Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds

Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats and supportive outside groups have built a massive cash advantage over Republicans 3½ months before the midterm elections, raising GOP concerns that they will squander a golden opportunity to grow their narrow majority.

All told, Democratic candidates in 10 of the most critical races are sitting on $75 million, while their Republican rivals hold $33 million in cash on hand, according to a review of campaign finance documents filed in recent days.

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The gaps are widest in some of the red states President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL players stand in tunnel during anthem, extending protests 12 former top intel officials blast Trump's move to revoke Brennan's security clearance NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes MORE carried by large margins in 2016.

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillSchumer to meet with Kavanaugh on Tuesday GOP leader criticizes Republican senators for not showing up to work Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' MORE (D) has $12 million on hand, four times the $3 million held by Attorney General Josh Hawley (R).

In West Virginia, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchumer to meet with Kavanaugh on Tuesday Supreme Court nomination reignites abortion fights in states Kavanaugh has 'productive' meeting with key swing votes MORE (D) has $6.2 million in the bank, compared with just $895,000 for Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who depleted his account in winning May’s Republican primary.

North Dakota Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Health Care: Supreme Court nomination reignites abortion fight in states | Trump urges Sessions to sue opioid makers | FDA approves first generic version of EpiPen Judge rules against Trump attempt to delay Obama water rule Vulnerable Dem Sen. Heitkamp hits opponent on ObamaCare repeal votes MORE (D) has twice the cash on hand as her rival, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerOvernight Health Care: Supreme Court nomination reignites abortion fight in states | Trump urges Sessions to sue opioid makers | FDA approves first generic version of EpiPen Vulnerable Dem Sen. Heitkamp hits opponent on ObamaCare repeal votes Overnight Energy: Trump Cabinet officials head west | Zinke says California fires are not 'a debate about climate change' | Perry tours North Dakota coal mine | EPA chief meets industry leaders in Iowa to discuss ethanol mandate MORE, who joined the race in January.

In Florida, Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints GOP looks to injure Nelson over Russia comments Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' MORE (D) holds what appears to be a commanding cash lead over Gov. Rick Scott (R), $13.7 million to $4.5 million.

But Scott, who spent tens of millions of dollars on his campaigns for governor, has already spent freely on this race and raised more than $10 million in his first quarter as a candidate.

In Indiana, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySchumer to meet with Kavanaugh on Tuesday Supreme Court nomination reignites abortion fights in states Kavanaugh has 'productive' meeting with key swing votes MORE (D) holds a massive $6.4 million to $1 million lead over former state legislator Mike Braun (R), though Braun has indicated he, too, will pour millions into his own coffers.

In states where Republicans are playing defense, there is more reason for optimism.

Though she faces a competitive primary, Arizona Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGOP Senate candidate truncates Trump tweet in campaign mailer Trump signs 7B annual defense policy bill into law Senate GOP campaign arm asking Trump to endorse McSally in Arizona: report MORE (R) has kept pace with her likely Democratic rival, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who holds just an $800,000 cash edge.

In Nevada, Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe farm bill gives Congress a chance to act on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act GOP’s midterm strategy takes shape Battle of the billionaires drives Nevada contest MORE (R) has a $2 million advantage over Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenBattle of the billionaires drives Nevada contest The Hill's Morning Report — Obama’s return sets up heavyweight fight with Trump Election Countdown: Trump jumps into Ohio special election fight | What to watch in Tennessee primaries | Koch network freezes out Republicans who crossed them | Dead heat in Texas, Nevada Senate races | How celebs are getting into the midterms MORE (D), though Rosen has raised more than Heller in four straight quarters. 

And in Tennessee, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnElection Countdown: Takeaways from too-close-to-call Ohio special election | Trump endorsements cement power but come with risks | GOP leader's race now rated as 'toss-up' | Record numbers of women nominated | Latino candidates get prominent role in 2020 Top Koch official fires back at critics: We are not an 'appendage' of the GOP The Hill's Morning Report: Trump tries to rescue Ohio House seat as GOP midterm fears grow MORE (R) has double the money that former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) holds in reserve, $7.3 million to $3.6 million — though Bredesen has spent freely of his fortune to fund an early onslaught of television ads.

