Senate Democrats look to next elections

Getty Images

Facing increasingly grim prospects in the Senate this fall, Democrats are looking to 2016 as an opportunity to win back some of the seats they could lose this election cycle. 

But a look at early fundraising by likely Democratic targets reveals most vulnerable Republicans are already girding for a fight.

ADVERTISEMENT
The GOP insists they’ll hold whatever advantage they earn in 2014, but it’s indisputable that 2016 offers better prospects for Democrats simply because of the math. Republicans will be defending more seats, 24 to Democrats’ nine, a number on more favorable turf for Democrats.

Democratic pollster Jefrey Pollock said, while he’s confident Democrats won’t lose the Senate in 2014, the map might pan out in their favor next cycle.

“2016 offers a lot of opportunities because, in many of these states, we’re playing on friendly Democratic territory, particularly during presidential races,” he said. 

Pollock highlighted Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Wisconsin as top states where Democrats might have the advantage in 2016.

Add that to potential Republican retirements in Indiana, Arizona and Iowa, as well as the likelihood that a handful of incumbents in potentially competitive states might face primary challengers, and at least two senators who might split their time and resources running for president, and the 2016 map looks much sunnier for Democrats than 2014.

An analysis by The Hill of cash-on-hand numbers at the end of 2013 for senators up in 2016 indicates many of vulnerable senators have, in fact, begun to build up financial firewalls for their reelection fights — but a few are falling behind.

Of the five senators most likely to be targeted by Democrats in 2016, three have more than $1 million cash on hand.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has $1.28 million cash on hand, while Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) each have more than $4 million. Portman, fundraising vice-chairman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has raised the most of any Republican in his freshman class.

Two others — Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) — have yet to pick up the fundraising pace.

Kirk is arguably the most vulnerable of the five, running in a reliably blue state during a presidential year with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton potentially atop the ticket. He’s only stocked away about $740,000, but has been recovering from a stroke in 2012. 

A Kirk aide told The Hill that the senator is “very much aware that he’s the only Republican that has been elected statewide [to federal office] in Illinois” since 1998. The aide indicated, however, his fundraising pace should pick up soon, as he’s “very much gearing up” for 2016. 

Johnson has the least of all the vulnerable senators in the bank, only $370,000 cash on hand. But he invested nearly $9 million into his own campaign in 2010, more than half of the more than $15 million his campaign spent on that fight. According to campaign aide Mark Stevens, he could easily self-fund again.

Stevens pointed to Johnson’s 2010 assurance “he would make sure that his campaign spent what was necessary to be able to communicate with the voters of the state” as a potential predictor of what Johnson might spend next cycle.

Democrats are also gleeful at the prospect of Republican retirements in potentially competitive states like Iowa, a swing state that went blue the last two cycles, and Arizona, which Democrats think could turn purple due to its growing Hispanic population.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who would be 80 in 2016, has also hinted at retirement. He has $1.18 million cash on hand.

If McCain does run, he’s likely to face both a primary and a credible Democratic opponent. An aide said he’s already raising money for 2016, with his first reelection fundraiser scheduled for next month. The prospect of a primary challenger is weighing heavily on his mind.

“I think he feels like he starts off in a good position, but you’ve seen primary challenges; you’ve seen other folks that get complacent — senior members in recent years that have gotten complacent — and that’s the last thing he’s going to do,” the McCain aide said.

If the political tide in 2016 turns significantly in favor of Democrats, the party believes it could even put some typically red or purple states on the map. At the top of that list are North Carolina, where Sen. Richard Burr has just over $900,000 cash on hand, and Alaska, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski could also face a primary challenge and has $640,000 in the bank. 

Still, the prospects for those races in 2016 depend in large part on the party’s success in those states this cycle. Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska are both top GOP targets, and their losses could considerably cool any Democratic excitement in those states. Those ongoing races could be another reason Murkowski and Burr haven’t kicked their fundraising into gear.

That’s also why Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas has only $84,000 in his war chest, his chief of staff Helen Tolar told The Hill, and he is running in 2016.  Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is a top GOP target, and Boozman has been working to support GOP candidates in the state. 

“At this point, our efforts are focused on 2014 and what we’ve got to do to win,” she said. “When it comes time to focus on us, we’ll focus on us.”

But his challenge might be the steepest of the other deep-red state Republicans in 2016. The Clintons remain popular in Arkansas from the former president’s time as governor, and with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, the race is likely to be extremely competitive if Democrats find a solid candidate.

Tolar said that possibility is on their radar, admitting that “the Clinton brand is a known and well-liked commodity in the state of Arkansas.” 

Though Democrats have an easier map in 2016, Republicans still plan to go on offense on a handful of races, and most Democratic incumbents will have to pick up their fundraising pace as well. All but four up for reelection in 2016 have less than a million cash on hand. 

And while the party’s likely top two GOP targets, Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Harry Reid (Nev.), have $1 and $1.5 million cash on hand, respectively, that’s nowhere close to the amount they’ll need to defend their seats. Colorado, while traditionally blue, remains a swing state, and Republicans could spend tens of millions trying to take down Reid.

—This piece was updated to correct the year Illinois last elected a Republican in a statewide federal race. 


 Senate Candidate Cash-On-Hand Through End of 2013

Republicans: 

Richard Shelby (Ala.) $17,848,174

Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) $640,015

John McCain (Ariz.) $1,186,686

John Boozman (Ark.) $84,074

Marco Rubio  (Fla.) $2,301,084

Johnny Isakson (Ga.) $2,081,215

Mike Crapo (Idaho) $3,264,244

Mark Kirk  (Ill.) $739,036

Dan Coats (Ind.) $506,797

Chuck Grassley (Iowa) $1,601,439

Jerry Moran (Kan.) $620,625

Rand Paul (Ky.) $1,715,429

David Vitter (La.) $1,098,653

Roy Blunt (Mo.) $734,264

Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) $1,286,990

Richard Burr (N.C.) $910,118

John Hoeven (N.D.) $688,747

Rob Portman (Ohio) $4,457,699

Pat Toomey (Pa.) $4,045,182

John Thune (S.D.) $9,065,373

Mike Lee (Utah) $229,777

Ron Johnson (Wis.) $369,888

Democrats:

Barbara Boxer (Calif.) $293,305

Michael Bennet (Colo.) $1,003,067

Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) $303,439

Barbara Mikulski (Md.) $985,021

Harry Reid (Nev.) $1,528,717

Charles Schumer (N.Y.) $11,433,001

Ron Wyden (Ore.) $776,729

Patrick Leahy (Vt.) $1,492,246

Patty Murray (Wash.) $747,504