Mark Sanford is facing what is arguably his first competitive re-election campaign since returning to Congress in mid-2013 — and both his Republican and Democratic challengers raised more money than the South Carolina lawmaker this summer.
Sanford, however, holds a major cash advantage in the latest round of fundraising reports, which cover the July-to-September quarter.
He also boasts contributions from powerful supporters in the state, those in positions of political influence and fellow elected officials in Washington who could have his back if he starts to appear vulnerable in the months ahead.
The Republican congressman, who represents the state’s Lowcountry, reported having $1.5 million cash on hand at the close of the most recent filing period with the Federal Election Commission.
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Between July 1 and September 30, he reported raising $83,736. State Republican Rep. Katie Arrington of Summerville raised $118,958 while Democratic lawyer and business owner Joe Cunningham took in $105,474.
Major donations to Sanford came from political action committees for deep-pocketed industry groups with ties to the transportation sector, a nod to the lawmaker’s seat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: United Airlines and JetBlue, Airlines for America, Ford Motor Company and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Sanford also took money from the powerful Koch brothers and the National Rifle Association.
Individuals who could help Sanford if things get tense include Bill Stern, a Columbia real estate developer and veteran of the South Carolina Ports Authority who donated $2,700 in the most recent fundraising quarter. Three senior House Republicans — Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Chief Deputy Majority Whip Patrick McHenry — gave Sanford $500, $10,000 and $2,000, respectively, despite the fact that Sanford is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and often bucks party leadership.
Despite the size of his war chest, Sanford only spent $10,630 over the three months, far less than Arrington and Cunningham each. Sanford’s spending was not surprising for someone with a reputation for frugality while enjoying near-universal name recognition not only as a congressman but as a former governor, too.
Yet as the 1st Congressional District’s Republican primary election approaches on June 12, Sanford might have to force himself to spend more. He horded his cash during his 2016 primary election contest against State Rep. Jenny Horne, also of Summerville, and came within 10 points of losing, a margin many political observers in the state said should have been wider.
The onus, however, could now be on Arrington to raise and spend money aggressively over the next eight months to prove she has what it takes to beat Sanford.
“It would be good for Katie Arrington to get her name out there sooner rather than later, and force Sanford to spend some of his money,” said Gibbs Knotts, professor of political science at the College of Charleston.
In the first fundraising report she has had to file since declaring her candidacy late in the summer, Arrington’s $118,958 included $48,300 from personal loans. She also contributed $18,579 in the form of an “in-kind” political donation for polling purposes.
Notable donors included Republican Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and GOP State House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, with $250 and $500, respectively. Pope and Simrill represent the wing of the state party that harbors resentment for Sanford from his days as governor.
Not including the $18,759 gift, Arrington spent $34,379 in the first few months of her campaign, most of it for consulting fees.
Knotts said Arrington would be wise to start investing in advertising, emulating Cunningham so far.
“She’s a member of the state legislature, she’s been elected by people in part of this district, so that’s certainly a positive, but she’s gotta be able to get her name out there and be able to tell people who she is,” Knotts explained to McClatchy.
Arrington reported having $82,700 in cash on hand.
Cunningham, with $49,163 in cash on hand, is currently forging the most youthful, media-savvy campaign in the 1st District, relying on a series of short videos to introduce himself to voters on a personal level.
He filmed one ad during the solar eclipse back in August, and on another occasion sat next to his wife on a sofa to share the news of her pregnancy. Some of his digital spots feature him sitting at his own kitchen table, the symbol of where American families make some of the most important decisions affecting their lives.
Cunningham has spent $56,311 as of Sept. 30 on a vast host of services aimed at boosting his profile around the district. He’s written checks to consultants in digital, media and fundraising, and to photographers. He also has spent more than $1,000 on Facebook advertising.
Much of the political newcomer’s donations came in through Act Blue, a platform for small donors around the country to contribute directly to Democratic candidates.
Cunningham tweeted Monday that, unlike Sanford, he accepted no money from PACs, in keeping with his campaign promise. During his first congressional race, Sanford also disavowed corporate money, but started accepting such donations when he became governor and continued the practice when he re-took his congressional seat in the 2013 special election.