Democrats match Youngkin’s money in many competitive districts

Come next week this time, we’ll have election results.

For now, we have the next best thing: campaign finance reports.

Or are they the next best thing? Here’s where I must deliver my customary advisory: Money doesn’t matter as much as some people think it does. Candidates certainly need enough money to get their message out, but they don’t necessarily need more than the other side. Lots of lesser-funded candidates win, lots of heavily funded candidates lose. Still, what we can see from these reports — filed this week to cover most of October — is where the money is going. If both parties are pouring money into a district, that’s a sure sign that it’s considered competitive. If they aren’t, that’s a sign that it’s not. 

A few highlights:

  • Neither party is directing big sums to the state Senate race in the Roanoke and New River valleys involving state Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, and Democrat Trish White-Boyd.
  • Party donors seem to have pulled back from Henrico County Democrat Susanna Gibson, whose sex videos became public, although she’s still managing to outraise her Republican opponent thanks to small donors.
  • The most heavily contested races, dollar-wise, are all in the urban crescent, with a state Senate race in Northern Virginia between Democrat Russet Perry and Republican Juan Pablo Segura being the most expensive of all.
  • For all the hub-bub over how much Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s political action committee has, it’s not the biggest spender in this fall’s election. In fact, it’s not even second. It might wind up in first or second by the time the campaign is done, but it’s not there now.
  • Democrats are pumping money into key races at a faster rate than Republicans are. When I wrote about the first round of campaign finance reports in the summer, Democrats generally had more money. In the last round, which went through the end of September, Republicans were starting to pour money in and had taken the money lead in most competitive races. Now we see Democrats matching that Republican money — and raising it, although Republicans often still have a cash advantage. Whether that matters, we’ll find out on election night. 

Here’s a district-by-district look at key races, starting with those in Cardinal’s coverage area, then looking at the rest of the state. As always, I’m indebted to the Virginia Public Access Project, which has put all this data online for both House and Senate candidates.

Senate District 4. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
Senate District 4. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

SD 4: Suetterlein (R) has 7.5 times has much as White-Boyd (D)

Democrat Trish White-Boyd has seen her fundraising pick up, although state Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, still raised more money in the period: He took in $208,242 while she brought in $168,347, although Suetterlein’s bank account dwarfs hers: He has $263,181 cash on hand to her $34,969. 

White-Boyd’s biggest donors for the period: $45,000 from state Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, who is retiring, and $40,000 from the Virginia State Legislative Black Caucus. I notice, though, she didn’t get money this period from the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus, which is dropping six-figure donations — and in one case a seven-figure donation — on other races around the state.

Suetterlein’s two biggest donations were $50,000 apiece from the Clean Virginia Fund and the Realtors Political Action Committee, a most unlikely combination. Clean Virginia is a pro-clean energy group that generally supports Democrats, but Suetterlein is well-known as a critic of Dominion Energy, which appears to have endeared him to Clean Virginia. (Disclosure: Dominion is one of our donors, but donors have no say in news decisions; see our policy.) Of 59 candidates that Clean Virginia has endorsed this fall, Suetterlein is the only Republican. 

Voters ultimately have the say but there’s no sign from the latest campaign finance report that either party considers this a competitive race — otherwise we’d see more money from both parties flowing in.

The 41st District covers most of Montgomery County (but not Christiansburg), western Roanoke County, and the Bent Mountain area. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

HD 41: Franklin (D) outraises Obenshain (R) but Obenshain has more money

Lily Franklin has proven to be an impressive fundraiser, especially for a Democrat outside the urban crescent. During October, she outraised Chris Obenshain $253,240 to $204,301, but going into the final week of the campaign he has more money in reserve: $85,622 to her $64,533.

Democrats must see a potential winner here because the Democratic Party of Virginia has put $122,031 into Franklin’s race while the the House Democratic Caucus gave $70,000. It would be quite a coup if Democrats could pick up a seat west of Charlottesville, especially west of Roanoke. Republicans, though, have also put money into Obenshain’s campaign. Obenshain picked up $97,721 from the Republican Party of Virginia, plus $25,000 from the political action committee of House Speaker Todd Gilbert and $20,000 from the House Republican Campaign Committee, and Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC gave $15,000. That’s not nearly as much as he’s invested in other races, a sign that he probably isn’t that worried about Obenshain. 

You’ll notice here that the big donors are from party-related groups, rather than other types of donors (individuals, corporations, etc.) That’s fairly typical, although I’ll have more to say about that later.

