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‘It’s still really early’: GOP undeterred by Democratic fundraising in Senate battle

Democratic senators in battlegrounds raised more than $2 million each

Arizona GOP Rep. Andy Biggs, who is considering running for Senate, said he wasn't concerned about Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly's fundraising.
Arizona GOP Rep. Andy Biggs, who is considering running for Senate, said he wasn't concerned about Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly's fundraising. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The four Democratic senators facing competitive races next year have already begun filling their campaign coffers, but Republicans looking to defeat them aren’t concerned by their early hauls. 

The GOP needs a net gain of just one seat to win control of the Senate next year. So far, none of the four vulnerable Democrats have GOP opponents who came close to matching their fundraising in the first quarter, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission last week. Republicans caution that there is still plenty of time for these races to develop. Senate challengers in recent election cycles have typically announced their campaigns 12 to 16 months ahead of Election Day, which is still more than 18 months away.

“We’re going to talk about the issues, and it won’t matter how much money people have,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott said Tuesday in a brief interview. 

“I’m going to work hard to continue to raise money, our candidates are,” the Florida Republican added. “But in the end, if you’re on the wrong side of the issues, you’re going to lose.”

Weighing runs

While party fundraising and money from super PACs that do not have contribution limits can affect races, fundraising by candidates can give them an advantage because they pay lower rates for television ads than outside groups. The four Democratic senators in states Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as Senate battlegrounds wasted no time ramping up their fundraising operations, with each raising more than $2 million in the first quarter. 

“The head start doesn’t help,” said one GOP strategist involved in Senate races. “But where it could have more of an effect is if somebody who’s on the fence about running decides to take a pass because these incumbents look strong.”

Arizona’s Mark Kelly, who won a special election last year, raised $4.4 million in the first quarter. New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan raised $2.9 million, while Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto took in $2.3 million. Georgia’s Raphael Warnock reported raising $4.6 million, which does not include most of January since that period was included in a separate report filed after Warnock won a hotly contested Jan. 5 special election for the seat.

GOP Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, who is weighing a run against Warnock, said off the House floor this week that Warnock’s impressive fundraising wouldn’t affect his own decision to run. 

Carter is waiting for former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker to weigh in on the race. Carter has personally encouraged Walker, who lives in Texas, to run. Former President Donald Trump has also called on Walker to challenge Warnock. 

“This is not about who can raise the most money,” said Carter, whose House campaign account raised $145,000 in the first quarter. “This is about saving our country,” he later added.

Arizona GOP Rep. Andy Biggs, who is considering a run for Senate, acknowledged that Kelly would likely have more cash than any Republican who challenges him. But the chairman of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus was undeterred by the Democrat’s fundraising.

“There’s still time,” said Biggs, who disclosed raising $243,000 from January through March for his House campaign account. “It’s still really early.”

In winning their seats last cycle, Kelly raised $101 million and spent $99.7 million, while Warnock raised $125 million and spent nearly $103 million.

The GOP strategist said some Republicans are worried that Kelly’s fundraising could discourage other challengers, especially with other statewide offices on the ballot in 2022. 

“It could look less attractive to take on a very well-funded Mark Kelly versus run for attorney general or secretary of state or even governor,” the strategist said. “That’s the one state there’s real concern.”

Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, has ruled out a Senate run, but the Washington Examiner reported after Kelly released his fundraising report that state Attorney General Mark Brnovich is leaning toward challenging the new senator. Brnovich’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Closing gaps?

The early fundraising numbers show Democrats are continuing to leverage donors who were energized by Trump and fueled record-shattering fundraising hauls. 

ActBlue, the Democratic online fundraising platform, announced this week that donors gave a combined $314 million through the platform in the first three months of the year, breaking a platform record for the first quarter of an election cycle. 

“We expect that what you saw in the first quarter will continue in the months ahead,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Gary Peters said. 

But strong fundraising doesn’t always spell success. Democratic challengers outraised GOP senators and candidates in 2020, but only three — Kelly, Warnock and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper — managed to flip Republican seats. 

Outside GOP groups such as the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, worked to close the spending gap, though individual candidate fundraising was still a concern for many GOP operatives. 

“We put a lot of focus on online fundraising and it’s worked,” Scott said when asked about the disparity in candidate fundraising.

WinRed, the GOP’s online fundraising platform, announced that donors gave $124 million to GOP candidates and committees in the first quarter.  

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