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Data dump unearths new nuggets about presidential fundraising

WASHINGTON — While most of the political world was watching the Democratic presidential debates last week, the Federal Election Commission released a treasure trove of fundraising data that sheds new light on how the candidates have raised their money.  

The gigantic data dump (in the form of a 25 million-line-plus spreadsheet) includes every donation handled by ActBlue, the donation-processing company that handles virtually all of the Democratic Party's online donations. 

The data is especially important because while quarterly reports from the candidates themselves don't have to include donors who give less than $200, the ActBlue reports must detail every donation it processed for a candidate. 

There's already been some deep analysis of the data from 30,000 feet by outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. But here are some more interesting nuggets from last week's release, combined with data already available (note: the data spans from Jan. 1 through June 30 of this year):

There's a clear top tier in the early primary states 

Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina still dominate the early calendar, helping to decide the nominee and winnow down the field. And as far as fundraising goes, there's a clear top-tier. 

Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris aren't just at the top of the polls right now, they're also raising more money from the early primary states than anyone else. 

Sanders is the clear fundraising leader in Iowa and New Hampshire; Biden holds a significant edge in Nevada; and Biden, Sanders and Buttigieg are virtually tied at the top of the money race in South Carolina. 

The first debate bump 

Strong first debate performances changed the trajectory of some campaigns' fundraising. 

Julian Castro is a perfect example. The day before he took the debate stage in Miami on June 26, Castro raised under $20,000. But the day of the debate, where he won praise after a heated back-and-forth with Beto O'Rourke on immigration, Castro pulled in $84,000. And the day after the debate, he raised almost $330,000. 

Harris also saw a big bump after her first debate, where she tangled with Biden over racial issues. Raising just $68,000 the day before the debate, Harris raked in $574,000 on the day of her debate (June 27) and $1.8 million the next day (June 28). 

The moment Buttigieg's candidacy took off

Much of Pete Buttigieg's success has been attributed to a strategy of flooding the zone with media appearances. And the ActBlue data shows just how important that strategy has been to his campaign's bottom-line. 

Unlike most candidates that raked in fistfuls of cash on their announcement day, Buttigieg barely raised a dime when he announced his exploratory committee on Jan 23. But his fortunes changed dramatically on March 10, when he pulled in $201,000, and the following day, when he raised $456,000. The impetus? March 10 was Buttigieg's breakout performance during a nationally-televised CNN town hall. 

The Hooiser hasn't looked back since — there have only been a handful of days since when he raised less than six-figures. 

Top Democratic House super PAC wants party to "fight back more forcefully" against GOP on Covid vaccines

The House Majority PAC, one of the Democratic Party's top outside groups working on House races, is out with a new memo calling on the party to take a more aggressive posture against Republicans on Covid vaccines.

In a new memo, shared first with NBC News, the PAC argues that Republicans trying to "undermine" Democratic pandemic policy, linking those efforts to an attempt turn around the economy by creating jobs, tackling inflation and improving the supply chain.

"It's time for Democrats to fight back more forcefully," the memo reads.

"If Republicans are going to continue to put their own political aims ahead of the health of every American, Democrats must call them out."

To that end, the group is running a new ad on cable in Washington D.C. on Tuesday as an example of how they think Democrats should message on the issue. It points to a recent push by some Republican lawmakers to threaten to shut down the government over President Biden's Covid-19 vaccine or testing mandates, calling the move a "reckless scheme" that could force "your Covid mask to stay on indefinitely" and delay the "return to normal."

But while one key point of disagreement between the two parties is the administration's vaccine mandate, the word "mandate" is absent from the memo and from the TV ad. Instead, the messaging takes a broader approach arguing that Republican policies and rhetoric could slow vaccinations in America, in turn blunting a recovery. 

"Republicans know that if they successfully undermine vaccination efforts they’ll prevent the country from getting back to normal and all the economic benefits that go along with it. COVID and the economy are one in the same," HMP executive director Abby Curran Horrell told NBC News in a statement.  

