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.
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 AyotteKelly AyotteRyan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate Dems gain upper hand on budget GOP senators hit FBI on early probe of NY bombing suspect MORE (R-N.H.) has $1.28 million cash on hand, while Sens. Rob PortmanRob PortmanRyan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate Dems kill more ads in Ohio Senate rivals gear up for debates MORE (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 KirkMark KirkSenate rivals gear up for debates The Trail 2016: Trump seizes on Charlotte violence Iran president hints at future prisoner swaps, cash settlements with US MORE (Ill.) and Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonWarren to rally Wisconsin college students for Feingold Ryan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate Dem groups invest big in Bayh in Ind. Senate race MORE (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 ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump's Fed attacks follow Yellen to Capitol Hill Melissa Joan Hart joins Gary Johnson campaign Daniel Radcliffe: Trump is worse than Voldemort MORE 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 McCainJohn McCainKerry threatens to end Syria talks with Russia Media must demand Clinton disavow Dean's cocaine comments EpiPen investigation shows need for greater pricing transparency, other reforms MORE, 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 BurrRichard BurrDem groups invest big in Bayh in Ind. Senate race The Trail 2016: Fight night Poll finds races for president, Senate tight in North Carolina MORE has just over $900,000 cash on hand, and Alaska, where Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Obama integrates climate change into national security planning GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Overnight Energy: Lawmakers kick off energy bill talks MORE 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 HaganKay HaganPhoto finish predicted for Trump, Clinton in North Carolina Are Senate Republicans facing an election wipeout? Clinton's lead in NC elevates Senate race MORE of North Carolina and Mark BegichMark BegichRyan's victory trumps justice reform opponents There is great responsibility being in the minority Senate GOP deeply concerned over Trump effect MORE 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 BoozmanJohn BoozmanGOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase GOP to Obama: Sanction Chinese entities to get to North Korea Overnight Defense: White House threatens to veto Gitmo bill MORE 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 PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE 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 BennetMichael BennetEconomists have a message: Clinton's policies are wrong for America Senate rivals gear up for debates Grassley pulling away from Dem challenger MORE (Colo.) and Harry ReidHarry ReidSenate moves to get out of town Reid is sole senator to back Obama's 9/11 veto The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (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
Richard Shelby (Ala.) $17,848,174
Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) $640,015
John McCain (Ariz.) $1,186,686
John Boozman (Ark.) $84,074
Marco RubioMarco RubioSenators express 'grave concerns' about ObamaCare 'bailout' Obama nominates ambassador to Cuba Rubio praises Marlins pitcher José Fernández on Senate floor MORE (Fla.) $2,301,084
Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonGrassley pulling away from Dem challenger Fifteen years since pivotal executive order, STORM Act could help fight terror finance GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (Ga.) $2,081,215
Mark Kirk (Ill.) $739,036
Jerry MoranJerry MoranSenate panel advances ticket bots crackdown Overnight Tech: GOP says internet fight isn't over | EU chief defends Apple tax ruling | Feds roll out self-driving car guidelines | Netflix's China worries GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (Kan.) $620,625
Rand PaulRand PaulLawmaker seeks to investigate Obama's foreign tax compliance law Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears GOP senators hit FBI on early probe of NY bombing suspect MORE (Ky.) $1,715,429
Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) $1,286,990
Richard Burr (N.C.) $910,118
John HoevenJohn HoevenOvernight Defense: White House threatens to veto Gitmo bill GOP senators fight female draft in defense bill Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (N.D.) $688,747
Rob Portman (Ohio) $4,457,699
Pat Toomey (Pa.) $4,045,182
John ThuneJohn ThuneYahoo failed to prioritize security: report Overnight Tech: Lawmakers, tech talk diversity | Group raises security worries over internet handoff | FCC commish wants probe into debate Wi-Fi Reid blocks Thune tech bill over FCC nomination fight MORE (S.D.) $9,065,373
Ron Johnson (Wis.) $369,888
Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDems gain upper hand on budget Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (Calif.) $293,305
Michael Bennet (Colo.) $1,003,067
Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalObama defeat is Schumer victory Overnight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild Dems slam Yahoo CEO over delay in acknowledging hack MORE (Conn.) $303,439
Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiSenate Dems: Add Flint aid to spending deal This week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Week ahead: Key court date for climate rule; Fight over Flint aid MORE (Md.) $985,021
Harry Reid (Nev.) $1,528,717
Charles SchumerCharles Schumer3 ways the next president can succeed on immigration reform Overnight Tech: Tech pushes for debate spotlight | Disney may bid for Twitter | Dem seeks Yahoo probe Saudis hire lobbyists amid 9/11 fight MORE (N.Y.) $11,433,001
Ron WydenRon WydenOvernight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild Dems slam Yahoo CEO over delay in acknowledging hack Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas MORE (Ore.) $776,729
Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyOvernight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild Dems slam Yahoo CEO over delay in acknowledging hack Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas MORE (Vt.) $1,492,246