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Assessing the “Experience Bonus” Through Examining Strategic Entry, Candidate Quality, and Campaign Receipts in U.S. House Elections


  • A previous version of this article was presented at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Washington, DC. We wish to thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful suggestions during the review process. Likewise, we appreciate the many helpful comments given by Walt Stone, Bob Jackson, Tom Carsey, Gary Jacobson, and Chris Reenock on earlier drafts of this article. The article has benefited substantially from their feedback.

Cherie D. Maestas is associate professor of political science, Florida State University, 531 Bellamy, Tallahassee, FL 32306 ( Cynthia R. Rugeley is assistant professor of political science, Texas Tech University, Box 41015, Lubbock, TX 79409-1015 (


This article examines nonincumbent fundraising through the lens of two theories that have not been applied in other studies of fundraising—strategic candidate entry and ambitious amateur candidates—to test whether candidates with prior office experience are advantaged in raising funds for U.S. House campaigns. A selection model that takes into account the strategic entry of strong candidates demonstrates that electoral experience matters for only a select subset of experienced candidates. In contrast to previous research, the results show that much of the fundraising difference between amateurs and experienced candidates can be attributed to a selection process where the strongest candidates seek the best races. The results have implications for how we understand the relative importance of various conditions that shape fundraising. Competitive local or national conditions that encourage strong candidacies also allow nonincumbents to accumulate sufficient funds to mount credible campaigns.