Along with those eight states, The Hill included in its analysis Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Democratic incumbents are favored in states won by Trump.

Democrats would need to net two Senate seats to win back the majority.

In Montana, where the most recent fundraising reports are not available, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPearl Jam criticized for poster featuring dead Trump, burning White House Montana GOP Senate hopeful touts Trump's support in new ad Vulnerable Dems side with Warren in battle over consumer bureau MORE (D) has $6.1 million on hand, far more than state Auditor Matt Rosendale (R), who spent big to beat two fellow Republicans in a primary last month.

Other potentially competitive states are falling off the map as Democrats build big cushions over their GOP rivals. Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s GOP feuds dominate ahead of midterms Dustbin 2020: The best Dems who surely won’t get the nomination Vulnerable Dems side with Warren in battle over consumer bureau MORE (D-Ohio), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyTop Koch official fires back at critics: We are not an 'appendage' of the GOP Dem senator: Media should stop covering Trump rallies like they're breaking news The Hill's Morning Report: Trump tries to rescue Ohio House seat as GOP midterm fears grow MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinTrump touts GOP election wins: ‘We have the team we want’ The Hill's Morning Report — GOP seeks to hold Trump’s gains in Midwest states Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries MORE (D-Wis.) all have huge advantages, putting states that might have been in play outside the GOP’s reach.

“Strategically speaking, we should be looking at a broader playing field of races than I think people are right now, because the financial concerns are constraining the map,” said Brian Walsh, a Republican strategist close to Trump who is closely tracking the midterm campaign.

The discrepancy is as significant among prominent outside groups that will spend tens of millions of dollars in the battle for the Senate.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had about twice as much cash on hand, $34 million, as the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), $16 million, through the end of May, the last date for which disclosure reports are available. 

The Senate Majority PAC, the largest Democratic super PAC, has more than twice as much in the bank, $29 million, as the $13.5 million held by the Senate Leadership Fund, its Republican counterpart.

“We’re in a moment, and fundraising is certainly fluid and we have a long way to go, but Democrats have certainly been engaged in this cycle and are eager to see a change in the U.S. Senate,” said J.B. Poersch, who heads the Senate Majority PAC.

With months to go, the overall Democratic fundraising edge may not hold. Two years ago, Democrats held a similar edge until a wave of late Republican money helped even the playing field. But an early cash advantage for one candidate can dissuade an outside group backing the other candidate from committing funds to what looks like an unwinnable race. If a race appears competitive, outside groups will turn a financial disparity into parity.

“We have these types of conversations every two years, and it is hard to look back and find many races where money was the decisive factor,” said Rob Jesmer, who ran the NRSC for two election cycles.

Some Republicans suggested the outside groups have been slower to raise big money in part because of intraparty competition from super PACs tasked with keeping control of the House. The Congressional Leadership Fund, closely tied to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP super PAC hits Dem House hopeful as 'Pelosi liberal' in new Kansas ad Trump revokes Brennan's security clearance The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Wis.), has pulled in huge contributions from mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson, who worry more about losing the House than they do losing the Senate.

“Donors tend to gravitate towards whatever they feel is more prominent, and right now concerns about losing the House outweigh concerns about losing the Senate,” Walsh said. “The concern about the House is real, and justifiably so.”

But there is still plenty of money awash in the battle for the Senate. Candidates and their affiliated outside groups have purchased or reserved more than $270 million in television advertising in just 11 states with Senate races this year, according to two sources watching the advertising market. 

In those states — Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin — Democrats have reserved $152 million in airtime, compared with $118 million blocked off by Republicans.

The two sides have purchased or reserved more than $63 million in Florida, $40 million in Missouri, $44 million in Nevada, $30 million in Indiana and $21 million in Arizona, according to the sources.

Several senators, including Baldwin, Heitkamp, Brown, Tester and Donnelly, have spent weeks airing commercials. In Tennessee, Bredesen, running for an open seat held by retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerVoters will punish Congress for ignoring duty on war and peace GOP senator reviving effort to rein in Trump on tariffs Trump draws bipartisan fire over Brennan MORE (R), began advertising in March.

Among Republican challengers, only one — Florida’s Scott — has run more general election-focused advertising than his Democratic opponent.