Democrats Stockpile Cash in Key Senate Races

The map favors Republicans this year—but in many states, the fundraising numbers don't.

Sen. Claire McCaskill
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
July 23, 2018, 8 p.m.

Senate Democrats are seeking reelection in more states hostile to their party than either camp has had to face in at least two decades. The good news for them is they have the resources to put up a fight.

The latest campaign finance disclosures indicate that in most states that party leaders identify as crucial to control of the Senate, Democrats outraised Republicans and stockpiled millions more dollars to be spent on advertising and staff in the closing months of the campaign.

Those reserves will be crucial to promoting Democratic senators’ individual brands in states favored to break against their party, especially in states that Donald Trump won by double digits in 2016.

“Whether or not they have a fundraising advantage, Dems who win in reddish states win because they are true to their states,” said Tom Lopach, a former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who added that his party’s senators are “focused like a laser on” parochial “economic and social issues.”

Senate Democrats’ financial advantage is near-universal across the map. Sen. Claire McCaskill reported four times more cash on hand than Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley did, and the likely Republican nominee brought in just $1.9 million last quarter compared to McCaskill’s $4.3 million.

In North Dakota, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp raised over $1 million more than Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who had half as much in the bank. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana also doubled the latest haul of Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale and reported 10 times more available cash than the Republican nominee after his contentious primary.

While just $129,000 separated Sen. Joe Manchin and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s quarterly fundraising totals, the Democrat reported $6.3 million on hand while the Republican’s stash didn’t reach seven figures. Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Republican opponent Mike Braun each brought in about $1.5 million from donors and PACs in the most recent fundraising period. Braun has loaned his own campaign another $6.4 million so far, but Donnelly’s $6.4 million cash-on-hand total is six times more than Braun's.

“They’re not taking anything for granted,” said DSCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen. “They’re working very hard, and most of all they’re standing up for the people of their states.”

Other swing-state Democrats like Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Tina Smith of Minnesota also outraised Republican counterparts, some of whom face August primaries.

Democrats are already spending their hard-earned dollars in hopes of blunting negative attacks in the fall, airing TV ads showcasing their bipartisan credentials, opposition to Washington dysfunction, and collaboration with Trump, especially when it comes to agriculture issues and border security.

“A lot of the red-state Dems have made careers out of telling a different story about themselves at home than the way they've voted in D.C.,” said Chris Wilson, a Republican strategist working on multiple Senate races. “It may not be enough, but money and repeating the story they hope voters will buy one more time is their only hope of winning reelection in this environment.”

In many cases, the money advantage is significant. In Texas, Rep. Beto O’Rourke brought in $10.4 million compared to GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s $4 million, and the Democrat reported $4.7 million more on hand than the former Republican presidential candidate.

But the money chase is closer in Republicans’ vulnerable seats, dampening optimistic projections of a Democratic Senate in 2019. Republican Sen. Dean Heller reported a $2 million cash-on-hand advantage over Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who outraised the incumbent by $731,000.

Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally, the front-runners for primaries for Sen. Jeff Flake’s Arizona seat, each surpassed $3 million in last quarter’s fundraising. But Democrat Sinema reported $1.1 million more on hand as McSally contends with a late August Republican primary.

The main candidates to replace GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee each raised about $2.5 million. But Democrat Phil Bredesen loaned his campaign an additional $2.1 million, giving him the funds to define himself early with advertisements emphasizing his nonpartisanship and business savvy. Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn opted to stay off the air and amassed double the amount on hand.

Republicans also have self-funding candidates putting additional Democratic senators on defense. Florida Gov. Rick Scott brought in $22.5 million so far, $14.1 million of which was self-funded. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson raised just $4.4 million in the last three months but had $13.7 million on hand, far more than Scott’s $4.5 million cash-on-hand total. The Republican spent $18 million already, including millions on TV ads promoting his own brand or dismantling Nelson’s.

New Jersey Republican challenger Bob Hugin also reported $8.1 million on hand thanks to his $15.5 million in personal financing. That left him with more money in the bank than Sen. Bob Menendez, whom he has targeted on air as a corrupt “career politician” in hopes of flipping a usually safe Democratic seat.

Democrats caught a break this cycle when none of their incumbents decided to retire. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner last week dismissed Democrats’ fundraising advantage as unsurprising, given that “D.C. incumbents are raising money from D.C.”

Rep. Jim Renacci, the Ohio Republican nominee for Senate, echoed that message after Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown doubled his opponent in fundraising last quarter.

“Senator Brown’s been doing this for six years. I’ve been doing this for less than six months,” said Renacci, a four-term congressman who entered the race in January. “Of course he’s going to be better funded.”

While candidates in competitive states can count on outside spending to bolster or disparage them, Democrats’ advantage extends to party committees and super PACs that can raise money more easily but must purchase airtime at more expensive rates than campaigns.

The DSCC reported $36.7 million on hand as of June 30, according to its most recent available filing, compared to the NRSC’s $18.8 million for the same time frame. Each committee raised about the same amount of money last month, with the Democratic group bringing in $5.9 million to Republicans’ $5.7 million.

Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, also had $32.7 million on hand after raising $14.1 million last month. That’s much more than the $19.5 million in reserves held by Senate Leadership Fund, a group aligned with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Republican groups already aired ads tying Democrats to their party by pointing out their support for Hillary Clinton or their votes on taxes, immigration, and the Supreme Court.

“It’s pretty clear that a lot of these [senators] in red states aren’t supporting the president,” Gardner said. “And red-state voters … like those in North Dakota aren’t going to be pleased with people who are voting against an agenda that they support. And that message will be loud and clear.”

CORRECTION: This story originally misstated the difference between Sen. Jon Tester and Montana Auditor Matt Rosendale's recent fundraising.

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