The narrow outcome of the 2022 election makes a thought-provoking exercise out of looking at near-miss districts, where candidates suffered a loss partially attributable to a lack of financial support. To qualify for our list, a candidate must have lost by less than 3 points, had a positive WAR score, and faced more outside money than was spent on their behalf.
Five districts made their way onto here: two Democrat-won and three Republican-won districts. While Republicans could say that they sufficiently invested in their candidate but were simply outspent by wealthy Democratic groups, Democrats do not have this excuse — in fact, there were two seats in which Democrats put in less than $300K in outside spending and came within a hair of winning.
The first of these seats is the Macomb-based MI-10, a Trump +0.9 seat that Democrats largely scratched off amidst concerns over the victory prospects of both Hillary Scholten and Elissa Slotkin in their respective congressional races. This would be a decision that the party would come to regret — Marlinga received less than $100K in external funding, and Democrats ended up fractionally losing a seat that Governor Whitmer simultaneously carried by 12 points.
Some people would object to Marlinga’s characterization as a “good candidate”, given that his own fundraising was relatively weak, and candidates undoubtedly bear some responsibility for their own financial situation. While this might be true, another interpretation would then be that James might have been a significantly weaker candidate than people initially believed — despite Republicans spending a combined $10M in the district and outspending Democrats 10:1, he was only able to win a Trump +1.0 seat by half a point. Regardless of explanation, if Democrats truly invested in this seat, James would probably not be in Congress.
Another example of a missed opportunity is the Tucson-based AZ-06, a left-trending, Biden-won, highly-educated suburban district in which Democrat Kirsten Engel nearly upset Juan Ciscomani. Although Romney and McCain both carried this by double-digits in their respective presidential runs, the district bolted to the left in the Trump era, and Biden carried it by a fraction of a percent in 2020. But with national Democrats anticipating a red wave, they chose to forego investing in it for the 2022 cycle in favor of shoring up Greg Stanton in the Biden +10 AZ-04. Stanton would cruise to a 12 point victory, while Engel lost by a narrow 1.5% in a district that voted for Katie Hobbs by 4 points and Mark Kelly by 10. Again, better resource allocation would have brought Democrats closer to holding this seat.
While it cannot be said that Jevin Hodge was similarly abandoned in his bid to unseat David Schweikert in AZ-01 (Biden +1, Hobbs +3, Kelly +6), the Democrats still saw themselves outspent in external spending for this exceptionally wealthy, left-trending seat in the Phoenix suburbs. Hodge saw $2.1M spent by PACs and committees on his behalf, as compared to the $2.9M spent on Schweikert. Although nobody will accuse either party of abandoning this seat in quite the same way, we do think that Democrats could have won this Kelly +6 congressional seat if they had poured a bit more money into it. Instead, however, they fell short by less than a percentage point.
Democrats weren’t the only party to narrowly miss their targets; Republicans likely view both CT-05 and OR-06 as similar shortcomings. CT-05, covering northwestern Connecticut, gave Joe Biden in 2020 a 10 percent lead, making it the most Republican district in the state based on that year’s results. Since 2018, it has been represented by Democrat Jahana Hayes, who easily won her first two elections.
Republicans had already made unsuccessful attempts to win CT-05 in 2010 and 2014. Although the political situation was much more favorable for Democrats last year compared to the previous two midterm elections, moderate Republican George Logan came close to defeating Hayes. He lost only after a margin of 1,842 votes in a race that became increasingly competitive toward the end of the campaign. Although Republicans spent a good amount of money in this seat, Logan did not have the wind of a favorable advertising environment at his back. Given the extremely close margins involved in this race, it is fair to wonder whether Logan could have won with just a bit more money.
A similar situation occurred in OR-06, a newly configured seat that Joe Biden carried by 13 points in 2020. Despite the overall Democratic tendency of the district, the race was unexpectedly close due to a significantly redder local environment in Oregon, and Republican Mike Erickson could have prevailed against Democrat Andrea Salinas with more funding. As it was, however, a late advertising push from the Republican-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund could not carry him over the line, and the GOP might reflect on this seat as one in which earlier, more sustained spending could have flipped a sleeper target.
Retrospective analysis is always much easier than making future spending commitments, and every cycle is bound to be littered with decisions that look worse or better in hindsight. But in a chamber decided by just 5 seats, that might not serve as much comfort to either party’s strategists, especially as we appear poised for a similarly-competitive 2024.