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 TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll 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) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections 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 HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (D) has twice the cash on hand as her rival, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerCain says he 'won't run away from criticism' in push for Fed seat Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Conservatives urge Trump to stick with Moore for Fed MORE, who joined the race in January.

In Florida, Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTrump administration renews interest in Florida offshore drilling: report Dem reps say they were denied access to immigrant detention center Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances 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 DonnellySome in GOP fear Buttigieg run for governor Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care 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 gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Gallego tapped as national campaign chairman for Swalwell presidential bid 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 HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R) has a $2 million advantage over Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Prosecutors used FISA warrant to get info on Huawei | Study finds discrimination in Facebook ads | Bezos retains voting control over ex-wife's Amazon stocks More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Dem senators introduce bill to combat sexual harassment in STEM MORE (D), though Rosen has raised more than Heller in four straight quarters. 

And in Tennessee, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnConservative groups defend tech from GOP crackdown Lawmakers weigh challenges in fighting robocalls Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal 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) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology 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 BrownOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Budowsky: 2020 Dems should debate on Fox Overnight Health Care: How 2020 Dems want to overhaul health care | Brooklyn parents sue over measles vaccination mandate | Measles outbreak nears record MORE (D-Ohio), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyLicense to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts 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 RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday 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 CorkerPollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump on tariffs 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.