It's an idea many Republicans have pushed back on, arguing that they consider a government mandate an overreach. 

"It comes back to do you want things orchestrated at the federal level, where we don't create results that are sustainable, or do you want to bring this back to a lower level of authority? And that has nothing to do with what you think about the vaccine or the disease and how you fight it," Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. 

With the pandemic dominating much of public life for almost two years, it's had a significant impact on political campaigning and messaging in recent months. 

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom ran heavily on his approach to the pandemic as he repelled a recall challenge. But while Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe spent much of September attacking his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, for not supporting vaccine mandates, the issue became less of an emphasis for Democrats down the stretch. McAuliffe ultimately lost, with exit polls showing that only 15 percent of the electorate thought the pandemic was the top issue in the race (education and the economy ranked higher).  

Dr. Oz kicks off Senate campaign with big ad spending

Dr. Mehmet Oz, the television personality turned Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate, is spending more than $1.4 million in ads in the early weeks of his campaign as he makes a big splash into the wide open primary contest. 

Oz announced his candidacy on Tuesday and began running ads in Pennsylvania on Friday. The spots, booked through mid-January, per AdImpact, are similar to the announcement video he released on social media to kick off his bid.

"Covid has shown us that our system is broken. We lost too many lives, too many jobs and too many opportunities because Washington got it wrong. They took away our freedom without making us safer, and tried to kill our spirit and our dignity," Oz says in the ad. 

"Pennsylvania needs a conservative who will put America first."

The big spending by Oz already makes him the top ad spender in the race, per the ad-tracking firm AdImpact, on either side of the aisle. Fellow Republican Carla Sands, the former ambassador under then-President Trump who is using her own funds to jump-start her campaign, has booked and/or spent just under $1.4 million so far in ad time. 

And there's even more potential big money on the horizon — as Politico reports that Hedge Fund CEO David McCoormick may run too. The field is considered wide open after Republican Sean Parnell (who had Trump's endorsement) dropped out in response to losing a custody battle amid accusations he abused his wife. Parnell denies those allegations. 

Virginia governor's race was most expensive in state history, new campaign finance reports show

Fundraising in this year's high-profile Virginia gubernatorial race exceeded $138 million — almost twice the previous record for the most expensive governor's race in the state, according to recent fundraising reports. 

The new campaign finance reports filed Thursday reveal that Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe raked in $69 million while GOP candidate and now Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin raised almost $68 million in net funds for their elections through Nov. 25, according to the Department of Elections' final campaign finance reports. McAuliffe's campaign reported spending all-but $100,000 of what they raised, while Youngkin came into Thanksgiving with $3.5 million still banked away. 

During the last reporting period beginning Oct. 22 and lasting through November, McAuliffe and Youngkin raised $11.5 million and $10.2 million respectively. 

Tens of millions of that fundraising went to advertising, per AdImpact — $39.6 million by the McAuliffe campaign and $32.3 million by Youngkin. 

Up until 2021, the most expensive Virginia gubernatorial election was the last one, in 2017, when Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie, per the Virginia Public Access Project, which analyzed previous gubernatorial races adjusted for inflation. The two candidates raised a combined $73.5 million — about half of the 2021 total.  

The record-breaking fundraising in this year's Virginia governor's race stresses just how competitive the contest was, with Youngkin ultimately flipping the state red and dealing a blow to Democrats in the election widely viewed as a bellwether ahead of the 2022 midterms. 

Renacci chooses conservative filmmaker as running mate in GOP primary against Ohio Gov. DeWine

Former Rep. Jim Renacci, a Republican angling to unseat Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in a primary next year, has chosen conservative movie producer Joe Knopp as his running mate for lieutenant governor.

Knopp — whose producing credits include titles like "The Trump I Know" and "UnPlanned," an anti-abortion movie — is a political unknown in the state.

