Senate Democrats' campaign arm books $30M in fall ads

By James Arkin

The Senate Democrats' campaign committee is booking more than $30 million in TV and digital ads for the fall in four states that could be critical in determining whether the party can retake the majority.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is investing $30.6 million in four races — all featuring Republican incumbents — starting in the fall, according to reservations announced Tuesday. Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber, but are largely on defense with far more Republican incumbents up for reelection in states expected to be competitive.

The initial ad buy from the DSCC includes Arizona and North Carolina, two critical battleground states that are central to their path back to the majority, as well as Iowa and Montana, two states Democrats are optimistic will be in play this fall.

"Democrats have expanded the map with great candidates, blockbuster fundraising and a focus on the issues that matter to voters," said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokesperson for the DSCC. "These investments are the latest sign that Republicans are on defense and the majority is in play."

The most money by far is in North Carolina, where they are reserving $11.7 million in the race between GOP Sen. Thom Tillis and Democrat Cal Cunningham, who won a primary in early March. They are also spending $6.4 million in Arizona, where Democrat Mark Kelly, who is the best-funded candidate in the country, is challenging appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally in a special election.

In Iowa, the DSCC is reserving $7.3 million against GOP Sen. Joni Ernst. The committee has endorsed businesswoman Theresa Greenfield over several other Democrats in the June 2 primary. And they have reserved $5.2 million in Montana, where Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock reversed himself and chose to run against GOP Sen. Steve Daines shortly before the filing deadline last month.

The committee did not reserve any fall air time in Alabama, where Democratic Sen. Doug Jones is the most vulnerable incumbent on the map, or in Michigan, where Republicans are invested heavily in Republican John James' bid against Democratic Sen. Gary Peters. The committee also did not initially book ads in Colorado and Maine, two critical battleground states featuring Republican incumbents.

The investments announced Tuesday are just initial reservations, and additional spending in other states is likely as the election approaches.

In Alabama, Jones, who won a 2017 special election in the deep red state, has a significant financial edge over Republicans Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville, who are facing off in a July runoff that was delayed because of the coronavirus crisis. Jones faces a challenging path to reelection, but the state could be cheap for additional reservations later in the year since it is not a presidential battleground.

In Maine, campaigns for Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democrat Sara Gideon have already spent millions on TV, as have several outside groups, crowding the relatively inexpensive airwaves in the small state. And in Colorado, which is Democrats' best pickup opportunity, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was endorsed by the DSCC, faces a June primary in which he is the favorite for the nomination to face GOP Sen. Cory Gardner.

There is some overlap between the DSCC initial reservations and the $33 million initially booked by the National Republican Senatorial Committee earlier this month. The NRSC is also invested in Arizona, Iowa, Montana and North Carolina, but also placed money in Colorado, Maine and Michigan.