01:41 - Source: CNN
Key House races to watch in 2018
(CNN) —  

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week crossed the $50 million threshold in online fundraising for the 2018 election cycle, more than doubling its 2016 pace ahead of the party’s push to take control of the House in November’s midterm elections.

The figure far outpaces the House Democratic campaign arm’s previous records. It topped $50 million on Wednesday, according to DCCC press secretary Tyler Law. On the same day in 2016 – a presidential election year – the DCCC had raised $24.2 million online.

The soaring online fundraising comes in part from more than 310,000 first-time donors in the 2018 election cycle.

The strong DCCC fundraising comes after Democratic challengers in two dozen competitive districts outraised GOP incumbents in House contests last quarter, but official arms of the party, including the Democratic National Committee, have struggled. The DNC raised $67 million total in 2017, half of the Republican National Committee’s haul. The DCCC raised $105 million in 2017 – nearly half of it from online donors – topping the National Republican Congressional Committee’s $85 million.

The DCCC is highlighting the surge in small-dollar donations averaging $18 amid backlash from some progressive groups over its heavy-handed move into a Texas congressional primary. The DCCC publicly lambasted Laura Moser, one of seven candidates in the Houston-area 7th District, ahead of this month’s contest. Seizing on the attacks, Moser rode a brief jolt of fundraising and attention into a May runoff for the right to take on Republican Rep. John Culberson this fall.

Online fundraising, from a broad base of small-dollar donors, is one measure of grassroots support. And the DCCC says the backlash over its moves in Texas didn’t slow its online fundraising pace at all in late February.

“It’s not always the loudest voices in the room or on Twitter that actually reflect where the grassroots are and what they care about,” Law said. “And the fact that donors continue to support us, grassroots donors continue to support us, speaks to our really strong and long-term relationship to the base of our party.”

The DCCC is known for its dire-sounding emails. A recent sampling of its subject lines includes “TRAGIC ending” (about a special congressional election in Pennsylvania), “T-H-R-I-L-L-E-D!!!” (about a strong Democratic showing in generic congressional ballot polls), and “do.not.delete.” (about being outraised by House Speaker Paul Ryan).

The panic-stricken messages work, the DCCC says. Like other political groups with massive donor lists, it tests different variations with smaller subsets of its email list to see which one is opened most and prompts the strongest response before sending the best-performing version widely.

The committee’s 12-person team involved in online fundraising efforts – largely via email after adding names through Facebook ads – aggressively courted new donors in the immediate aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election, when other party committees were sidelined in the middle of leadership and staff changes.

At a period in which it was in debt after 2016, the DCCC spent $2.5 million from November until the beginning of March building its email list with digital ads. People added to the email list in that window have given nearly $7.7 million, the DCCC said.

“We just saw this really unprecedented engagement,” said Julia Ager, the DCCC’s chief digital officer. “It’s sort of obvious in retrospect, but at the time it really wasn’t clear was much that this was going to be a huge moment.”

Top-performing ads in that prospective donor “acquisition” effort run by deputy digital director Ryan Thompson included requests to sign petitions to protect Obamacare, join the “digital march” the day after Trump’s inauguration and one calling on Democrats to “resist” Trump.

“I think it’s important for people to recognize,” Law said, “that as an organization funded by the grassroots, we are in touch and responsive to the grassroots, and I think we actually have a very good relationship with the progressive base across the country.”