The newly drawn 51st House District covers Campbell County, a small part of Pittsylvania County and the southern half of Bedford County. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
The newly drawn 51st House District covers Campbell County, a small part of Pittsylvania County and the southern half of Bedford County. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

HD 51: Fariss (I) isn’t spending money 

Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell County, passed up a fight for the Republican nomination to run as an independent in a three-way race against Republican Eric Zehr and Democrat Kimberly Moran in what otherwise is a heavily Republican district — it voted 79% for Youngkin two years ago.

Fariss hasn’t raised any money — precisely zero — but he’s got more cash on hand than both the other candidates combined. Going into the final week, Fariss has $41,871, Zehr $18,452 and Moran just $646. I had speculated that Fariss was going to sit on this cash hoard and then use it for an advertising blitz. That’s not happening. During October, he spent just $76, a combination of newspaper subscriptions and gas. He also hasn’t shown up at some campaign forums. This makes me think he’s not really trying. Name recognition alone won’t cut it here, because a) about half the voters in this district are new to him and b) Fariss has mostly made headlines lately for getting indicted on felony charges stemming from a traffic incident. For what it’s worth, 4,308 early votes have already been cast in this district, a somewhat below-average figure.

House District 52 puts all of Lynchburg in the same district, with a piece of Campbell County to make the numbers work out.

HD 52: Woofter (D) remains close to Walker (R) in fundraising, but he has more money

This district shouldn’t be close; it went 57% for Youngkin two years ago. However, Jennifer Woofter (D) has stayed close to Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, in fundraising. For the period, he raised $19,611 to her $16,590. However, he’s got twice as much money on hand: $52,780 to Woofter’s $25,796.

* * * 

Now let’s move on to some of the most competitive Senate districts elsewhere in the state:

Senate District 16 covers western Henrico County. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
Senate District 16 covers western Henrico County. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

SD 16: VanValkenburg (D) outraises Dunnavant (R), but Dunnavant has slight edge in money

The most threatened Republican incumbent in the Senate is state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico County, who represents a district that voted 53% Democratic two years ago. No wonder both parties are pouring resources into this race. For the period, Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico County, has raised more money: $2,242,337 to Dunnavant’s $1,864,250. However, Dunnavant has slightly more money in the bank to spend: $579,752 to his $517,750. While that difference is more than many people make in a year, that’s not really a significant difference in the world of campaign spending.

For the period, VanValkenburg’s biggest donor was the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus, which plunked down $779,000. Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC also contributed $413,437. Dunnavant’s biggest donor was Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC — $529,000.

If Democrats win this race, it becomes more difficult for Republicans to win a majority in the Senate. If Republicans hold this seat, Democrats could still win a majority but Republicans will have a better shot.

The 17th state Senate District. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
The 17th state Senate District. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

SD 17: Jenkins (D) outraises Brewer (R), but Brewer has more money left

This race for the state Senate features two sitting delegates from Suffolk: Republican Emily Brewer and Democrat Clint Jenkins. For the period, Jenkins took in $1,082,825 to Brewer’s $791,781. He’s also spent virtually all of that. Going into the final week, Brewer has $157,982 while Jenkins has just $249. That doesn’t necessarily mean Jenkins is out of money — just that he’s spent most of what he has. Candidates can always raise more, so this may just reflect cash flow or strategic decisions about what to spend money on and when.

Jenkins’ biggest donor for the period was the Senate Democratic Caucus, which put in $728,000. Brewer’s biggest donor was Youngkin’s PAC, which contributed $140,000.

Senate District 24 covers parts of James City County and Newport News and all of Poquoson, Williamsburg and York County. Courtesy of Virignia Supreme Court.
Senate District 24 covers parts of James City County and Newport News and all of Poquoson, Williamsburg and York County. Courtesy of Virignia Supreme Court.

SD 24: Diggs (R) outraises Mason (D) and holds slight money edge 

By some projections, this is the closest Senate race in the state — state Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, faces Republican Danny Diggs. Diggs slightly outraised Mason for the period — $1,827,768 to $1,787,108 — and continues to hold an equally slight cash advantage of $191,623 to $141,697.

If anybody tells you they know how this race will go, check their ID to see if they’re Nostradamus — otherwise, this one is definitely considered too close to call. 

Mason’s biggest donor was the Senate Democratic Caucus, which was good for $915,000. Diggs’ was Youngkin’s PAC, which put in $690,000.

