Challengers Can Draw Hope from Tuesday's Primaries, But Incumbents Still Have the Money Edge-Special Report from


The Center for Responsive Politics offers the following “big picture” observations about yesterday’s election upsets in Connecticut, Georgia and Michigan, and invites you to visit for more money-in-politics information. You and your colleagues can also contact CRP for on-the-record interviews and custom research-today and through Election Day.


* The news out of yesterday’s contests is that even with their huge financial edge and other advantages, incumbents in Congress may have greater reason to worry about their re-election chances in November. Yesterday’s primary results should give great hope to challengers.

* Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, Cynthia McKinney in Georgia and Joe Schwarz in Michigan all out-raised their primary opponents by about 2-to-1-but they still lost. More money usually translates into more votes, especially if you’re the incumbent. That didn’t happen yesterday. In the end, it’s votes–not money–that matter most.

Related data on Election Race Profiles

Connecticut Senate profile:

Georgia-4th profile:

Michigan-7th profile:
(Note: These profiles do not include any contributions received after July 19, the last filing before these primaries.)


* Three upsets do not an anti-incumbent groundswell make. Few things in life are more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives winning re-election. A senator’s re-election is almost as predictable.

* With wide name recognition, and usually an insurmountable advantage in campaign cash, House incumbents typically have little trouble holding onto their seats.

* In 2004, 98% of House incumbents won re-election; in the Senate, 96%. Over the prior five election cycles (since the 1996 election), House incumbents have won 96.8% of the time. The Senate has been more volatile, but 88.4% of incumbents have still won re-election during that period.

Related page on Big Picture/Re-Election Rates


* In House races, the average incumbent has raised about $867,000 compared to the average challenger’s $169,000, according to data available Aug. 2. For open seats, the average candidate has raised about $345,000.

* For Senate races, incumbents have raised more than $9 million, on average, and challengers about $1.1 million. Open-seat candidates average just under $2 million.

* Although the incumbents on Tuesday had more money to spend, challenger Ned Lamont in Connecticut and Tim Walberg in Michigan both raised more than the average challenger, while the incumbents, Sen. Lieberman and Rep. Schwarz, both raised less than the average. In Georgia, Rep. McKinney raised far less than the average House incumbent, while her opponent, Hank Johnson, was about average.

* In 2004, a challenger in a House race needed to raise at least $1 million to have any chance of unseating the incumbent.

Related data on

Election Overview/Incumbent Advantage

Election Overview/Cost of Beating a House Incumbent


* From advocacy groups–PACs, 527s, et al.–independently spending money on TV ads and turning out voters, to armies of bloggers talking up candidacies online, challengers can benefit enormously–and incumbents can suffer–from activity that doesn’t necessarily show up on their campaign finance reports.

* Where incumbents are in trouble around the country, look for a surge in leadership PAC contributions from congressional colleagues in their party–and probably contributions from the opposing party’s leadership PACs. (Members of Congress and other elected politicians control this type of political action committees.) It will be interesting to see whether Democratic officeholders give money to Lieberman’s independent candidacy in Connecticut.

* So far in 2006, leadership PACs are the 7th most generous “industry” to campaigns. They’ve given more than $24 million, according to data available as of July 10. Republicans have received most of the money-72%. Is this a sign that Republican incumbents are worried about each other’s chances or simply that they have more money to give? Regardless, the list of top recipients is a who’s who of Republicans in tight re-election races this year.

Related data on

* Top Recipients of Leadership PAC Contributions in 2006

* Top 527 Activity


(All of these links can be found in the Election Overview section)

* Stats at a Glance

* Top Industries Supporting 2006 Campaigns

* Hot Races

* Most Expensive Races

* Top Self-Funders

* In-State vs. Out-of-State Contributions

* Candidate-to-Candidate Giving

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