“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

Coined by Jesse Unruh, a former California Assembly speaker, that phrase is the standard answer to how money plays a role in politics.

And it’s a window into how money is already shaping the open congressional seat in Orange County — one that has drawn a bevy of contenders and is eyed by both national parties as a potential determiner in who controls the House come 2025.

“Nationally, the Republicans and the Democrats both are going to be pouring money into this race,” Fred Smoller, a Chapman University political science professor, said. “Money matters.”

With the first quarter of fundraising reports in, it’s Republican Scott Baugh, a former GOP Assembly leader, in the lead, having raised $531,068 between Jan. 1 and March 31.

Democratic state Sen. Dave Min comes in at a close second with $521,281. Joanna Weiss, a Democratic community organizer, raised $421,730.

Republican businessman Max Ukropina doesn’t have a filing report since he just recently entered the race — after the filing period. But according to his campaign, he has already raised $152,154 from 131 individual contributors since he announced last week.

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For the three major candidates who do have filing reports, the bulk of the funds raised in the first quarter comes from individual contributions. Weiss loaned her campaign $30,000, and Min and Weiss reported they personally contributed $5,800 and $6,600 to their campaigns, respectively.

The coastal CA-47 includes Irvine, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. And Democrats have a slight upper hand in voter registration: 35.6% of voters in the district registered as Democrats, 33.9% as Republicans and 24.5% list no party preference.

The seat is open after incumbent Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, launched a bid to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“As a general rule, incumbents win because of all the built-in advantages they have, like name recognition,” Smoller said. “So the challengers have to raise and spend more than the incumbents.”

While Min doesn’t hold incumbency in this congressional district, he’s an elected state senator serving a large swath of Orange County, including many cities in the 47th district. And he’s the candidate endorsed by Porter, once his political rival.

It’s Min who has spent the most money so far: He closed out the reporting period with just under $400,000 cash on hand while Baugh reported about $513,000 and Weiss just over $400,000.

“Min is in a great position,” Smoller said. But it’s Weiss who has surprised him the most this campaign finance cycle.

The founder of Women for American Values and Ethics (WAVE) Action Fund, Weiss, who last month attended Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties’ annual luncheon, is running on a platform that includes reproductive health care — which Smoller says might explain her fundraising prowess thus far.

Pointing to the Dobbs decision in 2021, as well as last week’s Supreme Court ruling that temporarily preserves access to the abortion pill mifepristone, Smoller said: “It’s obvious that national Republicans want to have a ban on abortions nationwide.” And that seems to be driving up support for female candidates, he said.

Still, Baugh already has experience running in CA-47, coming close to defeating Porter in the 2022 midterm elections. He’s got name ID among Republican candidates and has the backing of the Republican Party of Orange County.

His campaign says the 2022 effort was “the first step in the process of restoring thoughtful and effective representation that expands economic opportunity, fights inflation, protects our border and makes our neighborhoods safer.”

Democrat Harley Rouda, who withdrew from the race last week after suffering a traumatic brain injury, raised $1,270,235 in the first quarter, $1 million of which came from himself.

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