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 AyotteSununu setback leaves GOP scrambling in New Hampshire The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP dealt 2022 blow, stares down Trump-era troubles Sununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority MORE (R-N.H.) has $1.28 million cash on hand, while Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision Senate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats Ohio Senate candidate unveils ad comparing Biden to Carter 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 Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (Ill.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonFauci calls Ron Johnson's AIDS comment 'preposterous': 'I don't have any clue of what he's talking about' Wisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' It's time to bury ZombieCare once and for all 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 ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion 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 McCainDole to lie in state in Capitol Rotunda Bob Dole: A great leader of the 'Greatest Generation' The bully who pulls the levers of Trump's mind never learns 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 BurrTrump moves to boost Ted Budd in North Carolina Senate race Texas Democrat Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson announces retirement at end of term On The Money — IRS chief calls for reinforcements MORE has just over $900,000 cash on hand, and Alaska, where Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate leaders face pushback on tying debt fight to defense bill Congress should reject H.R. 1619's dangerous anywhere, any place casino precedent Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills 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 Ruthven HaganInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms MORE of North Carolina and Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Alaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary 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 BoozmanPostal Service expansion into banking services misguided Arkansas governor backs Sarah Huckabee Sanders to replace him Arkansas attorney general drops bid for governor, says she will work with Sanders 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 Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas 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 BennetDemocrats see Christmas goal slipping away Hickenlooper: Law preventing cannabis business banking 'a recipe for disaster' Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (Colo.) and Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Voters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama 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 RubioGOP senators introduce bill targeting Palestinian 'martyr payments' House to vote on Uyghur bill amid diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics This week: Congress poised to go into December overtime MORE (Fla.) $2,301,084
Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonHerschel Walker calls off fundraiser with woman who had swastika in Twitter profile Georgia reporter says state will 'continue to be a premier battleground' Critical race theory becomes focus of midterms MORE (Ga.) $2,081,215
Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoGOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision Senate GOP threatens to block defense bill Republican Senators request military aid for Taiwan amid pressure from China MORE (Idaho) $3,264,244
Mark Kirk (Ill.) $739,036
Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsAn independent commission should review our National Defense Strategy Overnight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens Former national security officials warn antitrust bills could help China in tech race MORE (Ind.) $506,797
Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyFormer Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 Alarm grows over smash-and-grab robberies amid holiday season GOP blocks bill to expand gun background checks after Michigan school shooting MORE (Iowa) $1,601,439
Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul: Chris Cuomo firing 'a small step toward CNN regaining any credibility' GOP anger with Fauci rises Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default MORE (Ky.) $1,715,429
David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE (La.) $1,098,653
Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators introduce bill targeting Palestinian 'martyr payments' Senate leaders face pushback on tying debt fight to defense bill Senate eyes plan B amid defense bill standoff MORE (Mo.) $734,264
Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) $1,286,990
Richard Burr (N.C.) $910,118
John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Native solar startups see business as activism Religious institutions say infrastructure funds will help model sustainability House passes legislation to strengthen federal cybersecurity workforce MORE (N.D.) $688,747
Rob Portman (Ohio) $4,457,699
Pat Toomey (Pa.) $4,045,182
John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight MORE (S.D.) $9,065,373
Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeDemand Justice launches ad campaign backing Biden nominee who drew GOP pushback Democrats see Christmas goal slipping away The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (Utah) $229,777
Ron Johnson (Wis.) $369,888
Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFirst senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid Bass receives endorsement from EMILY's List Bass gets mayoral endorsement from former California senator MORE (Calif.) $293,305
Michael Bennet (Colo.) $1,003,067
Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) $303,439
Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiTwo women could lead a powerful Senate spending panel for first time in history Harris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? MORE (Md.) $985,021
Harry Reid (Nev.) $1,528,717
Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate parliamentarian looms over White House spending bill Democrats push tax credits to bolster clean energy Five reasons for concern about Democrats' drug price control plan MORE (Ore.) $776,729
Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyVermont Lt. Gov. launches bid for US House Lawmakers remember Bob Dole: 'Bona fide American hero' Biden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans MORE (Vt.) $1,492,246
Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayBiden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans On The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (Wash.) $747,504