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Congress is on the line in 2018. But groups are already spending on Trump 2020

Ben Wieder and Anita Kumar, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Some political groups are spending millions of dollars ahead of the midterm elections to support a candidate who is not on any ballot next month -- President Donald Trump.

Even as Republicans fight to keep control of Congress, at least six political action committees have spent more than $9 million to promote Trump's re-election on TV, by phone, by mail and online since he took office, according to a McClatchy analysis of Federal Election Commission filings through Tuesday.

Those same groups have spent only about $1.2 million supporting Republicans candidates for the House and Senate, according to the analysis.

"Donald Trump is the force of the movement," said Eric Beach, co-chairman of Great America PAC. "He'll help Republican candidates win their elections."

Republicans fighting to retain majorities in Congress in a year when the president's party traditionally loses ground have largely been outraised by their Democratic counterparts. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats in the House and two in the Senate to gain control of the chambers.

"It is quite unusual to use scarce financial resources to boost a president just weeks before the midterm elections instead of supporting the candidates in House, Senate and governors' races who are actually on the ballot," said Brendan J. Doherty, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy who tracks presidential fundraising. "This spending strategy is consistent with the president's own approach."

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Trump is the first U.S. president since at least the 1970s to raise money for his own re-election campaign during the first two years of his term. His re-election campaign has already raised more than $50 million, according to the campaign's most recent fundraising report, which provides information through the end of June.

"This is absolutely uncharted territory," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. "I can't recall ads specifically for the president this early."

By comparison, Trump's predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, didn't raise money for himself until his third year in office. The political action committees supporting him didn't spend money on him before 2010, the year of the first midterm elections in Obama's first term.

"I don't remember any spending in 2010 that would have been specifically pro-Obama," said Rufus Gifford who was the fundraising director for the Democratic National Committee during the 2010 election, before heading up fundraising for Obama's re-election campaign in 2012.

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