Senate District 27 covers Fredericksburg and parts of Spotsylvania and Stafford counties. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
Senate District 27 covers Fredericksburg and parts of Spotsylvania and Stafford counties. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

SD 27: Griffin (D) has money advantage over Durant (R)

This is a contest where the money advantage has flipped back and forth. In the last campaign reports, Del. Tara Durant, R-Fredericksburg, had the edge. Now Democrat Joel Griffin does, and it’s a fairly significant lead. For the period, he took in $2,120,153 to Durant’s $1,691,599, while independent Monica Gary raised $27,735. In terms of what’s left, Griffin has $553,406 for the final push while Durant has $322,618 and Gary has $10,418. 

In terms of big donors, we see the same pattern as before: Party sources dominate. Griffin’s biggest contributor for the period was the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus to the tune of $1,325,000. Durant’s biggest was the governor’s PAC — $600,000. 

It’s clear that both parties see the road to a majority running through this district. 

One late-breaking complication: The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported this week that Durant had signaled she would be willing to restrict abortion beyond the 15-week period that Youngkin has proposed, and Republicans have generally rallied around.

Senate District 31 covers parts of Loudoun and Fauquier counties. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
Senate District 31 covers parts of Loudoun and Fauquier counties. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

SD 31: Perry (D) holds slight advantage over Segura (R) in state’s most expensive campaign

At the end of September, Democrat Russet Perry had pulled out to a big cash advantage over Republican Juan Pablo Segura, but that’s no longer the case. Now things are relatively even. For the period, Perry raised $2,672,498 while Segura raised $2,139,071. Let me just pause here to point out that Cardinal’s annual budget is just north of $1 million, so both of these campaigns raised more than twice as much in a month than we do in a year. If that bothers you, feel free to fix that with a donation to us. We won’t even ask you to put a bumper sticker on your car.

Perry still has a cash advantage, but not as much as before: She has $388,994, he has $300,210. Perry’s biggest donor for the period: The Senate Democratic Caucus put in $1,295,000. Segura’s biggest donor: his own Renew Virginia PAC, which contributed $1,030,000. 

* * * 

Next we’ll look at the seven House races that the Virginia Public Access Project earlier identified as the most competitive districts in the state.

House District 21 covers part of Prince William County. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 21 covers part of Prince William County. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

HD 21: Thomas (D) now has more than twice as much money as Stirrup (R)

In the previous reports, Republican John Stirrup has more than twice as much money as Democrat Josh Thomas. Thomas has now reversed that. Thomas outraised Stirrup for the period — $1,790,415 to $710,023 — and now has $678,818 in the bank to $288,493 for Stirrup.

The Virginia House Democratic Caucus has invested heavily in Thomas, giving him $1,218,000 for the period. Youngkin’s PAC has likewise invested in Stirrup but not to the same degree: The Spirit of Virginia has given $250,000 in the most recent period.

House District 22. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 22. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

HD 22: Nembhard (D) outraises Lovejoy (R), but Lovejoy has four times as much money

For the period, Travis Nembhard took in $1,112,141 to $548,349 for Republican Ian Lovejoy. But going into the final week, Lovejoy has $349,968 in the bank while Nembhard has $86,426.

The Virginia House Democratic Caucus has put $550,000 into this race in the past month, a goodly sum but less than half of what it put into Thomas’ campaign. Lovejoy’s biggest boost was $82,899 from the Republican Party of Virginia. 

That disparity in big donors tells me that Republicans feel fairly secure about this race, that they don’t need to put in much more money, while Democrats are hustling to make things closer. Of course, it could also be just the reverse — that Republicans aren’t willing to put money into this race while Democrats see a winner (although Lovejoy’s big cash reserve makes me think my first take is the correct one).

House District 57 covers eastern Goochland County and western Henrico County. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 57 covers eastern Goochland County and western Henrico County. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

HD 57: Gibson (D) outraises Owen (R), regains cash advantage

Susanna Gibson is the candidate whose sex videos were revealed earlier this fall. At the time, she had a big cash advantage over Republican David Owen. In the last report, that had disappeared. Now she’s back to outraising him and has more money in the bank. For the period, Gibson raised $211,205 to Owen’s $189,799, with the current balances put at $180,722 for her and $88,536 for him. 

For whatever reason, the House Democratic Caucus hasn’t put much money into her campaign — just $5,023 for the period. Her biggest donor was Planned Parenthood at $49,965. Does this suggest that other Democratic donors have pulled back from her campaign? It sure looks that way. Owen, by contrast, got $75,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee PAC.

