Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds

Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats and supportive outside groups have built a massive cash advantage over Republicans 3½ months before the midterm elections, raising GOP concerns that they will squander a golden opportunity to grow their narrow majority.

All told, Democratic candidates in 10 of the most critical races are sitting on $75 million, while their Republican rivals hold $33 million in cash on hand, according to a review of campaign finance documents filed in recent days.

ADVERTISEMENT

The gaps are widest in some of the red states President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE carried by large margins in 2016.

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Feds allow campaigns to accept discounted cybersecurity services GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (D) has $12 million on hand, four times the $3 million held by Attorney General Josh Hawley (R).

In West Virginia, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (D) has $6.2 million in the bank, compared with just $895,000 for Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who depleted his account in winning May’s Republican primary.

North Dakota Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments McConnell's Democratic challenger says she likely would have voted for Kavanaugh MORE (D) has twice the cash on hand as her rival, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump puts hopes for Fed revolution on unconventional candidate Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Acosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers MORE, who joined the race in January.

In Florida, Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA MORE (D) holds what appears to be a commanding cash lead over Gov. Rick Scott (R), $13.7 million to $4.5 million.

But Scott, who spent tens of millions of dollars on his campaigns for governor, has already spent freely on this race and raised more than $10 million in his first quarter as a candidate.

In Indiana, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (D) holds a massive $6.4 million to $1 million lead over former state legislator Mike Braun (R), though Braun has indicated he, too, will pour millions into his own coffers.

In states where Republicans are playing defense, there is more reason for optimism.

Though she faces a competitive primary, Arizona Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses MORE (R) has kept pace with her likely Democratic rival, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who holds just an $800,000 cash edge.

In Nevada, 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) has a $2 million advantage over Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Female senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster Lawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding MORE (D), though Rosen has raised more than Heller in four straight quarters. 

And in Tennessee, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnSocial media summit highlights partisan approaches on tech Trump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Hillicon Valley: Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at White House social media summit | Twitter hit by hour-long outage | Google admits workers listen to smart device recordings MORE (R) has double the money that former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) holds in reserve, $7.3 million to $3.6 million — though Bredesen has spent freely of his fortune to fund an early onslaught of television ads.

Along with those eight states, The Hill included in its analysis Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Democratic incumbents are favored in states won by Trump.

Democrats would need to net two Senate seats to win back the majority.

In Montana, where the most recent fundraising reports are not available, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives Democratic senators want candidates to take Swalwell's hint and drop out MORE (D) has $6.1 million on hand, far more than state Auditor Matt Rosendale (R), who spent big to beat two fellow Republicans in a primary last month.

Other potentially competitive states are falling off the map as Democrats build big cushions over their GOP rivals. Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei MORE (D-Ohio), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyCrucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research Republicans make U-turn on health care Democrats press IRS on guidance reducing donor disclosure requirements MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Planned Parenthood ousts its president | Harris releases drug pricing plan | House Dem drug plan delayed until after recess Health care needs transparency, and President Trump is making progress MORE (D-Wis.) all have huge advantages, putting states that might have been in play outside the GOP’s reach.

“Strategically speaking, we should be looking at a broader playing field of races than I think people are right now, because the financial concerns are constraining the map,” said Brian Walsh, a Republican strategist close to Trump who is closely tracking the midterm campaign.

The discrepancy is as significant among prominent outside groups that will spend tens of millions of dollars in the battle for the Senate.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had about twice as much cash on hand, $34 million, as the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), $16 million, through the end of May, the last date for which disclosure reports are available. 

The Senate Majority PAC, the largest Democratic super PAC, has more than twice as much in the bank, $29 million, as the $13.5 million held by the Senate Leadership Fund, its Republican counterpart.

“We’re in a moment, and fundraising is certainly fluid and we have a long way to go, but Democrats have certainly been engaged in this cycle and are eager to see a change in the U.S. Senate,” said J.B. Poersch, who heads the Senate Majority PAC.

With months to go, the overall Democratic fundraising edge may not hold. Two years ago, Democrats held a similar edge until a wave of late Republican money helped even the playing field. But an early cash advantage for one candidate can dissuade an outside group backing the other candidate from committing funds to what looks like an unwinnable race. If a race appears competitive, outside groups will turn a financial disparity into parity.

“We have these types of conversations every two years, and it is hard to look back and find many races where money was the decisive factor,” said Rob Jesmer, who ran the NRSC for two election cycles.

Some Republicans suggested the outside groups have been slower to raise big money in part because of intraparty competition from super PACs tasked with keeping control of the House. The Congressional Leadership Fund, closely tied to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOcasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump MORE (R-Wis.), has pulled in huge contributions from mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson, who worry more about losing the House than they do losing the Senate.

“Donors tend to gravitate towards whatever they feel is more prominent, and right now concerns about losing the House outweigh concerns about losing the Senate,” Walsh said. “The concern about the House is real, and justifiably so.”

But there is still plenty of money awash in the battle for the Senate. Candidates and their affiliated outside groups have purchased or reserved more than $270 million in television advertising in just 11 states with Senate races this year, according to two sources watching the advertising market. 

In those states — Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin — Democrats have reserved $152 million in airtime, compared with $118 million blocked off by Republicans.

The two sides have purchased or reserved more than $63 million in Florida, $40 million in Missouri, $44 million in Nevada, $30 million in Indiana and $21 million in Arizona, according to the sources.

Several senators, including Baldwin, Heitkamp, Brown, Tester and Donnelly, have spent weeks airing commercials. In Tennessee, Bredesen, running for an open 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), began advertising in March.

Among Republican challengers, only one — Florida’s Scott — has run more general election-focused advertising than his Democratic opponent.