"I spent the last couple of months trying to figure out who would be the best teammate, who would be somebody who could step with me, who is somebody that could work with me," Renacci, who served four terms in the House and was an unsuccessful Senate candidate in 2018, said at a Thursday news conference to introduce Knopp. "And I realized that the only way we're going to change this broken system is to bring fresh people in just like our forefathers wanted a long time ago."

Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, walks up the House steps for a vote in the Capitol on Feb. 15, 2018.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

Knopp acknowledged his inexperience at the event, held in the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester, and spoke of his life story: growing up in a broken home and then a Philadelphia orphanage, enlisting in the Air Force to pay for college and turning a career in finance to a career producing movies. Renacci listed him last month as one of several dozen "influencers" on his campaign.

"Such a surreal experience to be standing up here next to Jim," Knopp said Thursday. "It's such an honor to be standing up here, to be going for this position."

Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run together as a ticket in the primary and general election in Ohio, and in recent history tickets from both parties have often aimed for a balance of age, gender, race and geography. Renacci lives in the Cleveland media market, Knopp lives downstate in the Dayton area. Both are white men older than 45.

Renacci is being advised by Brad Parscale, one of former President Donald Trump's past campaign managers. He's running to DeWine's right in 2022, with the incumbent's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic a central issue. DeWine was one of the first governors in the country to close schools and businesses in early 2020 and supported mask mandates until last June. Also in the GOP race is Joe Blystone, a restaurateur who has caught attention with his right-wing rhetoric and trademark cowboy hat and bushy white beard.

The primary is scheduled for May. Running on the Democratic side are Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. Neither has announced a running mate. DeWine is expected to run again with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.

A lack of public polling makes it tough to assess DeWine's standing in a primary. Parscale shared polling over the summer from Tony Fabrizio, Trump's chief pollster in 2016 and 2020, that showed DeWine is vulnerable with GOP voters, with Renacci leading in a head-to-head contest.

Republican committees bet big on Facebook spending

The Republican congressional campaign committees (for the House and the Senate) made up the top two political campaign/party spenders on Facebook last month, according to data from the social media platform.

An analysis of Facebook spending by federal candidates and party-affiliated committees shows that the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent more than any other of those groups, about $910,000 in November. And the National Congressional Campaign Committee spent the second most last month, $445,000. 

One key piece of strategy for both the NRSC and the NRCC was using former President Donald Trump's likeness to drive clicks. Facebook's ad tracker shows that the top two ads (in terms of social media engagement) for both groups were posts about Trump's recent announcement he was creating his own social media network. The posts with the third most engagement for both the NRSC and the NRCC were polls aimed at criticizing President Biden. 

Trump's own political action committee, Save America, spent the third most on Facebook ads in November, with $440,000. The group's top three ads include a survey for Republicans that criticizes Biden, another survey parroting Trump's unfounded claims of widespread election fraud and a call to "oppose Biden's vaccine mandate."  

The final two spots in the top five are held by Democrats — Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, who is looking for another term in office, and Florida Rep. Val Demings, who is running for Senate. They've spent $380,000 and $153,000 respectively. 

Prtizker's top ads come from an affiliated page called "Illinois Daily," which largely spotlights positive headlines for Pritzker. And Demings' top ads are fundraising appeals and a post on voting rights

Atlanta heads to polls in mayoral runoff

Voters are voting in Atlanta Tuesday, where residents will choose their new mayor in a runoff election after none of the candidates managed an outright victory in the general election just weeks ago. 

The top two vote-getters in that election — City Council President Felicia Moore and City Councilman Andre Dickens — made the runoff.  Moore led the crowded pack of candidates with almost 41 percent of the vote on Election Day, while Dickens narrowly edged out former Mayor Kasim Reed to win the second slot in the runoff. 

Even though Moore won the plurality of the vote earlier this month, a recent poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found the two locked in a tight race, with Dickens holding a lead within the poll's margin of error. 