One complicating factor in this race: Republicans have mailed what have been described as “explicit fliers” into the district to call attention to Gibson’s videos. 

The outcome here could tell us a lot about how this news plays with voters — or might not. If Gibson loses amid a Republican sweep, maybe this just wasn’t a Democratic year and it’s hard to gauge what impact, if any, the sex videos had. If she wins amid a Democratic sweep, then clearly the sex videos didn’t matter. If she were to lose amid a Democratic sweep elsewhere, then maybe they did.

House District 65 covers Fredericksburg and parts of Spotsylvania and Stafford counties. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 65 covers Fredericksburg and parts of Spotsylvania and Stafford counties. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

HD 65: Cole (D) outraises Peters (R) but Peters has slight cash advantage

Democrat Joshua Cole raised more than twice as much as Republican Lee Peters during the period — $2,011,576 to $901,275 — but Peters has a balance of $298,731 to $218,734 for Cole. 

This is another district where party money is making a difference: Most of Cole’s haul — $1,400,000 — came from the House Democratic Caucus. Peters’ biggest donation was $300,000 from Youngkin’s PAC.

House District 82 covers parts of Dinwiddie and Prince George counties, as well as Petersburg and Surry County. Courtesy of Virignia Supreme Court.
House District 82 covers parts of Dinwiddie and Prince George counties, as well as Petersburg and Surry County. Courtesy of Virignia Supreme Court.

HD 82: Adams (D) erases Taylor’s (R) cash advantage

In the last report, Del. Kim Taylor, R-Petersburg, had the most money in the bank. Now she doesn’t. For the period, Democrat Kimberly Pope Adams outraised Taylor $1,035,447 to $906,005. In terms of cash balance, Adams has $210,532 to Taylor’s $51,039. The House Democratic Caucus was Adams’ big donor for the period — $350,000. Taylor’s biggest source of contributions was Youngkin’s PAC: $265,000.

House District 89 covers parts of Chesapeake and Suffolk. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 89 covers parts of Chesapeake and Suffolk. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

HD 89: Jenkins (D) outraises Ennis (R), holds narrow money lead

Of the most competitive districts, this one has been something of a sleeper, although maybe it shouldn’t be. This was a 53.4% Republican district in 2021 but a 50.4% Democratic district last year. For the period, Democrat Karen Jenkins outraised Republican Baxter Ennis $977,245 to $605,382. Going into the final week, both sides have about the same amount of money: Jenkins has $198,687 while Ennis has $176,579.

The PAC associated with House Speaker Todd Gilbert was Ennis’ biggest donor for the period: $200,000. Meanwhile, the House Democratic Caucus gave Jenkins $178,638.

House District 97 covers part of Virginia Beach. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 97 covers part of Virginia Beach. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

HD 97: Feggans (D) outraises Greenhalgh (R), but Greenhalgh has more money

This district could be one of the closest in the state. Democrat Michael Feggans raised more money in the period — $1,449,271 to $945,758 for Del. Karen Greenhalgh, R-Virginia Beach. But she’s got $506,110 squirreled away, while he has $387,744. 

His biggest donor was the House Democratic Caucus: $600,000. Her biggest donor was Youngkin’s PAC: $240,000.

The biggest donors: Michael Bills vs. Dominion Energy

These latest reports make it sound as if party sources are the main source of money. They may be right now, but if we look over the whole campaign cycle, we get a different picture. Instead, the two biggest sources of campaign donors are Michael Bills, who heads a Charlottesville-based hedge fund, and Dominion Energy. Policywise, those two are on opposite sides.

The Virginia Public Access Project reports that Bills has given $12.5 million while Dominion has given $11.45 million. Bills is also a founder of the Clean Virginia Fund, which also ranks as a top donor. His wife, Sonjia Smith, also places in the top 10. 

The top 10 donors:

Michael Bills: $12,500,000
Dominion Energy: $11,452,866
Spirit of Virginia (Youngkin’s PAC): $9,77,941
Clean Virginia Fund: $8,546,892
House Democratic Caucus: $5,772,487
Republican State Leadership Committee: $5,699,096
Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus: $4,834,697
Urban One (media, primarily radio): $4,340,278
Republican Commonwealth Leadership (Gilbert’s PAC): $4,186,188
Sonjia Smith: $4,083,682

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For a full list of who’s running this fall, see our election page.

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