Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate

Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate
© Getty Images

A wave of cash is building behind Democrats as they look to take full control of the government.

Democratic candidates are raising enormous sums of money four months out from Election Day, with several Senate Democratic challengers smashing fundraising records in states that will determine which party holds the majority in the upper chamber.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation US records 2,300 COVID-19 deaths as pandemic rises with holidays MORE outraised President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE for the second consecutive month in June. In the second quarter of the year, Democratic Senate candidates in Montana, North Carolina and South Carolina posted record-setting fundraising totals for their states. In Maine, Democrat Sara Gideon raised more than twice as much as Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (R) in the pre-primary period spanning April, May and most of June.


The fundraising hauls come as Biden emerges as the favorite to win the White House and the playing field tilts in favor of Democrats to win a majority in the Senate.

“The Republican campaigns should be alarmed,” John Pudner, a veteran Republican campaign operative who now runs the nonpartisan group Take Back Our Republic. “There’s this theory that there’s not a lot of enthusiasm for Biden, but there’s so much Democratic enthusiasm to get rid of Trump ... it just seems like there’s a lot more money for the left to tap into and we’re seeing that with the tens of millions of small dollar donations going through ActBlue. That points to a lot of enthusiasm for Democrats.”

The influx of cash has helped Democrats go on the offensive against their Republican opponents early.

In South Carolina, where Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLet's give thanks to Republican defenders of Democracy Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (R-S.C.) is facing reelection this year, Democrat Jaime Harrison has spent about $7.6 million on television, radio, digital and satellite ad buys so far this year, according to data from the firm Advertising Analytics. Graham, by comparison, has spent about $2.2 million.

Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, announced on Tuesday that his campaign had raised a staggering $13.9 million over the last three months — by far the largest second-quarter haul disclosed by a Senate hopeful so far.

Republicans hold a 53-47 seat majority in the Senate, meaning that Democrats have to pick up at least three or four GOP-held seats — depending on which party wins the White House — to take control of the chamber next year.


One Democratic incumbent, Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.), is at serious risk of losing his reelection bid, making it more likely that the party will need to win at least four seats elsewhere to secure a bare majority.

But even with a loss by Jones in November, the Senate majority is well within reach for Democrats. Republicans in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina are considered particularly vulnerable. Democrats got another boost last month when The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, moved the Montana Senate race into its “toss-up” column.

In Maine, Gideon has raised $23 million so far this cycle, compared to $16.3 million for Collins. Gideon hasn’t even won her primary yet and already has $5.5 million in cash on hand, compared to $5 million for Collins.

In North Carolina, where first-term Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisNorth Carolina — still purple but up for grabs Team Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection MORE (R) is facing a competitive reelection bid, Democrat Cal Cunningham shattered a state quarterly fundraising record previously set in 2014 by then-Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan10 under-the-radar races to watch in November The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE (D). His campaign announced on Monday that it had raised $7.4 million in the second quarter of the year.

And in Montana, the entrance of Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte wins Montana governor's race Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states MORE (D) into the Senate race has put Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesRick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE’s (R) prospects for a second term on shakier ground. Bullock pulled in $7.7 million in the second quarter, also setting a statewide fundraising record in the process.

Those numbers are particularly impressive given the environment.

Mike Nellis, the CEO of Authentic Campaigns, which is running digital programs for Cunningham’s and Bullock’s Senate bids, said that recent national tumult — the coronavirus pandemic, an economic downturn and widespread civil unrest over racial injustice and police brutality — had made the fundraising environment more challenging, forcing candidates to campaign and raise money online instead of meeting voters face to face.

“You have the onset of the pandemic, you have an economic recession, and then you have nationwide racial justice protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder,” said Nellis, who previously served as the top digital strategist for Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Biden can rebuild trust in our justice system by prioritizing prosecutorial reform Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence MORE’s (D-Calif.) presidential bid. “It’s been a challenging environment to fundraise for political campaigns.”

“Our focus has been to treat people with respect and meet them where they are,” he continued, noting that potential donors are given the opportunity to opt out of email fundraising lists if they’re experiencing health or financial hardships.

Second-quarter campaign finance reports won’t be in for another week, and several Republicans, including Graham, Tillis and Daines, haven’t yet disclosed their latest fundraising hauls.

Republicans interviewed by The Hill said that fundraising alone is not enough to win an election. Before Cunningham set the record this quarter for fundraising in North Carolina, the previous record had been held by Hagan, who went on to lose her seat to Tillis.

And the GOP incumbents had a head start on fundraising this cycle. All of them will be competitive in the money game after beginning the year with more cash on hand. While Biden outraised Trump in June by more than $10 million, the president has outraised his rival by nearly $400 million this cycle by virtue of getting an early start.

“I’m not panicking,” said Brent Littlefield, a Washington-based GOP strategist from Maine who was a senior adviser to former Gov. Paul LePage (R).

“I’ve run a lot of races where we’ve been heavily outspent by our opponents ... if you spend efficiently, you can make up for fundraising disparities, and at some point there’s a diminishing return for just throwing your money around out there.”

Republicans also believe that the Democrats and the news media have a blind spot when it comes to voter attitudes toward the leftward shift of the Democratic Party.

“Democrats will need to spend every penny to defend records that are disqualifying in the eyes of mainstream voters who will decide the outcome in key Senate races,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Personal scandals and a party rallying around a socialist agenda are problems money can’t solve.”

But Democrats are also eyeing Georgia, where both of the state’s Senate seats will be up for grabs in November, due to the retirement last year of former Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonOssoff, Warnock to knock on doors in runoff campaigns Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democrats press Facebook, Twitter on misinformation efforts ahead of Georgia runoff MORE (R).

Jon Ossoff, who is challenging Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) for his seat, saw a sudden influx of campaign cash last month after he emerged from a crowded Democratic primary field. His campaign announced last week that it had raised nearly $3.5 million in the second quarter, with about two-thirds of that total — about $2.35 million — flooding in after the June 9 primary.

Democrats argue that the influx of cash is a sign of enthusiasm for their candidates, especially at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy and left millions of Americans without jobs and in need of health care.

“Democratic Senate candidates have had strong grassroots fundraising all cycle, and these latest record-breaking numbers reflect the growing interest in these Senate battlegrounds and an unprecedented motivation to hold Republicans accountable,” Lauren Passalacqua, the communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said.