Liz Cheney got a fundraising boost, but Trump-friendly Republicans raised big money too

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., attends a press conference following a House Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill on April 14, 2021 in Washington.

WASHINGTON – Rep. Liz Cheney, who was ousted from House Republican leadership after voting to impeach former President Donald Trump, raised more for her reelection campaign in the first six months of the year than she has ever spent on a two-year race.

The Wyoming Republican raised $1.7 million during April, May and June, according to reports filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission. That was more than the $1.5 million she raised in the first quarter and left her with more than $2.8 million to spend on the race.

Her fundraising pace eclipsed the high-water mark of $3 million she spent on the entire 2020 campaign.

Cheney wasn't the only one raising more money in an off-year cycle. Fundraising numbers released this week showed how the two Republican factions that split after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot – those who denounced Trump and those downplaying the insurrection – have generated huge fundraising, something experts say is evidence of the high-stakes midterm election in 2022, when Republicans hope to retake the House and Senate.

A USA TODAY survey of GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach Trump and those who questioned the severity of the Capitol riot found prolific fundraising on both sides.

“This is so unprecedented that a lot of people will give more money than they usually will because the stakes are so high for this country,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, who predicted a banner year for all fundraising.

Besides Cheney, Republican impeachment supporters such as Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Tom Rice of South Carolina each raised more in the first six months of the year than they've spent in any previous two-year House election cycle.

But among Trump's supporters, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., each raised about $1.3 million during the quarter. Greene couldn't maintain her record-setting pace for a freshman in the first quarter, but she raised nearly $6.2 million during the first half of the year and has nearly $2.8 million on hand. Gaetz has raised nearly $3.7 million this year and has nearly $1.6 million on hand.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., arrives at a caucus meeting May 14, 2021, to pick a replacement for Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., as chair of the House Republican Conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C.

"I think the higher fundraising pace likely does reflect the polarization of the electorate, especially for the 'riot mitigators,'" said Kim Fridkin, foundation professor of political science at Arizona State University. "For the impeachment supporters, this position for Republican incumbents may make these lawmakers particularly vulnerable in their upcoming primaries, so these Republicans are probably raising a lot of money to try to dissuade a quality primary challenger and to take sure they have enough money on hand for a competitive primary race."

Despite – or perhaps because of – the extreme polarization in national politics, candidates in both wings of the party are raising more than ever before. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who led the effort to vote Cheney out of the third-ranking post in leadership, announced he had raised $16.5 million during the second quarter, part of $43.6 million during the first half of the year.

And Trump remains a lightning rod for fundraising on both sides, despite not being on the ballot. Trump, who held a rally challenging the 2020 election results before the Jan. 6 riot, continues to argue the election was fraudulent. But lawmakers who voted to impeach him haven't suffered from it.

“He has driven the exacerbation of polarization, and done everything he can to reinforce that,” said David Rohde, political science professor emeritus at Duke University. “That means both the people who love him and the people who hate him – he’s a touchstone for them and their political behavior.”

Polarization fuels fundraising

One benefit of prolific fundraising is to discourage challengers from entering either a primary or general election. Lawmakers can also spread their largesse to other candidates or simply promote their political agenda beyond their districts. Greene and Gaetz have been holding "America First" rallies and raising money together nationwide.

Among Trump's supporters, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., raised nearly $2 million during the first half of the year and has nearly $1.3 million on hand. She had raised nearly $3 million and spent $2.6 million to win her seat in 2020.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., raised $644,670 during the second quarter toward nearly $1.8 million for the year. But heavy spending left him with $383,481 on hand with debt of $110,584.

“I think what you’re seeing in the Cawthorn case is that politicians are extremely risk-averse,” Rohde said. “They raise and spend pretty much as much as they can to guard against the real unexpected cases.”

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., left, and Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, arrive May 14, 2021, at a caucus meeting to pick a replacement for Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., as chair of the House Republican Conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C.

Impeachment supporters brace for opposition

Three of the 10 Republicans who supported Trump's impeachment have squirreled away more campaign contributions than they've ever spent on a race.

Cheney enjoyed strong name recognition from her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who once held her House seat, and she won the 2020 race with more than two-thirds of the vote. But Trump has threatened to campaign against her, and several primary challengers are vying to knock her off.

Fundraising is “the one thing she can control,” Sabato said. “She can’t control how many people run against her. She can’t control Trump and his forces or reducing the candidate field. They’re going to try to reduce the number of candidates because her best shot is a plurality win. They don’t have a runoff in Wyoming.”

Kinzinger raised $1.1 million in the second quarter and has $3 million on hand. The most expensive House race he has ever run was in 2018, when he spent $2.3 million.

Rice raised $326,614 during the second quarter, but has nearly $1.6 million on hand. His most expensive race was when he won the seat in 2012; he spent nearly $1.4 million.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., talks to reporters following a House Republican conference meeting in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on May 12.

Lawmakers in safe seats can raise less

Despite high-revving fundraising by high-profile lawmakers such as Greene and Cheney, other lawmakers have taken a slower pace.

Five of the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump have raised a fraction of what they typically spend on a campaign.

Reps. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, and Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., each raised more than $1 million during the first half of the year. But each is accustomed to spending two or more times that much on a two-year campaign.

Several lawmakers who questioned the severity of the Jan. 6 attack are also taking it easy while occupying seats that political experts say are safe for Republicans.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who accused the Justice Department from the House floor of “weaponizing the events of Jan. 6 to silence Trump-supporting Americans," raised $38,159 during the second quarter toward $142,055 during the first half of the year. But he has spent less than $900,000 on each campaign after winning the seat in 2004.

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., who said video of people walking through Statuary Hall on Jan. 6 looked like “a normal tourist visit," raised $39,514 during the second quarter toward $100,462 so far this year.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, speaks during a June 14 press conference held with Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., outside the U.S. Capitol to announce the filing of a lawsuit challenging fines levied for violations of the new security screening policies for members of the House of Representatives to enter the House chamber.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who called the fatal police shooting of Ashli Babbitt outside the House chamber an execution and said the FBI used the riot to investigate law-abiding Americans, raised $64,650 during the second quarter toward $202,955 in the first half of the year.

Fridkin, the ASU professor, said she doubted rumors that Gosar might challenge Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., or that Gosar might retire. His district is the most heavily Republican in the state and poses difficulties for challenging an incumbent because of its sprawling size on the western side of the state.

"Because of the partisanship distribution, Gosar has not really had a serious Democratic challenger," Fridkin said. "Gosar is doing lots of controversial things, so maybe a quality challenger will run against him in the general election, but I haven’t seen any evidence of that so far."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Midterm elections: Cheney, Trump Republicans tap big fundraising