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GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate

National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungShelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences Grassley quarantining after exposure to coronavirus Rick Scott to quarantine after contact with person who tested positive for COVID-19 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 McConnellBiden's climate plans can cut emissions and also be good politics Acting Defense secretary makes surprise trip to Somalia As Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on 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 McSallyTrump nominee's long road to Fed may be dead end McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol McSally's final floor speech: 'I gave it my all, and I left it all on the field' MORE (Ariz.), 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 (Maine) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Memo: Trump plows ahead with efforts to overturn election More conservatives break with Trump over election claims Peggy Noonan: 'Bogus dispute' by Trump 'doing real damage' 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 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-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 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).

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

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzTech CEOs clash with lawmakers in contentious hearing Bitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Senate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination 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) TesterOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Senate Democrats press VA for vaccine distribution plan President is wild card as shutdown fears grow 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 CramerRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks Pressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win 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 WarrenThomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Disney laying off 32,000 workers as coronavirus batters theme parks 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.”