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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE carried by large margins in 2016.

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate 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) ManchinLabor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners Labor leader: Trump has stopped erosion of coal jobs Overnight Energy: States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules | Greens seek hearing over proposed rule on energy efficiency tests | Top Dem asks GAO to investigate climate threat 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 HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes MORE (D) has twice the cash on hand as her rival, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw Lawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding MORE, who joined the race in January.

In Florida, Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonRepublicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments The muscle for digital payment Rubio says hackers penetrated Florida elections systems 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 DonnellyObama honors 'American statesman' Richard Lugar Former GOP senator Richard Lugar dies at 87 Ralph Reed: Biden is a 'formidable and strong candidate' 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 McSallyBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law McSally to introduce military sexual assault reform bill 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 RosenLawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding Dem lawmakers accuse DHS, HHS of giving them misleading information on family separations This week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report MORE (D), though Rosen has raised more than Heller in four straight quarters. 

And in Tennessee, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnGraham warns of 5G security threat from China Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Trump, Senate GOP discuss effort to overhaul legal immigration 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) TesterGOP angst grows amid Trump trade war Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to Trump border wall from Afghan forces, other accounts 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: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls Lawmakers grapple with the future of America's workforce The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE (D-Ohio), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyWhy Congress needs to bring back tax deduction for worker expenses Biden cements spot as 2020 front-runner The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's bid gets under Trump's skin MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinThis week: House to vote on bill to ban LGBTQ discrimination Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to Trump border wall from Afghan forces, other accounts 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 RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 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 CorkerJeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump Corker: 'I just don't' see path to challenge Trump in 2020 Ex-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' 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.