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Vulnerable Senate Dems hit fundraising pay dirt in third quarter

Vulnerable Democrats and top Democratic candidates boosted their reelection bids with strong fundraising in the third quarter, but Republican challengers are picking up their own pace as 2014 campaigns intensify.

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Nearly all of the Democratic Party’s most vulnerable incumbents raised more than $1 million from July through September, and all but Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) have more than $4 million cash on hand.

Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) both topped $5 million in cash on hand, and outraised their Republican opponents 2 to 1. 

Hagan raised $1.9 million, to $800,000 for Republican Thom Tillis, an early GOP front-runner in North Carolina. 

Landrieu took in $1.35 million, compared to $700,000 for Rep. Bill Cassidy, the Republican favorite in Louisiana.

Begich, another top GOP target, raised $813,000 and has $2.4 million in the bank. Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, a leading GOP candidate, announced he raised about $200,000 in the third quarter. 

A brighter spot for Republicans came in Arkansas, where Rep. Tom Cotton just outraised Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) — an early sign of concern for arguably the cycle’s most vulnerable incumbent. 

Though Pryor has kept up a strong fundraising pace, Cotton pulled in about $1.07 million to Pryor’s $1.04 million.

Pryor still has more than twice as much cash on hand than Cotton, $4.4 million to $1.8 million for Cotton.  

But with a heavy barrage of attacks from outside groups expected against both candidates, neither Pryor nor Cotton can afford to slow down their fundraising.

Democrats also had some good news in the two states where they’re playing offense — Kentucky and Georgia.

In both of those states, their candidates outraised Republicans. 

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes raised a hefty $2.5 million, slightly more than incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) $2.3 million.

Republicans downplayed Lundergan Grimes’s total, arguing it was below expectations for a  Democratic candidate in the 2014 cycle’s marquee race.  

The GOP noted Lundergan Grimes has received Hollywood support and brought in fundraising muscle from Democrats who helped Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) rake in record-breaking sums during her 2012 campaign.

But the sum was an early blow to McConnell and an indication that Democratic eyes are indeed focused on Kentucky going into 2014.

In Georgia, too, likely Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn posted strong numbers, more than doubling her nearest Republican opponent’s 3rd-quarter haul. 

She brought in $1.7 million, while GOP Rep. Jack Kingston and Georgia businessman David Perdue both raised about $800,000.

Both Lundergan Grimes and Nunn still lag significantly behind in cash on hand, but it’s a solid start for the two candidates Democrats believe have the best chance of picking up seats. 

Republicans, however, look to keep Democrats on guard in a number of open seats they’re hoping to flip, with their candidates in Michigan, South Dakota and West Virginia raising strong sums.

In Michigan, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R), outraised her likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Gary Peters, in the third quarter.

She brought in $2.05 million, $1 million of which she contributed to her own campaign, while Peters took in $1.03 million.

In West Virginia, a top target for the GOP, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) raised about $778,000. She has $3.2 million cash on hand. 

Her likely Democratic opponent, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, raised a solid $150,000 in the two weeks since she entered the race, but she’ll have to step up that pace if she hopes to catch up to Capito.

In South Dakota, the establishment pick for the GOP nomination, former Gov. Mike Rounds, again raised just over $600,000 in the third quarter. He has $3.2 million cash in the bank, considerably more than any of his GOP primary opponents. 

The only Democrat in the race, Rick Weiland, who raised just $170,000 and has $350,000 cash on hand.

In Iowa, however, where Democrats are defending retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D) seat, Rep. Bruce Braley easily outraised his nearest opponent, state Sen. Joni Ernst. 

Braley raised $900,000 to Ernst’s $252,000. Braley, in fact, outraised the whole GOP field combined.

But however tempting it is to handicap the Senate landscape using fundraising reports a year out, the money race will shift, and with the growing role of outside groups in politics, the money candidates raise themselves might become less significant.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee pointed this out in an email blast to reporters on Tuesday.

“Money is important in politics, but the reality is that in each of these states, candidates will have the resources that they need to be competitive win,” said NRSC Communications Director Brad Dayspring in an email.

— This story was updated at 10:25 a.m.