Dems face difficult choices on resources in battle for Senate

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJohnson eyes Irish border in Brexit negotiations Lewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid MORE (N.Y.) is facing pressure from vulnerable incumbents and hopeful challengers about where to spend the party’s limited resources in this fall’s midterm elections.

Senate Democrats are defending 26 seats, including 10 in states that voted for President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE, and many of those candidates are going to need help from the national party.

But Democrats also have an outside shot of taking back the Senate majority if 2018 turns into a wave election. Democratic candidates trying to turn the Senate blue will also want help from Schumer.

ADVERTISEMENT

Schumer and allied strategists will have to decide whether to focus more on defense or offense.

Everything else being equal, incumbents say they should get first priority.

“When push comes to shove, if you have some incumbents in Pennsylvania or Ohio or Michigan in tighter races than might be expected right now and a binary choice between spending money there or going on offense elsewhere, I’m pretty sure you’re going to see the money go to the incumbent,” said a Democratic strategist allied with an incumbent Democratic senator.

A Washington-based Democratic strategist says the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s (DSCC) first priority is to protect incumbents, especially when many of them have contributed to or raised money for the committee.

“We view our first priority as defending our incumbents, but we also see some very strong pick-up opportunities,” the source said.

The best opportunities for Democrats are in Nevada and Arizona, with Tennessee seen as a longer shot.

Overall, Democrats face an uphill climb in winning back the Senate despite the GOP’s narrow 51-49 majority and President Trump’s poor approval ratings.

The reason is the political map. While Democrats have those 26 seats to defend, Republicans are protecting only eight seats. That leaves Democrats with few opportunities.

Democratic challengers know they’re not going to get the same attention as incumbents who can plead their case directly to Schumer.

“We’re painfully aware of that,” said Jeff Teague, executive director of the Tennessee Democratic Party, which is trying to elect former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) to the seat held by retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R).

But Teague thinks there are enough Democratic donors in Tennessee and across the country who will want to put money behind challengers in traditionally Republican states.

“We look to the success of Sen. Jones in Alabama, which obviously is not a very favorable place for Democrats,” he added, referring to Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who won a special election in December.

Some of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents are in relatively inexpensive states, such as Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D) in North Dakota and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSunday shows - Recession fears dominate Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Trump vows to 'always uphold the Second Amendment' amid ongoing talks on gun laws MORE (W.Va.) in West Virginia.

But the Florida Senate race is looming as a money pit for the Democratic Party.

It costs about $3 million a week to run ads statewide in Florida and incumbent Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE (D-Fla.) reported $8 million in cash on hand at the end of December. That means the DSCC and outside groups will have to spend heavily in the race.

The likely Republican nominee, Gov. Rick Scott, has a personal fortune and spent nearly $13 million of his own money to win reelection in 2014.

Bredesen is the only top-tier Democratic candidate for Senate who is not already a sitting member of Congress, which makes it harder for him to compete for resources from party committees and political action committees based in Washington.

“What we’re still coming to grips with is money outside the state and how that works,” said a Tennessee-based Democratic strategist who noted that Bredesen has built a strong fundraising network over more than 20 years on the local political scene.   

Still, there already have been signs of the competition candidates such as Bredesen will face from incumbents. Some Tennessee Democrats were dismayed when an incumbent Democratic senator flew to Nashville to raise money in Bredesen’s backyard.

“I’ve been a little underwhelmed by the ... support, money, from the Democrats in Washington,” said the Tennessee strategist.

A spokeswoman for Bredesen, however, said the campaign isn’t worried about losing out on national funding to other campaigns.

“Fundraising has been strong from day one, thanks to Gov. Bredesen’s long-established network of contributors and supporters. At the same time, we’re seeing new sources of support as the governor’s message of working together to get things done is resonating with voters,” said Alyssa Hansen, the campaign press secretary.

Democrats would love to take out Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE (R) in Texas. Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke has shown skill at getting media attention and is seen as an attractive candidate.

Yet he may have a tough time convincing Democratic leaders in Washington to steer millions of dollars to his race given the cost of advertising in the vast state.

“How much can they put into the really expensive states, like Florida? I’m not sure O’Rourke is teed up to get much help right now,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report.

Democratic strategists in Washington say tough decisions about where to put money won’t have to be made for months.

“It’s still early in the cycle to talk specifics about what advertising is going where,” said a Washington-based Democratic strategist.

They argue the decisions of the DSCC and the Senate Majority PAC, the principal super PAC for Senate Democratic candidates, will be made easier by the substantial cash advantage that Democratic candidates now have over Republicans.

“If you look at candidate dollars, which go a lot farther, the Democratic campaigns and candidates are stomping their Republican opponents in terms of fundraising so that’s a problem for the Republican side of the story,” said the source.

The DSCC has outraised its counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, for 11 consecutive months and has a $10 million cash on hand advantage.

In Indiana, for example, incumbent Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (D) raised $1.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, more than the combined total for the same time period as two Republican challengers battling to take him on in November.

In Missouri, incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D) raised $2.94 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, substantially more than the $959,000 raised by her Republican opponent, state Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Other Democratic candidates, such as Stabenow, Tester, Brown, Casey and Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (D-Nev.), who is running against incumbent Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R) in Nevada, also raised more than their GOP opponents at the end of last year.

But Republican candidates are counting on a windfall of spending from allied outside groups, such as the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi, Schumer press for gun screenings as Trump inches away The malware election: Returning to paper ballots only way to prevent hacking First House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons MORE (R-Ky.) and groups backed by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.

Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate in last year’s special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, had a major fundraising advantage over the Republican candidate, Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelGOP Georgia congressional candidate withdraws after calling himself a 'white nationalist' Freshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race McBath fundraising off 'get back in the kitchen' remarks MORE.

Nevertheless, Handel won the race in the Republican-leaning district after Republican-allied outside groups outspent liberal groups by more than a factor of two.