By Andrew Dunn

Money isn’t everything in politics — but it is an important thing, particularly if you’re a challenger trying to upset an incumbent. It’s obviously crucial to establishing name recognition and turning out voters.

But perhaps more than that, money is a useful proxy to determine which candidates have actual traction.

I scoured campaign finance reports to see which challengers have raised a meaningful amount of money at this stage in the game — ensuring that they’ll at least put up a fight against the incumbent candidate.

We’re currently in the middle of filing season, with candidates lining up for November’s elections. Already, though, certain challengers have risen above the pack — raising enough money already to show that they’re a serious contender.

We found nine of them worth highlighting.

This isn’t to say that candidate’s not appearing here don’t have a chance. The most recent campaign finance disclosures cover the period ending December 31 — leaving plenty of time for fundraising.

For example, the list leaves off candidates like Chad Stachowicz, who is considered a strong challenger against N.C. Sen. Dan Bishop in Charlotte’s District 39. Stachowicz had raised only $5,000 as of the end of last year.

1) Dan McCready

The Democratic challenger for U.S. House in the 9th Congressional District has already raised more than $1.2 million and brought more than $900,000 of it in cash into 2018. That was enough to be handily outearning incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger.

Usually it’s the challenger who has to wade through a contentious primary season before tackling a well-rested incumbent. The opposite could be true in this district. Pittenger has another big challenge from pastor Mark Harris, who nearly toppled Pittenger in the 2016 primary.

As a Marine Corps veteran and Charlotte solar energy entrepreneur, McCready is an unusually strong candidate for this typically Republican stronghold. Donors clearly see a path to victory.


2) Kathy Manning

The Greensboro lawyer, businesswoman and fundraiser has raked in nearly $565,000 to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District. Manning is handily out-fundraising the freshman incumbent.

Roll Call notes that President Trump carried this by the narrowest margin of Republican House districts in 2016 (though it was still a 9 point margin).

Manning, a Harvard grad, has dabbled in politics before and considered a Senate bid in 2016. She’s campaigning as a “business-oriented moderate,” as she told the News & Record.


3) Sam Searcy

The App State grad started his career as a lawyer in clinical research before becoming a vodka distiller. He’ll have demographic trends at his back as the Democrat faces Republican N.C. Sen. Tamara Barringer in suburban western Wake County.

His fundraising is a little weird because he brought in most of his money while campaigning for U.S. House in the 2nd Congressional District1. Only later did he switch to North Carolina’s Senate District 17. Searcy claims he’ll bring most of the $582,000 he raised to the state Senate bid.


4) Ken Romley

The tech entrepreneur from Raleigh is campaigning hard against Trump and has raised more than $436,000 so far. That’s far from the $1.1 million incumbent U.S. Rep. George Holding has brought in to keep his 2nd Congressional District seat, but enough to show that he’s a serious contender in another suburban district that’s likely to be competitive.

Linda Coleman, former candidate for lieutenant governor, is also in this race and will be a formidable candidate with her already-established statewide network. Her campaign finance filings just don’t reflect enough cash to be on this list.

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5) Mark Harris

The Charlotte pastor lost the Republican primary against the incumbent Pittenger by just 134 votes last time around and has raised more than $400,000 so far in the 2018 cycle.

Pittenger has tried to tie himself closely to Trump, but Harris’s campaign is already working to paint Pittenger as an establishment Republican.


6) Scott Dacey

The Craven County commissioner is challenging an incumbent in his own Republican party because Dacey says Rep. Walter Jones hasn’t supported President Trump’s agenda well enough.

It appears to be working because Dacey has raised more than $264,000 so far — outpacing Jones.


7) Mujtaba Mohammed

This Democrat is one of likely several who is seeking to oust incumbent N.C. Sen. Joel Ford in the primary of Charlotte’s District 38. Mohammed has raised more than $47,000 so far, way ahead of Ford’s $17,600.

Among his public service bona fides: Mohammed is a staff attorney for the Council for Children’s Rights. He’ll run to the left of Ford, who has taken flack for his stances on LGBT issues.


8) Marcia Morgan

The retired Army colonel kickstarted her campaign with a $50,000 loan and has more than $72,000 total, well ahead of her opponent in N.C. House District 19, incumbent Ted Davis Jr.


9) Martha Shafer

The Greensboro hospital executive is one of the crop of high-potential female candidates Democrats have recruited to try to break Republicans’ veto-proof majority in the legislature. Shafer has raised more than $27,000, well ahead of the $6,000 her opponent John Faircloth has on hand.


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View previous campaigns.


Candidate photos come from their campaign Facebook pages. Homepage photo by Diane Gregg via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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