Outside spending swamps Minnesota congressional races

Minnesota Democrats running for federal office are vastly outraising their Republican opponents, but both sides are being dwarfed by spending from outside groups battling for control of the U.S. House and Senate.

Across the board, Democrats in four competitive congressional races and a Senate special election raised more than their Republican opponents between the end of July and the end of September. The latest campaign filings with the Federal Elections Commission show where the candidates stand in fundraising with less than a month go to before the Nov. 6 general election.

In Minnesota's battleground House races, Democrats including Dean Phillips, who is challenging Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen, pulled in major donations in August and September. Phillips raised $1.5 million to Paulsen's $1.3 million in the suburban 3rd District race, but their fundraising hauls are a drop in the bucket compared to the more than $15 million already spent to influence that race.

The same goes for the race in the nearby 2nd District, where Republican Rep. Jason Lewis is facing a rematch from Democrat Angie Craig. Craig managed to raise $1.4 million to Lewis' $418,000 -- but spending from outside groups in that race has nearly hit $9 million.

The path to control Congress next year runs through Minnesota. Former Sen. Al Franken's unexpected resignation in December put his seat on the ballot two years ahead of schedule and in the same cycle as Minnesota's other U.S. Senate seat. Democrats are also trying to knock off Republicans in Minnesota's suburban House seats, while Republicans are trying to take advantage of retirements in two DFL-held, rural congressional seats.

In Minnesota's northeastern 8th District, Democrat Joe Radinovich raised nearly $900,000 in the last two months, while his Republican opponent Pete Stauber raised nearly $400,000. Radinovich had slightly more cash on hand for the last stretch of the race, but outside groups have already sunk $8.4 million in that district.

The same is true in Minnesota's southern-most seat, the 1st District, where Democrat Dan Feehan raised $1.6 million to Republican Jim Hagedorn's $350,000. But outside groups have spent $9.5 million to influence voters in the 1st District. The 2010 Citizens United ruling opened up the door for unlimited cash in campaigns, and most of that is being spent on television ads.

DFL U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, who is running to hold her seat after being appointed to take Franken's place in January, raised $2.4 million to the $1.4 million raised by her Republican opponent, Karin Housley.  And Smith had much more in the bank for the final stretch of the campaign: $1.9 million to Housley's $568,000.

Not all of Minnesota's federal races are considered competitive.

DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is pacing 30 points ahead of her Republican opponent Jim Newberger in some polls, and campaign finance numbers reflects that advantage. Klobuchar has nearly $6 million on hand to spend, while Newberger has $30,000 available.

DFL Rep. Collin Peterson is not facing a strong challenge this year, despite a narrow 2016 victory and the 7th District swinging by wide margins in favor of Trump. He has more than $1 million on hand, while Republican Dave Hughes has $58,000 to spend.

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