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Ojeda outraises Miller in 2nd quarter; incumbents lead Democratic challengers

A fiery populist Democrat running for Congress in Southern West Virginia raised more campaign funds this past quarter than any other House of Representatives candidate in the state.

State Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, whose bid has garnered a whirlwind of attention from national media, raised more than $300,000 last quarter, leaving him with about $163,000 in the bank, according to the latest batch of quarterly campaign reports to the Federal Election Commission.

The win comes after several quarters of Republicans beating out Democrats in the campaign cash grab.

His opponent, state House Majority Whip Carol Miller, R-Cabell, raised more than $279,000 last quarter, which includes a new $15,000 personal loan on top of another $200,000 in personal loans from past quarters, leaving her with about $189,000 on hand.

The race could be the state’s most competitive House contest, according to June polling from Monmouth University, which has Ojeda up by two points in the full 428-person sample and by six points with a likely voter model. Additionally, the Cook Political Report, a campaign forecasting organization, recently calculated the race to “lean Republican,” meaning it’s a competitive race but Miller has the edge.

Ojeda said he and his staff were pleasantly surprised by the results. He said he remembers, after both President Donald Trump and outgoing incumbent Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., won in landslides in 2016, everybody told him a Democrat can’t win the seat. Now, he said, the tide has turned.

“Now, I’m beating her in the fundraising game, because people across America are starting to realize that we have the ability to turn a red seat blue, and I think it’s only a matter of time before we see it thrown to a toss-up between me and her,” he said.

He noted his campaign has raised more than $140,000 in small-dollar (less than $200) donations and has received support from labor organizations, as well, a testament, he said, to his grassroots base.

Through a spokesman, Miller declined an interview request. However, she provided a written statement.

“I’m grateful to have the support of so many hard-working West Virginians, which is why the majority of my donations are from right here in West Virginia,” Miller said. “Families and businesses in West Virginia are already seeing the benefits of President Trump’s tax cuts and economic growth, and I’m going to Congress to stand with our President and to continue to work for West Virginia families.”

In the state’s 2nd Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., holds a strong fiscal edge against Democratic challenger Talley Sergent. He raised about $228,000 last quarter, leaving him with $1.4 million in the bank, a figure that dwarfs the same metric of every other House candidate.

Mooney’s campaign did not respond to an interview request.

Sergent raised about $123,000 last quarter, leaving her with about $121,000 on hand.

In an interview, she said she’ll continue her shoe-leather approach to campaigning. She said that, while she might not be able to stack up to Mooney financially, she plans to hold town hall events in all 17 counties of the district in August alone and will outwork him. However, she said, she would like to beef up her fundraising game.

“Hey, we started at nothing. We’re starting to rebuild and get more money back into the bank so that we can get our message out across the 2nd District,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to up our game.”

She also noted that more than $603,000 Mooney’s bankroll comes from corporate PACs. According to FEC data curated and analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics, about $206,000 of that sum comes from ideological or single-issue PACs; $196,000 comes from the finance, insurance and real estate sector; and $28,500 comes from the energy and natural resources sector.

In the primary, Sergent’s opponent outspent her more than three times over, and she won by 24 points.

Up in the 1st Congressional District, incumbent Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., raised about $164,000 last quarter, leaving him with about $966,000 on hand. His opponent, West Virginia University law professor Kendra Fershee, raised about $50,000, leaving her with about $32,500 in the bank.

Fershee said the 15,000 miles she has put on her car driving to campaign events and an in-person contact approach with voters outweigh the typical focus of turning campaign dollars into ad buys.

“I think, after the 2016 election, what we know — sort of conventional wisdom about those things that give us a quantity, either, money, numbers or poll data, are no longer reliable,” she said. “I wouldn’t put a lot of stock into any of those measures. Instead, I’d look into who the candidates are and what they’re saying.”

Fershee noted that she raised $31,500 in small-dollar donations and no money from PACs throughout the cycle. This contrasts to McKinley’s $11,475 in donations that same size and about $652,000 from PACs. According to CRP data, most of the PAC money comes from the labor, energy and health care sectors.

Like Sergent, Fershee noted her nine-point win in the primary despite being outspent by her opponent nearly five times over.

“Based on my primary result — which was the biggest money upset in the country — I’m beginning to think that having more money is a liability,” Fershee said.

McKinley’s campaign did not respond to an interview request.

Ojeda’s haul was larger last quarter than any quarter Miller has had since entering the race. That includes quarters inflated by the $215,000 she has loaned herself personally throughout the cycle and a $75,000 loan from her husband which she has repaid.

Of the six major party candidates running for office, non-West Virginian individual donors propped up Mooney, Ojeda, and Sergent the most.

Throughout the cycle, Ojeda has raised about $51,000 from state residents, compared to $12,900 from Californians, $3,250 from Texans and $2,700 from Marylanders.

Mooney raised $144,565 from Californians, $81,245 from Floridians, $76,050 from West Virginians, $57,750 from Virginians, and $57,000 from Marylanders.

Sergent raised about $88,500 from West Virginians, compared to about $34,000 from Washington, D.C., residents and $11,800 from North Carolinians.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.