Since the start of the runoff period, Dickens has massively outspent Moore on TV and radio advertising, $650,000 to $275,000, per ad-tracking firm AdImpact. And an anti-Dickens outside group has spent about $165,000. 

Crime has been a major issue in the race. The anti-Dickens outside group has attacked him for voting to temporarily withhold police funding, prompting Dickens' camp to accuse the group of mischaracterizing him. Dickens has also hit Moore on her vote against a police body camera proposal in the city, with Moore pushing back to say she supports body cameras for police but that the specific proposal she voted against was a "shady deal." She's also running TV ads outlining her public safety plan

The winner will replace Keisha Lance Bottoms, the current mayor who announced earlier this year she wasn't running for re-election. 

NRSC targets Thanksgiving travelers with inflation ads at gas stations

Americans on the road for Thanksgiving will be reminded of high gas and grocery prices with an ad push from the Republican Senate campaign arm airing at gas stations across the country this week.

“You like high gas prices?” the ad intones, with cartoonish graphics and sound effects. “If so, introducing: Joe Biden and Democrats.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s five-figure, multi-day buy — first reported by NBC News — goes across ten battleground states where Republicans hope to flip or keep Senate seats in the upcoming 2022 midterms. The advertisements are intended to hit travelers on the road for the Thanksgiving holiday who are filling up their gas tanks.

The full list of states where the ads will air include: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

The ad campaign comes as Republicans have increasingly focused on inflation spurred by supply chain issues as a key messaging focus ahead of 2022, using it as a point of contrast with Democrats, who seek to pass trillions in infrastructure, social programs, and climate measures. 

Recently, Democrats have pushed back on those attacks by arguing that the investments could help lessen the strain on the economy and give Americans more purchasing power. 

UPDATE: Gas Station TV rejected a version of these ads because they did not fall within the company’s political content guidelines. An NRSC spokesperson told NBC News Tuesday night that they are working to “tweak” the ads so they may run. 

GOP poll of Virginia has Republicans confident that Biden's approval rating, economy can boost party in 2022

A new Republican poll of Virginia gubernatorial voters shows why the GOP's recent victory in Virginia has the party arguing that both concerns about the economy and education, as well as President Joe Biden's low approval rating, could be part of a winning message in 2022. 

The new joint survey from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Governors Association, first obtained by NBC News and conducted by the GOP-aligned firm OnMessage Inc., shows that 55 percent of Virginia's gubernatorial electorate disapproved of Biden's job in office (with 47 percent saying they strongly disapproved and 7 percent saying they somewhat disapproved). In contrast, 44 percent said they approved of Biden (21 percent strongly and 23 percent somewhat).

That finding is largely in line with public polls released just before Election Day — Suffolk University, Fox News and The Washington Post/George Mason University were among the public surveys that showed a majority disapproving of Biden in the days before the election. And NBC's exit polling found that 53 percent of the Virginia electorate disapproved of Biden, compared to the 46 percent who approved of his job performance. 

And 71 percent said that Democrat Terry McAuliffe "spent far too much time and money running against Donald Trump, who wasn't even on the ballot" and that he "would have done better" if he focused on Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin. In addition, 82 percent said education was important to deciding their vote (52 percent said it was very important); and majorities agreed with GOP-leaning statements about "critical race theory" and inflation's effect on their household bottom line. 

“What’s clear from Virginia is that Joe Biden’s numbers are dragging down Democrats everywhere, something that should terrify every Senate Democrat running for reelection next year," Chris Hartline, the NRSC's communications director, said in a statement to NBC News. "The Democrats’ agenda of more spending, higher taxes, skyrocketing inflation, and an anti-parent philosophy on education is turning off swing voters, suburban voters, independent voters, you name it."

For its poll, OnMessage surveyed 800 gubernatorial election voters on Nov. 3 and 4 by telephone,  and the poll has a margin of error of +/-3.46%.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe's campaign post-mortem blamed their loss on better-than-expected GOP turnout and a poor political environment for Democrats that had Virginians believing both the country and the state were on the wrong path. And the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA called the Virginia election's a "warning for all Democrats," arguing that the party should stop "fighting each other" and focus on delivering on campaign promises to motivate their base and swing voters to turn out. 

