Senate Democrats Count on Bulging War Chests for Final Months

Fundraising plays a factor in who will serve as Senate majority leader in the next Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Fundraising plays a factor in who will serve as Senate majority leader in the next Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted July 23, 2014 at 5:00am

If Senate Democrats lose the majority, it won’t be for lack of cash-flush campaigns. Facing a daunting map, Democrats turned in solid — sometimes eye-popping — second-quarter fundraising totals for the midterms.  

Even with incumbents such as Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska already spending significantly on the airwaves, Democrats running for the party’s most endangered seats also continued to sit on significant war chests primed for a post-Labor Day advertising assault.  

With President Barack Obama’s approval ratings in the low 40s, an unreliable base turnout in midterms, outside groups unleashing seemingly unlimited resources and Republican challengers staying competitive financially, it will take every penny to ensure Democrats’ losses don’t reach six seats. That threshold would hand the GOP control of the Senate for the first time since 2006.  

The fundraising reports filed last week by the dozen or so most competitive campaigns offer the last publicly available insight into their financial viability until mid-October, just before the general elections. With a few months to go, this was the first fundraising period that saw numerous candidates eclipse $2 million raised, with several topping $3 million and one even reaching $4 million. The two Senate campaign committees also recently touted breaking internal fundraising records. But with the help of a fundraising juggernaut in Obama, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has brought in $25 million more than its GOP counterpart and held a $6.5 million cash-on-hand advantage at the end of June.  

Of course, money can’t tell the whole story of these intricate campaigns. Last cycle, five candidates who held a cash-on-hand advantage after the second quarter lost four months later (former GOP Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, Sen. Scott P. Brown, R-Mass.; ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb.; Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D.; and former Sen. George Allen, R-Va.). And Republicans are, in many cases, holding their own.  

Pryor still had more than $4 million on hand at the end of June, after spending at least $1.25 million on Arkansas TV so far this year. But his GOP opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, brought in nearly $800,000 more than the incumbent in the second quarter. After spending at least $1.4 million on TV this year, Cotton was left with less than $3 million in cash on hand.  

In Louisiana, GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy continues to close in on Landrieu’s cash advantage, particularly after the incumbent spent more than $2 million on ads over the past few months touting her influence in the Senate and independence from the president.  

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., has dominated the fundraising aspect of her first re-election campaign in a state that’s already seen among the highest totals of outside spending. Hagan’s $3.9 million quarter was second only to the haul of Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. With more than $8.7 million on hand — behind only Sen. Mark Warner’s, D-Va., $8.9 million and McConnell’s $9.8 million stash — Hagan has about a $7 million cash edge over Republican challenger Thom Tillis and just reserved $4.4 million in fall TV time, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.  

That race was recently moved by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call from a pure Tossup to Tilts Democrat contest. That’s how the Alaska and Colorado races are rated as well, and both Begich and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., edged their Republican opponents in the second quarter.  

In Iowa, Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst topped Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in fundraising last quarter in a state increasingly vulnerable to a GOP takeover. And in Democrat-held seats currently favoring Republicans, Reps. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., outdid their opposing Democrats.  

In the only pickup opportunity for Democrats outside of Kentucky, Democrat Michelle Nunn raised more than $3.4 million as she continued to await Tuesday’s GOP primary finale. Her $2.3 million on hand led her two prospective Republican opponents combined, but she’s also likely to see a deluge of outside spending in one of the priciest states hosting a Senate race this cycle.  

Related Stories:

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Fight for the Senate Still Very Much Up in the Air

Rothenberg: ‘Simple’ Doesn’t Equal ‘Easy’ in N.H. Senate Race

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