GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate

National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungGOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Statesmen seek bipartisan solutions to big challenges The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says he is fighting testimony to protect presidency MORE (R-Ind.) is warning his colleagues to brace for a spending deluge from fired-up Democrats in what’s becoming an increasingly competitive battle for the Senate.

GOP senators have outraised their Democratic challengers and the NRSC has brought in more than the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), but third-quarter fundraising shows the momentum is beginning to shift. 

One senator who attended a meeting last week where Young addressed the Senate Republican Conference about the 2020 fundraising landscape said there is “concern” Democrats could pull ahead.

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Republicans say they’re worried outside “dark money” fundraising groups could pour millions of dollars into competitive races, and they note that one of their biggest fundraisers, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills Biden: 'No party should have too much power' Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill MORE (R-Ky.), will now have to focus more on his own reelection in the wake of Democrats winning the Kentucky governor’s mansion earlier this month. 

“These ActBlue folks are taking money from everywhere, they’re killing us,” said a GOP senator who attended last week’s meeting with Young. “I think our chances are good, but there’s a ton of money being thrown at us.”

ActBlue, a group that helps Democratic grassroots donors give to candidates, helped challengers such as Mark Kelly in Arizona, Sara Gideon in Maine and Theresa Greenfield in Iowa out-raise GOP Sens. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 Planned Parenthood targets GOP senators in seven-figure ad campaign MORE (Ariz.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days MORE (Maine) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Democratic challenger to Joni Ernst releases ad depicting her as firing gun at him MORE (Iowa) in the third quarter.

Senate Republicans control 53 seats in the chamber but have to defend 22 seats next year, while Democrats have to protect only 12.

A Senate Republican strategist said the NRSC knows “Democrats will raise a lot of money.” 

“If you look at some of their candidates like Amy McGrath or Mark Kelly, you get the sense that their fundraising machine is up and running at full capacity already. And it’s only the off year. And so Republicans need to be prepared for a financial battle,” the strategist said referring to Democratic candidates in Kentucky and Arizona.

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“In some cases, Republican candidates have been outraised, but I hope that will be rectified,” the strategist added.

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 MORE (R-N.C.), who has to contend with a primary challenge and saw his fundraising total drop from the second to the third quarter, said he expects Senate Democrats to outspend Republicans in 2020. On top of the threat from Democrats, Tillis’s primary challenger, Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker, is putting more than $1.2 million of his own money into the campaign.

Asked about concerns that Democrats would outspend him in a general election, Tillis told The Hill: “They always do, it’s a matter of how much.” 

Tillis said he “had a two-to-one disadvantage against an incumbent in 2014,” when he defeated Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganGOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems shift strategy on impeachment vote MORE (D).

But Democrats say this time around the enthusiasm among their donors, volunteers and voters is at an all-time high.

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzThere's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Advocates hopeful dueling privacy bills can bridge partisan divide Key Senate Democrats unveil sweeping online privacy bill MORE (D-Hawaii) said “it is impossible to overstate the enthusiasm of our base.”

“It’s not just our base, it’s people who are newly energized,” he said. “People who didn’t consider themselves political, didn’t consider themselves Democrats are now ready to charge up the mountain.”

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterGOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate Former rancher says failure to restore meat labeling law is costing rural America 'billions' Tester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden MORE (D-Mont.) agreed. 

“I can tell you the level of enthusiasm is high,” he said.

GOP senators said Young has urged his colleagues to reach into their campaign coffers to help Senate GOP candidates defend themselves against a surge in Democratic spending.

Tillis said Young is “making sure that we know we need to work with each other,” adding “he’s done a great job.”

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerGOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Schumer briefs Democrats on impeachment trial 'mechanics' MORE (R-N.D.) said Young reminded colleagues that the end of the fourth-quarter fundraising period is coming up, giving them a chance to help fellow Republicans build up cash stockpiles before the pivotal election year starts.

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Several Republican lawmakers announced at last week’s meeting that they would transfer significant sums to the NRSC, Cramer added.

Young later told The Hill that he’s happy with what he called the “amazing participation” of GOP senators in the collective fundraising effort. 

“We just had a shock-and-awe luncheon. Participation by Republican senators is off the charts. We have retiring members who are holding events and being highly supportive of those Republicans who are in cycle,” he said. “We have freshmen who have four years until reelection who are actively engaged in the process.”

Democrats, who controlled the Senate heading into the 2014 midterms, significantly outraised Senate Republicans in the off year of that election cycle. 

The DSCC raised $52.6 million in 2013, $16 million more than the NRSC.

McConnell, who was also up for reelection in 2014, told the NRSC at the time not to worry about spending money on his race against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D).

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Just like today, polls showed McConnell had one of the lowest approval ratings of any incumbent senator seeking another term, but he won by capitalizing on his opponents mistakes and tying her to former President Obama’s policies.

But it might be tough for McConnell to pass up financial help from the NRSC this year, as his likely Democratic opponent, retired Marine combat pilot Amy McGrath, has raised more than $10.7 million since launching her bid. She has outraised McConnell since jumping into the race.

This year, McConnell and other GOP incumbents will try to tie Democratic challengers to that party’s eventual presidential nominee. Republicans are hoping it will be Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden: 'I'd add' Warren to my list of potential VP picks Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades How can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? MORE (D-Mass.), who’s much further to the left than some of the other White House hopefuls. 

McConnell told reporters earlier this year that he wants to make 2020 a “referendum on socialism.” 

While Senate Democratic candidates outraised their likely Republican opponents in key battlegrounds in the last quarter, the NRSC has maintained a fundraising advantage. The Senate GOP fundraising committee has collected $54.4 million through the end of September, compared to $49.9 million raised by the DSCC.

But on the other side of the Capitol, Democrats have raised substantially more money through the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee than House Republicans have through the National Republican Congressional Committee, $101.3 million to $70.4 million. 

Brendan Quinn, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political spending, said it appears that GOP donors are steering most of their resources toward protecting the Senate.

“That’s the chamber that they’re defending,” Quinn said, explaining the NRSC’s early fundraising advantage. “It’s more likely they’re going to defend the Senate than take the House if you just look at the maps and the winds.”