Philly-area Democratic congressional hopefuls struggle to raise cash

The U.S. Capitol building at dusk in Washington (Evan Vucci/AP, file)

The U.S. Capitol building at dusk in Washington (Evan Vucci/AP, file)

In part inspired by the election of Donald Trump, 15 mostly unknown Democrats are running for Congress in several districts in Philadelphia and its suburbs where the party thinks it has a shot in November.

If you include people who’ve expressed an interest in one of the four seats, the number of potential candidates is at least 19, and there are rumors that others are ready to jump in.

A survey of the declared candidates’ campaign finance reports shows most of them aren’t yet in the league to fund a viable congressional campaign, and many of those with the most money are pumping some of their own cash into their campaigns.

The candidates are running for seats in the 6th, 7th, and 8th Districts in the suburbs — all currently occupied by Republicans — and the 1st District in Philadelphia held by Democrat Bob Brady, who’s decided not to seek re-election.

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What it takes

How much do you need to run a serious congressional campaign?

“To run a real campaign, whether it’s in a primary or a general, you’re looking at often times at least a million dollars, if not significantly more,” said Democratic consultant Aren Platt.

(Platt ran the 2014 congressional campaign of State Sen. Daylin Leach. Leach announced his candidacy for the 7th Congressional seat last year, but stepped back from the campaign after a Philadelphia Inquirer article reported allegations of sexual harassment by former aides. Platt says he is not involved in Leach’s campaign.)

A big part of the cost is television advertising, the best way to build name recognition in a hurry. Philadelphia is the fourth most-expensive media market in the country, so it can take a small fortune to get on the tube in any serious way.

Of the 15 declared candidates only one, Chrissy Houlahan in the 6th District, has close to $1 million.

Houlahan’s report shows she raised more than $1.2 million and had $950,000 in the bank as of New Year’s Eve.

(A note about the campaign finance reports: The most recent ones for congressional candidates were filed at the end of January, reporting funds raised and spent through Dec. 31. Many candidates got in the race too recently to have filed that report, and they could be raising huge, unseen sums now. The next federal reports are due April 15).

Four other candidates — Nina Ahmad in the 1st, Dan Muroff, Molly Sheehan and Daylin Leach in the 7th — are in six figures, some with significant self-financing.

Ahmad, for example, has pumped $450,000 into her own race, three-fourths of the money she raised. Those who can’t raise enough for a media campaign can look for strength elsewhere — a volunteer army or endorsements from unions, politicians, or activist groups.

Platt said money also matters in getting endorsements.

“The organizations that endorse, that can really be game changers, often look for viability,” he said. “And the first sign of viability, unfortunately for many candidates, is their ability to raise enough money.”

Cash-poor candidates may also take heart at the prospect that, if five or six candidates stay in their races, it could give them a chance to win the primary with a modest plurality of votes.

One candidate who hasn’t filed a campaign finance report yet is Scott Wallace in Bucks County’s 8th
District; he has the wealth to finance his own campaign.

The other wild card here is court-ordered redistricting of the congressional map.

Many of the candidates may find in coming weeks that they longer live in the districts they were planning to run in.

Others who’ve stayed out of the races may look at new district lines and decide to get in.

Democratic congressional candidates fundraising in SE Pa.

1st District

Candidate raised* on hand
Ahmad, Nina $601,073 $563,954
Johnson, Kevin no FEC filing
Singletary, Willie no FEC filing
Lawrence, Michele no FEC filing


6th District

Candidate raised* on hand
Houlahan, Chrissy $1,227,691 $950,390
Dettorre, Robert no FEC filing


7th District

Candidate raised* on hand
Leach, Daylin $537,550 $181,800
Muroff, Dan $421,210 $267,073
Sheehan, Molly $204,230 $186,752
Moro, Elizabeth $69,167 $10,914
Chauncey, Shelly no FEC filing
Vitali, Greg no FEC filing
Lunkenheimer, Ashley no FEC filing


8th District

Candidate raised* on-hand
Reddick, Rachel $146,522 $79,673
Bacher, Steve no FEC filing
Wallace, Scott no FEC filing
*Based on most recent Federal Election Commission filings; shows fundraising through 12/31/17.
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