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.

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 AyotteKelly Ann AyotteExplaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid Trump voter fraud panel member fights back against critics Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada MORE (R-N.H.) has $1.28 million cash on hand, while Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP defends Trump judicial nominee with no trial experience Bipartisan compromise is vital to the legislative process Senate GOP reveals different approach on tax reform 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 KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (Ill.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock Tax bills speed up global tax race to the bottom Someone besides the president should have the nuclear codes 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 Diane Rodham ClintonO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Pelosi blasts California Republicans for supporting tax bill 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 Sidney McCainTrump's dangerous Guantánamo fixation will fuel fire for terrorists Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Ad encourages GOP senator to vote 'no' on tax bill 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 Mauze BurrOvernight Energy: Chemical safety regulator's nomination at risk | Watchdog scolds Zinke on travel records | Keystone pipeline spills 210,000 gallons of oil Overnight Regulation: Senators unveil bipartisan gun background check bill | FCC rolls back media regs | Family leave credit added to tax bill | Senate confirms banking watchdog Collins ‘leaning against’ Trump EPA chemical nominee MORE has just over $900,000 cash on hand, and Alaska, where Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate bill would cut EPA funding by 0M GOP senator: ObamaCare fix could be in funding bill Collins: Pass bipartisan ObamaCare bills before mandate repeal 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 HaganPolitics is purple in North Carolina Democrats can win North Carolina just like Jimmy Carter did in 1976 North Carolina will be a big battleground state in 2020 MORE of North Carolina and Mark BegichMark Peter BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map 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 Nichols BoozmanLobbying World The Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal GOP senator undergoing follow-up surgery next week 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 PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm 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 Farrand Bennet15 Dems urge FEC to adopt new rules for online political ads Lawmakers put their beer brewing skills to test for charity Bipartisan lawmakers can rebuild trust by passing infusion therapy bill MORE (Colo.) and Harry ReidHarry ReidVirginia was a wave election, but without real change, the tide will turn again Top Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor 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 Antonio RubioCongress faces growing health care crisis in Puerto Rico The Hill's 12:30 Report Colbert mocks Trump for sipping water during speech on Asia trip MORE  (Fla.) $2,301,084

Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonQuestions loom over Franken ethics probe Senate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Signs of progress, challenges in fighting Alzheimer's MORE (Ga.) $2,081,215

Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoScott Garrett poses real threat to EXIM Bank, small businesses Usually friendly, GOP may anger big banks with tax plans Overnight Finance: Trump calls for ObamaCare mandate repeal, cuts to top tax rate | Trump to visit Capitol Hill in tax reform push | CBO can't do full score before vote | Bipartisan Senate bill would ease Dodd-Frank rules MORE (Idaho) $3,264,244

Mark Kirk  (Ill.) $739,036

Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsNational counterterrorism chief to retire at the end of year Former intel chief Hayden: Think twice on a Trump job offer Counterintelligence needs reboot for 21st century MORE (Ind.) $506,797

Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyFBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Klobuchar taking over Franken's sexual assault bill Lawyer: Kushner is 'the hero' in campaign emails regarding Russia MORE (Iowa) $1,601,439

Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOvernight Cybersecurity: Kushner was contacted about WikiLeaks before election | Tech experts blast Trump's 'extreme vetting' plan | Senate passes defense bill with measure to modernize feds' IT Ensuring that defense agencies will have access to a community of entrepreneurs and innovators Provision to modernize federal IT in compromise defense bill MORE (Kan.) $620,625

Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCongress must end American support for Saudi war in Yemen Black men get longer prison sentences than white men for same crimes: study Sarah Palin on sexual harassment: 'People know I'm probably packing' so they 'don't mess with me' MORE (Ky.) $1,715,429

David VitterDavid VitterQuestions loom over Franken ethics probe You're fired! Why it's time to ditch the Fed's community banker seat Overnight Energy: Trump set to propose sharp cuts to EPA, energy spending MORE (La.) $1,098,653

Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senator: Capitol Hill's sexual harassment reporting protocol is 'totally inappropriate' Senate passes resolution requiring mandatory sexual harassment training Strange bedfellows on criminal justice reform could offer Trump a legislative win MORE (Mo.) $734,264

Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) $1,286,990

Richard Burr (N.C.) $910,118

John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenOvernight Health Care: Initial Senate tax bill doesn't repeal ObamaCare mandate | 600K sign up for ObamaCare in first four days | Feds crack down on opioid trafficking Overnight Finance: Senate GOP unveils different approach on tax reform | House tax bill heads to floor | House leaders eye vote next week | AT&T denies pressure for CNN sale Adoption tax credit restored after conservative backlash MORE (N.D.) $688,747

Rob Portman (Ohio) $4,457,699

Pat Toomey (Pa.) $4,045,182

John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate panel approves GOP tax plan Republicans see rising Dem odds in Alabama Overnight Health Care: Nearly 1.5M sign up for ObamaCare so far | Schumer says Dems won't back ObamaCare deal if it's tied to tax bill | House passes fix to measure letting Pentagon approve medical treatments MORE (S.D.) $9,065,373

Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeProminent conservative passes on Utah Senate bid Johnson says he will not support tax-reform bill Moore endorsements disappear from campaign website MORE (Utah) $229,777

Ron Johnson (Wis.) $369,888


Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerBarbara Boxer recounts harassment on Capitol Hill: ‘The entire audience started laughing’ 100 years of the Blue Slip courtesy Four more lawmakers say they’ve been sexually harassed by colleagues in Congress MORE (Calif.) $293,305

Michael Bennet (Colo.) $1,003,067

Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) $303,439

Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiClinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions Top Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns Gore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere MORE (Md.) $985,021

Harry Reid (Nev.) $1,528,717

Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJuan Williams: The politics of impeachment Texas Republicans slam White House over disaster relief request Dem rep: Trump disaster aid request is 'how you let America down again' MORE (N.Y.) $11,433,001

Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCongress faces growing health care crisis in Puerto Rico Photos of the Week: Nov. 13-17 Senate panel approves GOP tax plan MORE (Ore.) $776,729

Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyLawmakers, celebs honor Tony Bennett with Library of Congress Gershwin Prize Dem senator jokes: 'Moment of weakness' led me to share photo comparing Trump, Obama Leahy presses Trump court nominee over LGBTQ tweets MORE (Vt.) $1,492,246

Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayGOP senator: ObamaCare fix could be in funding bill Collins: Pass bipartisan ObamaCare bills before mandate repeal Murkowski: ObamaCare fix not a precondition for tax vote MORE (Wash.) $747,504