GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races

GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races
© Greg Nash

Senate Republican incumbents and challengers posted lackluster fundraising hauls for the final quarter of 2017, an issue that could complicate the party's ability to take advantage of a favorable map. 

Republicans are eyeing the 10 states where Democrats are on defense after President TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE won in 2016. But GOP candidates running in those states continue to lag behind Democratic incumbents’ multimillion-dollar fundraising hauls from October to the end of December.

For the 2018 election cycle, the average Democratic incumbent raised $2.1 million in the fourth quarter, with an average of $7.75 million cash on hand.

Meanwhile, the average GOP challenger raised $746,000 in the fourth quarter, and has an average of $1.05 million cash on hand.

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Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (Nev.), the most vulnerable GOP incumbent up for reelection, had his weakest fundraising quarter of 2017, raising just $820,687. He was outraised 2-to-1 by his likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenDemocrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee Democrats call for McConnell to bring Voting Rights Act to floor in honor of Lewis US lawmakers call on EU to label entire Hezbollah a terrorist organization MORE, who raised more than $1.5 million and has $1.8 million cash on hand. But Heller still holds a sizable cash advantage, with $4.2 million in the bank. 

Heller’s stagnant fundraising doesn’t bode well for an incumbent senator facing a tough race in a state Trump lost by more than 2 points.

He’ll also need to spend some of that money to fend off a contested primary against Republican Danny Tarkanian, a perennial candidate who most recently lost a close House race in 2016.

In Missouri, state Attorney General Josh Hawley, a top Republican Senate candidate for the race, came close to a million, bringing in $958,000 and ending the year with nearly $1.2 million in the bank. Trump won Missouri by nearly 20 points in 2016. 

While Hawley was one of the best fundraisers among GOP challengers, he’ll still be competing with Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally Missouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties MORE’s (D-Mo.) formidable war chest. She led the pack of Democratic incumbents by raising $2.9 million last quarter, and has amassed $9.1 million in her campaign account. 

And in Pennsylvania, Republicans are reportedly voicing concerns with Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaBottom Line Ex-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts MORE (R-Pa.), who is struggling to keep pace financially with Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Fred Upton says it is 'tragic' to see Americans reject masks, social distancing; Russia claims it will approve COVID-19 vaccine by mid-August People with disabilities see huge job losses; will pandemic roll back ADA gains? The Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Pa.). Barletta raised $550,000 last quarter, with $1 million cash on hand. Casey raised $2.6 million, with $8.6 million stockpiled in his bank account.

But some Republicans running for safer Senate seats surpassed the million-dollar threshold in the fourth quarter. In Tennessee, GOP Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnGOP may face choice on tax cut or stimulus checks Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases MORE raised $2 million and former GOP Rep. Stephen FincherStephen Lee FincherTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Lamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee Tensions on immigration erupt in the House GOP MORE hauled in $1.45 million. And in Texas, GOP Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Democrats prepare seven-figure spending spree in Texas On The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP Trump tests GOP loyalty with election tweet and stimulus strategy MORE raised $1.9 million, but was outraised by Democratic Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeBeto O'Rourke calls Texas GOP 'a death cult' over coronavirus response Hegar, West to face off in bitter Texas Senate runoff Bellwether counties show trouble for Trump MORE.

This year, the average Democratic incumbent running for reelection had raised more and had more in the bank than the average Republican incumbent had at this point in the 2016 cycle. Meanwhile, the average Republican challenger had raised less than comparable challengers in the 2016 cycle, and had less on hand than comparable challengers in the 2014 cycle.

In this cycle, Arizona Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona McSally defeats primary challenger for GOP Senate nod in Arizona Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions MORE was the only Republican running in a key battleground state to raise more than $1 million last quarter, though she hadn’t yet made her Senate bid official at the time. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), meanwhile, raised $1.6 million.

But during that same quarter in 2015, six Republicans — including five incumbents and then-Rep. Joe HeckJoseph (Joe) John HeckCreating a more secure nation means public service hiring practices need an overhaul During this historic time, remember to value public service Creating a more resilient nation in times of crisis MORE (R-Nev.) — had raised $1 million. And for Democrats, five challengers running for Senate also raised more than $1 million, and two had raised more than $2 million.

In the 2016 cycle, Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetHow Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 Tom Cotton rips NY Times for Chinese scientist op-ed criticizing US coronavirus response Our national forests need protection — and Congress can help MORE (Colo.) — the only Democratic incumbent running in a top race —raised $1.5 million and had $6.7 million cash on hand. Meanwhile, the GOP incumbents in 2016 raised an average of $1.4 million, with an average of $6.65 million in the bank. 

In the 2014 cycle, the average Democratic incumbent raised $1.4 million, with an average of $5.4 million cash on hand. The average Democratic challenger raised $1.56 million, had $2.8 million cash on hand, though they all lost. The average Republican challenger raised $600,000, had $1.76 million cash on hand. All but one won.

Given the current fundraising numbers for the 2018 cycle, that suggests Democratic donors are more engaged, while Republican donors have so far sat on their hands.

Republican strategists believe the party’s failure to repeal ObamaCare last year could have translated into weaker fundraising for some Republicans running for office.

“You’ve had a lot of base dissatisfaction based on ObamaCare repeal not getting through. That has certainly caused folks to close their checkbooks to some candidates and in some cases the House and Senate campaign committees,” said Doug Heye, a GOP strategist and former Republican National Committee (RNC) spokesman.

But Heye believes the GOP tax overhaul — the first major piece of legislation passed since Trump took office — will convince donors to reopen their wallets especially since polling for the tax plan has improved since its passage. 

“Now we’ve passed big legislation, we’ve seen some numbers on the upswing, and it takes time for that to then manifest itself in fundraising,” Heye said. “I think we’re in a better place than we were six weeks ago.”

While GOP candidates are struggling to keep pace with Democrats, Republicans take solace in the high-dollar fundraising of their campaign committees, particularly the Republican National Committee.

In 2017, the RNC raised $132.5 million, nearly doubling the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) fundraising haul of $65.9 million.

That could mean donors are prioritizing contributions to the national party, while Democrats have been donating more heavily to individual candidates. 

And while the DNC has struggled financially, Democrats’ Senate campaign arm has consistently outraised its GOP counterpart for most of 2017.

GOP strategists also point to investment from outside groups like Senate Leadership Fund that will come in to help buoy Republican candidates in battleground states.

“Republicans realize it’s likely to be a challenging election cycle ... but I think we all feel very confident about the fundraising prowess of our committees, the White House and what the candidates have demonstrated thus far,” said GOP strategist Ryan Williams.