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 TrumpNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Kemp leading Perdue in Georgia gubernatorial primary: poll US ranked 27th least corrupt country in the world 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 HellerSeven most vulnerable governors facing reelection in 2022 Nevada becomes early Senate battleground Nevada governor Sisolak injured in car accident, released from hospital 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 RosenOvernight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Bipartisan lawmakers announce climate adaptation bill Eight senators ask Biden to reverse course on Trump-era solar tariffs 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 McCaskillBiden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies On The Trail: Trump-inspired challengers target GOP governors 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 BarlettaPennsylvania state senator to run for governor, joining crowded GOP primary field Josh Shapiro officially launches Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro enters governor's race MORE (R-Pa.), who is struggling to keep pace financially with Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyOn the Money — Inflation hits highest level in decades Pressures aligning on Biden, Democrats to forgive student loans Senate Democrats grow less confident in Manchin 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 BlackburnSenate Republicans press federal authorities for information on Texas synagogue hostage-taker Sunday shows preview: Democrats' struggle for voting rights bill comes to a head CNN legal analyst knocks GOP senator over remark on Biden nominee 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 CruzFlake meets with Erdoğan in first official duties as US ambassador Senate Republicans press federal authorities for information on Texas synagogue hostage-taker Biden trails generic Republican in new poll, would face tight race against Trump MORE raised $1.9 million, but was outraised by Democratic Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke says he raised record .2M since launching campaign for Texas governor Eleven interesting races to watch in 2022 Cruz bullish on his 2024 chances: 'The runner-up is almost always the next nominee' 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 McSallyThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Business groups, sensing victory, keep up pressure over tax hikes Kelly raises million in third quarter 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 HeckNevada becomes early Senate battleground Democratic poll finds Cortez Masto leading Laxalt by 4 points in Nevada Senate race Infighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms 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 BennetSenate Democrats urge Biden to get beefed-up child tax credit into spending deal These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill 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.