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Democrats Are Outraising Republicans In The Senate

The Senate is up for grabs in 2020, and while I wrote on Friday that Republicans are currently favored to retain a majority, there is an opportunity for Democrats to take control of Congress’s upper chamber. One indication of how well Democrats are doing, aside from the polls, is how their fundraising numbers are faring in some of the most hotly contested Senate races.

Money isn’t everything in electoral politics, but it can help make an underdog more competitive and an incumbent less vulnerable. And on the face of it, Democrats have continued to maintain their edge in the money race. In the 14 races deemed competitive1 by election forecasters at Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report for which we have FEC filings,2 Democrats outraised Republicans by $65.5 million to $51.4 million in total contributions through the third quarter of 2019.3

Democrats are outraising GOP in competitive Senate races

Amount raised by each party in 14 competitive U.S. Senate elections, through the third quarter of 2019

TOTAL CONTRIBUTIONS
Incumbent Inc. Party State Median Race Rating* Democratic Republicans
David Perdue R GA Likely R $2.1m $3.5m
OPEN R KS Likely R 0.1 2.2
Mitch McConnell R KY Likely R 10.8 6.2
John Cornyn R TX Likely R 3.6 5.2
Doug Jones D AL Lean R 5.3 3.2
Joni Ernst R IA Lean R 1.9 2.6
Susan Collins R ME Toss-up/Lean R 4.4 5.1
Martha McSally R AZ Toss-up 13.8 7.9
Cory Gardner R CO Toss-up 4.0 5.3
Thom Tillis R NC Toss-up 1.6 4.4
Gary Peters D MI Lean D 6.4 4.6
Tina Smith D MN Likely D 3.7 0.4
Jeanne Shaheen D NH Likely D 5.3 0.5
OPEN D NM Likely D 2.5 0.4
Total 65.5 51.4

*Race rating is the median rating among Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report.

Campaign finance data include total contributions made to candidates in the 2019-2020 cycle. The data excludes candidates who have dropped out.

Open seats are ones with retiring or resigning senators.

Sources: Federal Election Commission, News Reports

On the face of it, this isn’t a great sign for Republicans. They are defending nine of these 14 seats and have eight incumbents running, so they should be in a better position to raise money than Democrats. But if we dig deeper, a race-by-race analysis shows these numbers are really a mixed bag for both parties.

For instance, a race where Republicans are considerably underwater is Kentucky, where Democrats have outraised Republicans by $4.6 million. Democrat Amy McGrath raised a remarkable $10.7 million in the third quarter. But even if McGrath continues to raise significantly more than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, it’s going to be very difficult to defeat him in strongly Republican Kentucky, especially with President Trump at the top of the ticket. Remember, too, McGrath raised a considerable amount of money in her 2018 House bid, but she still lost to the Republican incumbent by 3 points.

Unfortunately for Democrats, though, contributors don’t necessarily put their money toward races where Democrats have the strongest chances of picking up a seat. Case in point: in North Carolina, a state Trump carried by less than 4 points in 2016, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and other GOP candidates have outraised Democratic candidates nearly three-to-one so far. (And Tillis raised $3.6 of the GOP’s $4.4 million, but he could have to spend a chunk of that in a potentially difficult primary against businessman Garland Tucker, who is doing a lot of self-funding.)

The races in Georgia, Iowa, Michigan and Texas also offered some positive financial indicators for the GOP. Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia, Joni Ernst of Iowa and John Cornyn of Texas led their Democratic opponents by between $700,000 and $1.6 million. And while Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan had more in total contributions — a nearly $2-million advantage in one of the GOP’s better takeover opportunities — John James, the likely Republican nominee, actually outraised Peters in the third quarter, $3.1 million to $2.4 million.

Yet Democrats had good news, too, most notably in Arizona, which is shaping up to be a key battleground state in 2020. Retired astronaut Mark Kelly brought in $13.8 million, compared with appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally’s $7.9 million. And unlike Kelly, McSally could have some primary trouble that forces her to spend money against her fellow Republicans and not just Kelly. And down South, Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, the most endangered Democratic incumbent, outraised his Republican counterparts by about $2 million. He will probably have to keep that up in order to have much of a chance in a state Trump won by about 28 points.

It’s tough to outraise incumbents, but Democrats also managed to stay close in both Colorado and Maine — the only states Republicans are defending that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who abandoned his presidential bid to run for Senate in August, attracted slightly more contributions in the third quarter than Republican Sen. Cory Gardner — $2.1 million to 1.9 million, for instance. (Although Gardner still had more in total contributions.) In the second quarter, Gardner had actually been substantially outraised by the Democratic field, but with Hickenlooper’s entrance into the race, some leading Democrats dropped out, reducing Democrats’ total contributions. Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine brought in $700,000 more than the Democratic field, but Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon — the Democrats’ leading candidate — still managed to outraise Collins by $1.1 million in the third quarter. Still, one plus for Collins and Gardner is that they don’t have any primary opposition at the moment, unlike the Democrats in their states who will face crowded primaries.

There are also some lopsided numbers in a few other contests that are harder to make sense of. Democrats in Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Mexico have brought in far more than their Republican counterparts, which could make it tougher for the GOP to compete in those states. Meanwhile, Republicans hold a big lead in Kansas, but Republican-turned-Democrat Barbara Bollier jumped into the race in October, so the dynamics there could change, especially as Barry Grissom who had led in fundraising, with nearly $470,000 in the third quarter, dropped out and endorsed her.

In total, Democrats have continued their streak of outraising the GOP in these crucial contests, but each race tells its own story, and remember, a lot of money in the coffers doesn’t necessarily amount to victory. We’ve still got a long way to go between now and Election Day 2020.

Footnotes

  1. In other words, all those races rated anything other than “safe Democrat” or “safe Republican.” Specifically, I checked how the race was rated by Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report and then used the median rating. So, for example, if two handicappers rated a race “Likely Republican” and one rated it “Lean Republican,” we would consider it a Likely Republican race. I included any races where the median rating was Likely Republican, Lean Republican, Tilt Republican, Toss-up, Tilt Democratic, Lean Democratic or Likely Democratic.

  2. Georgia’s special election is also competitive but there are no FEC filings available.

  3. Data excludes fundraising by candidates who have dropped out.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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