Dems in the Country’s Hottest Senate Contests Are Crushing the Opposition in Fundraising

Sam Brodey, Lachlan Markay
John Sommers II/Reuters
John Sommers II/Reuters

With fewer than four months to Election Day, Democrats in the nation’s most competitive Senate contests are crushing their Republican opposition in the money race.

Quarterly financial reports filed on Wednesday show that in the most competitive Senate contests in the country, Democratic candidates outraised Republicans in all but two. Two candidates, Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Texas Democrat MJ Hegar, had not filed their reports shortly before midnight on Thursday.

In the 13 races where The Daily Beast was able to examine finances for both parties’ candidates—contests in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Iowa, Montana, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Alaska, and two in Georgia—the Democratic candidates raised a combined $83.6 million to Republicans’ $64.8 million.

In 11 of those 13 Senate races, the Democratic candidate outraised the Republican in the second quarter.

Republicans still collectively enjoy a not insignificant cash advantage in those races—$114 million to Democrats’ $87 million—but the second-quarter fundraising numbers suggest momentum, at least on the fundraising front, is fully on Democrats’ side at the moment.

Money alone doesn’t win elections, and some of the Democrats in those races face stiff opposition in a number of states generally considered GOP strongholds. But with polling data trending in Democrats’ direction—from the top of the 2020 ticket on down—the financial figures released this week represent a major red flag for Republicans hoping to maintain their hold on Congress’ upper chamber.

The senators who were handily outraised by their Democratic challengers include some of the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbents in must-win states for Democrats, such as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado.

But some of Democrats’ top fundraisers in the second quarter came in states that, if they flipped from Republican control, would portend a wave election. In Kentucky, former Marine pilot Amy McGrath raised a staggering $17.4 million in the second quarter for her bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The state is considered a likely Republican hold, and McConnell posted huge numbers of his own, with $12.2 million raised. But going into the final stretch, McGrath has virtually eliminated McConnell’s cash advantage; she’s now sitting on $16.2 million to his $16.6 million.

In South Carolina, Democrat Jaime Harrison also reported eyebrow-raising numbers in his bid to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham, long considered a total long shot in the deep red state. Harrison brought in $14 million to Graham’s $8.3 million, closing the gap considerably with the latter’s previously sizable cash advantage.

Even in Alaska—a traditional GOP stronghold only marginally on Democrats’ map—incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan was bested in the fundraising race by first time candidate Al Gross.

Michigan provided perhaps the only bright spot for Republicans in second-quarter fundraising numbers. Democratic Sen. Gary Peters reported raising a respectable $5.2 million, but Republican challenger John James bested him with a haul of nearly $6.5 million. Peters still enjoys a slight advantage in cash on hand, but James’ fundraising may suggest momentum in that contest.

The Michigan race was one of just two among the dozen The Daily Beast examined in which the Republican candidate is outraising the Democrat. The other was one of Georgia’s two Senate contests this cycle, where incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler reported bringing in about $5.9 million to Democrat Raphael Warnock’s $2.9 million. But $5 million of Loeffler’s haul was provided by the candidate herself in the form of a loan to the campaign. Excluding that loan, Loeffler was one of just two candidates examined who raised less than $1 million in the second quarter.

Other GOP stalwarts, Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and David Perdue of Georgia, were unable to clear $3 million while their opponents outraised them—in Tillis’ case, by nearly $5 million.

Bloomberg Pledged Hundreds of Millions to Defeat Trump. Where Is It?

Taken together, the second-quarter numbers provide a fitting punctuation mark to a spring 2020 during which there were few bright spots for Senate Republicans. In the last three months, the country has been roiled by the coronavirus pandemic and widespread protests over racial justice, both of which have dragged approval ratings for President Trump into some of the lowest points of his presidency. On Capitol Hill, GOP lawmakers frequently found themselves answering for Trump’s incendiary tweets and combative moves, like his order to tear gas protesters outside the White House and his insistence on overturning the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court, both politically unpopular moves.

Privately, some Republicans concede that there’s little daylight between Trump’s political ceiling and theirs in November—giving them anxiety about their chances as he barrels into the general election. Meanwhile, in the last quarter, Joe Biden clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, giving what many in the party see as a boost to congressional candidates, especially in battlegrounds like North Carolina and Michigan. With some exceptions, Democratic Senate primaries that appeared to be competitive largely didn’t bear out that way, with establishment picks moving onto the general election—consolidating enthusiasm and fundraising dollars.

A Senate map that, at the beginning of the year, gave the GOP an edge to retain their majority now looks to be evenly matched. Given Republicans’ six-seat advantage in the chamber, Democrats need to flip four seats to win the majority, if Sens. Peters and Doug Jones (D-AL) prevail in their races, which are the GOP’s top offensive targets.

Republicans have sounded the alarm that their fundraising must improve if their most endangered incumbents are to survive November 2020 with their jobs intact. Though the party has built up WinRed, a challenger to Democrats’ online fundraising juggernaut ActBlue, Senate Democrats continue to benefit enormously from the kinds of small-dollar contributions those platforms typically raise. In the second quarter, Harrison and McGrath, Democrats’ top two Senate fundraising performers, drew 57 percent and 60 percent of their fundraising hauls, respectively, from donations of under $200.

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