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GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate

National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThis week: Democrats face fractures in spending fight Bipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua Senate passes long-delayed China bill 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 McConnellBipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Jayapal to Dems: Ditch bipartisanship, go it alone on infrastructure The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Biden's European trip 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 McSallyMcGuire unveils Arizona Senate campaign On The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly welcome first grandchild MORE (Ariz.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Outrage grows as Justice seeks to contain subpoena fallout MORE (Maine) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Meghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US 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 TillisInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Lara Trump lost her best opportunity — if she ever really wanted it 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 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 HaganInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms 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 SchatzDemocrats blast Biden climate adviser over infrastructure remarks Parliamentarian changes Senate calculus for Biden agenda Senate climate advocates start digging in on infrastructure goals 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) TesterPelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema 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 introduces constitutional amendment to ban flag burning Trump dismisses climate change, calls on Biden to fire joint chiefs Putin says Nord Stream 2 pipeline nearing completion 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 WarrenAdams, Garcia lead in NYC mayor's race: poll Exclusive: Democrat exploring 'patriot tax' on multimillionaires' wealth McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats 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.”