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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.

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The gaps are widest in some of the red states President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE carried by large margins in 2016.

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill calls on GOP opponent to appoint special prosecutor to look into undercover video Dems go on offense against GOP lawsuit on pre-existing conditions Credit union group to spend .8 million for vulnerable Dem, GOP incumbents 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 Jr. to campaign in West Virginia for Manchin challenger Dems go on offense against GOP lawsuit on pre-existing conditions Credit union group to spend .8 million for vulnerable Dem, GOP incumbents 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 HeitkampPoll: Dem Donnelly has 4-point lead in Indiana Senate race Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Heitkamp: Staffer no longer with campaign after ad naming abuse victims MORE (D) has twice the cash on hand as her rival, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerElection Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Heitkamp: Staffer no longer with campaign after ad naming abuse victims Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach MORE, who joined the race in January.

In Florida, Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonGillum holds razor-thin lead in Florida race Senate panel wants Hyundai, Kia to answer over reported engine fires Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach 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 DonnellyPoll: Dem Donnelly has 4-point lead in Indiana Senate race Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Credit union group to spend .8 million for vulnerable Dem, GOP incumbents 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 McSallyThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — GOP faces ‘green wave’ in final stretch to the midterms Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach 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 HellerDems outraising Republicans in final stretch of midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Pollsters: White college-educated women to decide if Dems capture House Obama to speak at campaign rally for Nevada Dems MORE (R) has a $2 million advantage over Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenDems outraising Republicans in final stretch of midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Pollsters: White college-educated women to decide if Dems capture House Obama to speak at campaign rally for Nevada Dems MORE (D), though Rosen has raised more than Heller in four straight quarters. 

And in Tennessee, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTaylor Swift makes push for early voting in midterms Poll: GOP's Blackburn holds slim lead in Tennessee Senate race Democrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November 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 renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia 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 BrownOn The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem victories in `18 will not calm party turbulence MORE (D-Ohio), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDems target small cluster of states in battle for House Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials move to require drug prices in TV ads | 4,000 more people lose Medicaid in Arkansas | New top official for Medicaid Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinHillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug Poll: Baldwin leads GOP challenger by double digits in Wisconsin The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Trump, Pence fan out to protect the Rust Belt 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 RyanGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Ryan signals support for sanctions if Saudis killed Khashoggi 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 CorkerCorker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Poll: GOP's Blackburn holds slim lead in Tennessee Senate race 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.