It's all why this month's election results — both in Virginia but also in races in states like New Jersey and New York — have amplified Republican optimism ahead of next year's pivotal midterm elections, where control of both the House and Senate, as well as governor, are up for grabs.

Democrats are defending gubernatorial seats in five states rated as "toss up" or "lean," with Republicans defending four, according to ratings from The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. And with the Senate evenly divided, there are four Democratic seats and five Republican seats with those "toss up" or "lean" ratings. 

Conservative group warns Luria, Spanberger on social spending bill weeks after Dem losses in Virginia

A conservative non-profit group is going up with new ads warning Virginia Democratic Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger that they should be wary of voting for the House Democrats' new social spending bill right after Republicans just swept into power in this month's elections.

American Action Network dropped two similar ads Tuesday calling on both Democrats not to vote on the forthcoming reconciliation bill, showing a super-cut of television news reacting to the results in Virginia's statewide and legislative elections. 

"The message, loud and clear: Virginia rejects the radical Biden/Pelosi agenda. But liberals like Abigail Spanberger still aren't listening," the narrator says in the ad, swapping out Luria's name in her district. 

"Tell Abigail Spanberger to get the message and reject the Pelosi spending plan." 

AAN has already spent heavily in both districts — more than $575,000 on ads against Spanberger and almost $1.2 million in Luria's district, enough to be among the top-two ad spenders in each district, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. And it has 

And the group has spent millions attacking Democrats across the country over the social-spending bill too, including announcing $2 million worth of new ads across eight districts (including the two in Virginia) on the issue yesterday. 

Appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday, Spanberger argued that the bipartisan infrastructure bill will help address supply chain issues by funding sectors like ports, airports, and recruiting for truck drivers. When asked about what lessons she thought Democrats should take away from her state's recent election, Spanberger said that Democrats need to "have a message that is responsive to what people are talking about." 

And when asked about the Democratic social spending bill specifically, she said there's "so much of this bill that's incredibly valuable" like spending to curb climate change, expand the child tax credit and lower prescription drug prices.

Senate ad spending nears $90 million one year from Election Day 2022

One year before Election Day 2022, the Senate ad-spending battleground is already flush with cash. 

So far this cycle, there has been a total of $89.6 million spent on TV/radio/digital ads according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. 

The ads have a variety of purposes, including trying to shore up incumbents' electoral positions,  challengers or outside groups trying to attack those incumbents and intra-party squabbles spilling out onto the airwaves. 

Here's a look at the top five races for ad-spending right now and what's been on the airwaves there. 

Arizona Senate (incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly): $21.6 million

Arizona, which has two Democratic senators for the first time since the 1950s, has been a top target for Republicans as they look to leverage a favorable midterm climate to defeat Kelly just two years after he won the special election to fill the remainder of the late Sen. John McCain's term.

Democrats have the spending edge right now, $12.3 million to $8.8 million, and these airwaves have seen it all. Democratic groups like End Citizens United/Let America Vote Action Fund and Advancing Arizona have been giving Kelly cover by touting the impact of the Senate's agenda and defending him from GOP attack ads, like this spot from One Nation that tries to pit Kelly against fellow Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to question his bipartisan bonafides and criticize that Democratic agenda

But while those groups are focused on the general election, there's a robust clash on the airwaves in the GOP primary race, where allies of Thiel Foundation President Blake Masters are attacking Attorney General Mark Brnovich on issues like illegal immigration, while businessman Jim Lamon has hit the airwaves to frame himself as a political outsider. 

New Hampshire (incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan): $13.4 million

Unlike Arizona, where there's been a mix of ads in both the primary and the general election, New Hampshire has drawn this spending with virtually all eyes on a potential general election matchup. 

