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Democrats Are Winning The Fundraising Race In The Senate

One of the strongest signs of a blue wave in the 2018 election was the green wave that preceded it: Democratic candidates running in that cycle raised googobs of money (a highly technical term). So in addition to indicators like the generic congressional ballot and special election results, the second-quarter fundraising reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission are another clue as to whether Democratic momentum will carry forward into 2020’s congressional races. And while it’s still early in the election cycle, it looks like fundraising is once again a bullish indicator for Democrats’ success, at least in the Senate. (We excluded House races from our full analysis because of the sheer number of districts, but for what it’s worth, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had raised nearly twice as much as the National Republican Congressional Committee as of their last FEC reports.)

In competitive Senate elections — those that the three major election handicappers rate as anything other than solid red or blue1 — Democrats have raised $34.1 million in total contributions in the first six months of 2019, and Republicans have raised $29.3 million. (A handful of minor candidates did not have second-quarter reports posted on the FEC website as of Tuesday at noon, so these numbers may be incomplete.) That gap is especially troubling for the GOP because there are eight Republican incumbents running in those 14 races, and incumbents usually raise more money than challengers early on. While Democrats have only four incumbents running, they’ve raised more than four times as much as their Republican challengers in those races. And in the two open-seat races, Democrats are outraising Republicans $1.9 million to $763,771.

Democrats are outraising Republicans in Senate races so far

Amount raised by each party in 14 competitive U.S. Senate elections, in the first six months of 2019

Total Contributions
State Race Rating Incumbent Democratic Republican
Iowa Likely R R $0.7m $1.9m
Kansas Likely R Open seat 0.0 0.6
Kentucky Likely R R 0.0 4.3
Texas Likely R R 1.0 2.9
Georgia Lean R R 0.5 2.0
Maine Lean R R 1.2 3.1
North Carolina Lean R R 0.7 2.9
Alabama Toss-up D 3.4 1.7
Arizona (special) Toss-up R 8.4 4.9
Colorado Toss-up R 6.7 3.4
Michigan Likely D D 4.0 1.5
Minnesota Likely D D 2.5 0.0
New Hampshire Likely D D 3.2 0.0
New Mexico Likely D Open seat 1.9* 0.2
Total 34.1 29.3

Race rating is the median rating from Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report. Some candidates’ second-quarter reports did not appear on the FEC site as of noon on Tuesday, July 16, so data may be incomplete. In New Hampshire, no Republican candidate had filed to challenge incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen by the time the books closed on the second quarter.

*Includes $46,451 raised by incumbent Sen. Tom Udall, who will not seek reelection.

Sources: Federal Election Commission, Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, The Cook Political Report

In addition, Democrats are outraising Republicans in all three of the most competitive races — those rated as “toss-ups” — even though two of them have Republican incumbents. One of these is the upcoming special election in Arizona, where the competition to be elected to Sen. John McCain’s former seat looks like an early front-runner for most expensive Senate race of 2020. Former astronaut Mark Kelly, the likely Democratic nominee, has already raised a staggering $8.4 million in total contributions. Republican Sen. Martha McSally has raised $4.9 million. (McSally was appointed to the Senate in December, which means she may not have the same fundraising advantage that other incumbents do; on the other hand, even though Kelly outpaced her, she did raise more than any other incumbent on this list.)

Similarly, in Colorado, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has taken in $3.36 million in total contributions. That’s slightly less than former state Sen. Mike Johnston, who at $3.4 million has raised the most of any of Gardner’s Democratic challengers. Other Democrats in the race (including former diplomat Dan Baer, who raised $1.1 million in just two and a half months) have also raised some impressive sums, and there may yet be more Democratic challengers coming out of the woodwork — Secretary of State Jena Griswold is exploring a run, for example.

In Alabama, the final toss-up race, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’s incumbency has helped him raise $3.4 million in total contributions so far this year, more than the $1.7 million combined total raised by all the Republicans hoping to face him. Of those challengers, Rep. Bradley Byrne got the biggest chunk of those contributions: $576,519 worth. Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore raised just $19,694, although he only announced his campaign at the very end of the quarter.

In four other races, the incumbent party has outraised the opposition so far, but a newly announced challenger has exhibited early fundraising strength. In North Carolina, Democratic former state Sen. Cal Cunningham raised $521,757 in total contributions after announcing his challenge to Sen. Thom Tillis on June 17. In Iowa, Democrat Theresa Greenfield raised $591,137 for her bid against Sen. Joni Ernst in a little less than a month. Running against Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon raised $1.1 million in just one week. And Republican John James got into the act too, raising $1.5 million after announcing his campaign to unseat Michigan Sen. Gary Peters on June 6. Of course, these candidates are probably benefiting from a surge of enthusiasm generated by their entry into the race, so they may not be able to sustain that pace going forward, but they’re worth keeping an eye on.

In the other seven races I looked at, it was pretty clear that the incumbent party has the fundraising advantage so far. Democratic Sens. Tina Smith of Minnesota and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire look to be in good shape so far based on the anemic or non-existent fundraising of their GOP opponents, though a Republican filed to oppose Shaheen just after the books closed on the second quarter, so we’ll have to wait for the third-quarter reports to gauge his strength. Democrats are also responsible for most of the fundraising in New Mexico, which will be an open seat in 2020 but is currently held by a Democrat. And Republicans have solid financial leads in Kansas, Kentucky, Texas and even Georgia, which two election handicappers give only a “Lean Republican” rating. In fact, these states might be the most promising notes for the GOP in these fundraising numbers.


  1. 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.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.