaign has spent $7.3 million on advertising since July 1, according to data from AdImpact. Since late August, Biden has been spending roughly $1 million a week on ads.

That’s a rapid escalation: The campaign only spent $1.1 million total in the second quarter of this year.

But Biden’s campaign raised just under $20 million in the second quarter; it will need to pick up the pace to sustain this level of spending and stockpile resources for next year.

Looking for clues on the Senate’s remaining mysteries

The presidency isn’t the only major lever of power up for grabs next fall: Both parties are also in a pitched battle to control the Senate.

And the new reports could shed some light on the two biggest questions on the Senate landscape: Will Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) run for reelection?

Both have stockpiled large war chests. Each incumbent had $10.8 million in cash on hand at the midway point of this year.

But both also face uphill races if they run again, Manchin as a Democrat in ruby-red West Virginia, and Sinema as an independent against the two likely major-party candidates, Democrat Ruben Gallego and Republican Kari Lake, in Arizona.

Manchin hasn’t revealed his third-quarter fundraising, but I’ll be watching to see whether he matches last quarter’s $1.3 million.

Sinema’s campaign, meanwhile, filed its report late Friday, showing the first-term Democrat-turned-independent roughly broke even over the past three months. She raised $826,000 and spent $784,000 — including significant investments in digital advertising.

House Republicans’ reversal of the Green Wave

The House Republican conference is in disarray. But Democrats have a lot of work to do if they’re going to take advantage of it.

That’s because, in a stark reversal from the last presidential election cycle, GOP congressional incumbents and candidates have generally been stronger fundraisers than their Democratic counterparts.

In the second quarter, 28 of the 31 House GOP incumbents who’ve been targeted for defeat by Democrats’ campaign arm raised at least $500,000, according to figures crunched by my colleague Ally Mutnick. But only about half of the 37 Democrats the National Republican Congressional Committee is seeking to oust matched that amount.

Have Democrats closed that gap? The third-quarter reports will tell, but they won’t reflect the latest turmoil within the GOP conference, because Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as speaker came on Oct. 3, just days into the new quarter.

The California Republican was also a prodigious fundraiser — his team said late Friday it raised $15.3 million in the third quarter through his various committees — and whomever the GOP taps as his replacement will be hard-pressed to match him in protecting Republicans’ narrow and volatile majority.

Trump isn’t the only candidate under indictment

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was looking like a safe bet for reelection before his indictment on corruption charges last month. Now he’s essentially toast — but what is going to happen to his vast campaign war chest?

Menendez had $7.8 million in cash on hand as of June 30 after raising $1.6 million last quarter — exclusively from big-dollar donors and other political action committees. There’s no reason to believe he won’t come close to matching that figure in the third quarter; his indictment in late September wouldn’t have affected his fundraising for most of the quarter.

Meanwhile, Menendez’s first — and likely not only — Democratic primary challenger, Rep. Andy Kim, ended June with $882,000 in the bank. That’s not enough to scare off other candidates, and his pending third-quarter report will only reflect his first week running for Senate.

The other member of Congress under criminal indictment, Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), has been charged with numerous campaign finance violations, including allegedly stealing money that he then classified as loans on his 2022 FEC reports.

In the last quarter, Santos repaid some of those loans to the tune of $85,000. But if some or all of that loaned money wasn’t Santos’ in the first place, as a fresh indictment this week alleges, that loan repayment — along with any that might be on a new FEC report — will draw further scrutiny from federal prosecutors.

Both Menendez and Santos insist they’re running again next year — which, in addition to giving them a bargaining chip with the U.S. attorney’s office for any potential plea deals, allows them to continue to raise campaign cash from anyone who will give it to them.