Dems face difficult choices on resources in battle for Senate

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer slams Justice Dept over 'pre-damage control' on Mueller report Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders welcomes fight with Trump over 'Medicare for all' | DOJ attorney in ObamaCare case leaving | NYC mayor defends vaccination mandate | Ohio gov signs 'heartbeat' abortion bill Dems see room for Abrams in crowded presidential field 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 TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report 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 CorkerPollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump on tariffs 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 HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (D) in North Dakota and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections 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 NelsonTrump administration renews interest in Florida offshore drilling: report Dem reps say they were denied access to immigrant detention center Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances 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 CruzO'Rourke sweeps through Virginia looking to energize campaign Disney to donate million to rebuild Notre Dame Celebs start opening their wallets for 2020 Dems 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 DonnellySome in GOP fear Buttigieg run for governor Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care 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 McCaskillBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate 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 — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Prosecutors used FISA warrant to get info on Huawei | Study finds discrimination in Facebook ads | Bezos retains voting control over ex-wife's Amazon stocks More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Dem senators introduce bill to combat sexual harassment in STEM MORE (D-Nev.), who is running against incumbent Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release McConnell touts Trump support, Supreme Court fights in reelection video Why Ken Cuccinelli should be Trump's choice for DHS 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 HandelFreshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race McBath fundraising off 'get back in the kitchen' remarks Ex-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 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.