Democratic Senate hopeful Jaime Harrison of South Carolinabetween July and September. Sara Gideon in Maine raised more than $39 million in that same period. And Mark Kelly in Arizona brought in $38.7 million.
These eye-popping numbers shattered the previous record for fundraising,in the third quarter of 2018.
Now the Democrats are spending that money in the face of massive Republican super PAC funds. And it's left many Republican candidates with more cash on hand than the Democrats in the final weeks of the race.
In South Carolina, where the Senate race is unexpectedly tight, Harrison's $57 million in three months was double Republican incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham's $28 million haul, a state record for a Republican. Records show from July through September, Harrison spent more than $55 million. According to his October FEC filing, Harrison paid AL Media LLC more than $42 million over three months for TV, radio and digital advertising. He also spent another $6.5 million for digital advertising and services to Mothership Strategies, and $2 million to Blueprint Strategy LLC for radio and billboard advertising. $641,000 went to "direct mailing services." That amounts to more than $51 million spent on ads and direct mail alone.
But after being outraised roughly 2 to 1, Graham's operating expenses covered about half of what he raised, $26.5 million and another $1.75 million was transferred to the state Republican party. In their pre-general election filings, Harrison raised another $22 million in just 14 days from October 1 through 14, but ended the period with just $3.5 million cash on hand. Graham raised less than half of that but had $7.3 million as of October 14.
Even with his record fundraising, Harrison's campaign warned it needed to raise $10 million in the 12 days before the election to beat Graham. In a memo Wednesday, his campaign manager Zack Carroll wrote "our campaign woke up the Republican giant." Carroll pointed out Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's super PAC raised $92 million in September and is already spending to try and stop Harrison.
"Too many pundits don't understand what we are up against and have said the Senate campaigns like ours don't need to keep fundraising," it read. "But the fact is that unless our fundraising surges in the final 12 days, we will not be able to match Mitch McConnell jeopardizing our path to victory."
On Tuesday, Republican super PAC the Senate Leadership Fund reported it had more than $113 million cash on hand heading into October, even as Republican candidates were being outraised by Democratic challengers. It still had nearly $70 million to burn as of October 14. Democrats' Senate Majority PAC had less than $20 million October 14 and had raised more than $100 million less than what the Senate Leadership Fund brought in across 2020.
"Mitch McConnell's mega-donor allies are going all out to hold the Senate by cutting massive checks that are immediately funneled into Senate battlegrounds," said Statement from DSCC Executive Director Scott Fairchild in a statement this week. "Without our grassroots supporters we won't be able to flip Republican-held seats, and we still need their help to make sure Democrats have the resources to win."
Like in South Carolina, a similar situation is playing out in North Carolina, where Senate hopeful Cal Cunningham raised $28.3 million in the third quarter, more than four times Senator Thom Tillis' $6.6 million. However, Tillis spent less than $7 million in the last quarter. Cunningham spent $30 million.
Heading into October, Cunningham had just over $4.2 million cash on hand while Tillis had $6.6 million. As of October 14, Tillis had $3.5 million. Cunningham had less than $1a million.
One of Cunningham's top expenses has also been media. In the third quarter, the Democratic Senate hopeful has spent at least $24.7 million to Screen Strategies Media over three months. Another $1.3 million went to Wavelength Strategy, Inc also for media. He also spent more than $1.7 million to Authentic Campaigns for digital list acquisitions.
In Arizona, Democrat Mark Kelly raised $38.7 million in the third quarter. He also spent more than $43 million over the three months which also included the August primary. That included more than $34.4 million for media, more than $969,000 to Run the World Digital for direct mail services, and $837,000 on digital advertising. After raising massive amounts of cash across previous quarters as well, Kelly finished September with more than $18.8 million still in the bank.
By mid-October that number was $11 million. McSally had $9.1 million, despite having been outraised by more than $30 million this cycle to date.
In Maine, Democrat Sara Gideon brought in more than $39 million in the third quarter. But she hasn't spent it to the same extent as other Senate hopefuls. She had just over $17 million in operating expenses from July through September. Files show she paid more than $7.3 million to Grassroots Media for media buys. Another $3.3 million went to Bully Pulpit Interactive for media buys while nearly $400,000 went to media production. She also paid at least $2.1 million to Aisle 518 for list acquisitions and some online consulting. Her cash on hand at the end of September was $22.7 million. And then more than $20.6 million on October 14.
Meanwhile, Senator Susan Collins raised less than a quarter of what Gideon raised in the third quarter, $8.3 million. She spent about $7.3 million. Some of her biggest individual expenses were on media purchases, digital fundraising consulting and mail services. She finished the quarter with $6.5 million cash on hand, and then had $4.4 million as of October 14.
The dramatic fundraising advantage is not the case for every Democrat in a tight race, but it also does not exclude them from spending big over their opponents. In Michigan, Democratic Senator Gary Peters raised $14.6 million in the third quarter as he defends his seat from Republican challenger John James. James raised $14.4 million. Peters spent just under $30 million in the third quarter. James spent just under $15 million.
After a close fundraising period, Peters was able to raise more than double James in the first fourteen days of October, $7.3 million to $3.3 million, but James still finished with the cash advantage, $6.2 million to Peters' $3.8 million.
Eight figure spending by candidates to coincide with record Senate fundraising is not something new. When O'Rourke broke the previous fundraising record in the third quarter of 2018 in the Texas Senate race, he raised more than $38 million. That quarter he spent about $29 million. Over the course of the cycle, he brought in more than $80 million and also spent $80 million.
Despite the high fundraising, O'Rourke lost by about 3percentage points to incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who spent $9.6 million in the third quarter of 2018 and $35.4 million over the course of the cycle.