Democrats have the overwhelming edge, $9.2 million to $4.2 million, as Hassan and allied outside groups bolster her resume and Republicans try to tear her down

While retired Army Brigadier General Don Bolduc, who ran for the Senate last cycle, is in the race, all eyes are on New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on the Republican side, as many Republicans argue he's the best chance the party has at flipping the seat. Even though he hasn't announced whether he's running yet, Democrats are already up with a significant ad buy attacking his record on abortion rights

Georgia (incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock): $8.3 million

This race had to be decided in overtime in the 2020 cycle, so it's no surprise it's already drawing a ton of spending. Like New Hampshire, Georgia's airwaves are primarily looking at the general election. 

Democrats have touted Warnock's support of the winter's Covid relief bill, while Republicans try to turn public sentiment on the Democrats' forthcoming reconciliation bill. And while there's a primary on the right highlighted by former college football great Herschell Walker (backed by former President Donald Trump), that primary hasn't really played out on the airwaves yet (Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black has hit Walker on immigration in a radio ad, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). 

Nevada (incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto): $8.1 million

Another race where the general election has dominated the ad wars, the Democrats are outspending Republicans $5.1 million to $3 million along similar lines as many of these races — Democrats and Republicans squabbling over the political fallout of the Democratic agenda in Congress

While there's a burgeoning primary between the Trump-backed former Attorney General Adam Laxalt and retired Army Captain Sam Brown, it hasn't played out on the airwaves much past a $113,000 cable buy from Brown

Wisconsin (incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson): $6.8 million 

This longtime battleground state will likely have a tight Senate race in 2022, but it's unclear who will represent each party. Johnson, the incumbent, has not confirmed whether or not he'll run again, and there's a robust primary on the Democratic side. 

Virtually all of the $6.8 million spent so far on ads in this race have been spent by Democrats, most attacking Johnson in the event he does run on issues like taxes

So far, Democrat Alex Lasry is the only one among the Democratic candidates to go up on the airwaves. He's spent $1.4 million on spots touting his bio

McAuliffe campaign memo blames supercharged GOP turnout, bad national environment for loss

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's campaign is blaming its loss in the state's gubernatorial election this week on a supercharged Republican turnout, as well as a difficult political environment for Democrats.

That assessment comes in an internal campaign memo obtained by NBC News which says that McAuliffe's campaign had projected that turnout would be at record levels, but adds that they never anticipated it being as high as the 3.2 million who actually voted. GOP businessman Glenn Youngkin won Tuesday's election with just over 50 percent of the vote.

"While we were successfully able to turn out the Democratic vote, Youngkin was able to use the Democratic stalemate and the Fox News/conservative media echo chamber as a catalyst to drive turnout in heavily Trump supporting areas and close the gap in turnout that was created in 2017," the memo states.

"[A]lmost every locality in the state overperformed their 2017 turnout rates; that trend was most pronounced in heavily Republican areas, slightly less so in Democratic areas."

An NBC analysis of the turnout confirms that rural turnout was supercharged for the GOP even as the McAuliffe campaign had assumed before the election that higher overall turnout would be better for them, not worse.

The McAuliffe camp also attributes their loss to a poor political environment for Democrats. "[B]eginning in August we saw the majority of Virginians say that both the country and the state were on the wrong track," the memo says.

August is when the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan began and marked a sharp downturn in President Biden's approval ratings.

When it comes to the debate over "Critical Race Theory," the memo argues that the campaign's own internal polling showed McAuliffe trailing on education when the general election campaign began.

"Our polling back in July saw Youngkin with a one point advantage over McAuliffe with education which held true throughout the rest of the campaign. This further indicates that education was not a key issue overall, but something more in the water throughout the election and part of the national issues that Democrats faced this year."

But the Youngkin campaign only began to lean into the education issue after this McAuliffe line from September's debate with NBC News' Chuck Todd: "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." Before that, Youngkin's negative advertising on McAuliffe was focused primarily on crime.