Senate Democrats in this year’s toughest re-election races raised more than twice as much as their Republican opponents during the first quarter of 2018, while the GOP burned resources on primary fights in multiple states.
The 10 Democratic incumbents running in the November election from states won by President Donald Trump raised a combined $24.4 million in the first three months of the year, while the Republicans with at least $50,000 in their bank accounts in those states — 20 in all competing in eight contested primaries — raised $9.4 million, a Bloomberg analysis of filings this week with the Senate Office of Public Records shows.
Republican campaigns in the 10 states collectively spent $12.4 million during the quarter, while Democrats went through $9.6 million. The spending pattern is the reverse of House races where a bumper crop of Democratic candidates has triggered numerous primary fights that are draining resources.
The 10 Senate Democrats had a combined $78.4 million in their campaign accounts as of March 31, more than two-and-a-half times as much as the combined $28.6 million held by the Republican field of candidate. Some of the Republican primaries in those states won’t be completed until August.
The early Democratic fundraising edge comes as the party faces a much more challenging Senate map this year than Republicans, even as other signs point to Democratic gains in the November election to decide control of Congress. Democrats and independents who caucus with them are defending 26 seats, while Republicans — currently holding a 51-49 advantage — are protecting just eight.
Going on Offense
The fundraising advantage Democrats now enjoy could take the party from playing defense in Senate races to going on offense and making a challenge for GOP-held seats, said Bob Biersack, a 30-year veteran of the Federal Election Commission who is now a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-finance watchdog in Washington.
"The longer it goes this way, the more it becomes not a question of whether there will be a wave, but how big it will be," he said. “What you thought were safe Republicans end up not being safe,” he said.
Republicans also are dealing with tension between establishment Republicans and those more aligned with Trump and the Tea Party wing. Those conflicts have been especially apparent in West Virginia and Mississippi primary races.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has signaled to the party’s donors that they need to focus more attention on saving their Senate majority with prospects of a Democratic takeover of the House appearing more likely.
"This is going to be a challenging election year," he said in an April 3 interview with the Kentucky Today editorial board. "We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don’t know whether it’s going to be a Category 3, 4 or 5."
Democrats are also showing fundraising advantages among the committees and super political action committees that are most heavily involved with Senate races. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had roughly twice as much in the bank at the end of March as the National Republican Senatorial Committee, $29.9 million to $14.8 million.
SMP, formerly known as the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Senate Democrats, had $26.7 million on hand at the end of March. That was well ahead of the $14.6 million for the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Republicans.
“Democratic enthusiasm isn’t just driving higher turnout, it’s also generating unprecedented candidate fundraising," said Steven Law, who heads the Senate Leadership Fund. "Any Republican who’s not working 24/7 to raise money is simply not going to be financially competitive in the fall.”
||Republican with most cash on hand
||Democratic cash-on-hand advantage
(Note: Does not include Florida, where Republican Rick Scott didn’t formally become a candidate until April. Source: Senate Office of Public Records)
Among the Democratic incumbents in pro-Trump states, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri raised the most during the quarter. Her campaign reported collecting $3.9 million and had $11.5 million in the bank.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, McCaskill’s top Republican challenger, raised $1.5 million and had $2.1 million in his campaign account. McCaskill is viewed as a top target for Republicans because Trump won the state by 19 percentage points.
Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who is running for a second term in a state where Trump won by 1 point, was the next biggest fundraiser among the 10 Democrats. She pulled in $3.7 million during the quarter and has $7.8 million in the bank.
Baldwin’s top two Republican challengers, state Senator Leah Vukmir and businessman and Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson, together raised less than half of what she collected. Vukmir and Nicholson each have a Republican mega donor behind them and could end up in a heated battle that lasts until a mid-August Wisconsin primary.
In Pennsylvania, where Trump won by 1 percentage point, incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Casey has built a major lead in the money race, raising $2.7 million and ending the quarter with $3.8 million in the bank. His top challenger, Republican Representative Lou Barletta, raised $1.2 million and had $1.6 million in his campaign account.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia raised just $929,560 during the quarter, but has built a massive cash-on-hand advantage over Republicans competing ahead of a May 8 primary. He had $5.4 million in the bank, while the two most flush Republicans had roughly $1.3 million each.
One major twist in Senate calculations is the Florida race that pits Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson against Republican Governor Rick Scott. The battle in the nation’s most populated swing state is almost sure to be the most expensive in the country and may become a money vortex that pulls resources from other states.
Scott is a multimillionaire former health care executive who invested tens of millions of his own money into his successful 2010 and 2014 campaigns for governor. Nelson reported raising $3.2 million during the quarter and ended with $10.5 million in the bank, while Scott didn’t file a report because his candidacy formally started in April.
Dan Eberhart, a wealthy oil industry executive and GOP fundraiser, said the combination of Scott’s fundraising prowess and personal wealth will put Democrats on the defensive.
“This fundamentally changes the map,” he said. “I am highly confident that when the dust settles on the midterms, the Republicans will have picked up seats.”
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