By Dan Merica and David Wright, CNN
Democratic Senate candidates in five of the six most crucial 2022 races are heading into the final months of the campaign with dramatically more cash in the bank than their would-be Republican opponents, a silver lining in what could be a difficult midterm cycle for their party.
But Republicans, buoyed by tight poll numbers in all six races and sinking approval ratings for President Joe Biden, contend that even if their candidates are outraised, they will have enough money to take advantage.
In several key battleground races — Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Hampshire — the leading Democratic candidate ended March with more cash on hand than the leading Republican, despite a number of GOP candidates self-funding their campaigns. And in some cases, the advantage was substantial: In New Hampshire, Sen. Maggie Hassan raised more than three times what three potential Republican opponents took in over the first three months of 2022; in Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock ended March with more than three times the cash on hand as Republican hopeful Herschel Walker; and in Arizona, Sen. Mark Kelly raised a mammoth $11.3 million in the first quarter, while none of his Republican opponents pulled in more than $1.2 million.
“While Republicans’ flawed candidates attack each other in brutal, expensive primaries, Senate Democrats’ record-setting fundraising demonstrates the strong grassroots support behind our campaigns,” said Eli Cousin, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The money is a bright spot for deeply worried Democrats, who feel their prospects in the midterms could be dire. Operatives across the political spectrum acknowledge that Democratic candidates will need as much money as possible to counter Republican messaging.
And because the Senate is currently evenly split at 50-50, every competitive race this year will be a high-stakes affair, with both parties desperate to control the legislative body in 2023 and ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
“At the end of the day, if the message doesn’t work, the money doesn’t matter,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “We know we are not going to outraise these guys. The goal is to make sure our candidates raise enough, and between us and (the GOP-backed Senate Leadership Fund), we can make up the difference.”
The money advantage, however, is dramatic.
In Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Hampshire, the leading Democratic candidate is in a better fundraising position than their leading Republican opponent.
Warnock led the way among the most vulnerable Senate incumbents in 2022, raising $13.6 million in the first quarter to build up a $25.6 million cash-on-hand advantage. Walker, his likely Republican opponent, raised $5.2 million and ended the quarter with $7.4 million in the bank.
Kelly continued to demonstrate his fundraising prowess, raising $11.3 million in the first quarter and banking a sizable $23.2 million. None of Kelly’s Republican challengers raised more than $1.2 million over the same period, though Jim Lamon, a businessman self-funding his campaign, contributed a personal loan of $5 million in the first quarter to bring his total personal contributions for the cycle to $13 million, and reported more than $7 million in cash on hand.
Warnock and Kelly also raised about $9 million and $10 million, respectively, in the fourth quarter of 2021, and their strong first-quarter fundraising in 2022 has them well positioned to spend aggressively to defend their seats. According to AdImpact data, Kelly’s campaign has spent $5 million on advertising so far, while Warnock has already unloaded over $27 million, getting on the air early but mostly booking airtime in the critical weeks before Election Day.
Republicans understand this money will mean key television markets are blanketed with Democratic ads in the final months of the campaign. But operatives working to raise money for GOP campaigns noted to CNN that Democrats’ money advantages haven’t always resulted in wins.
Matt Gorman, the former top spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee and a senior adviser for National Victory Action Fund, a hybrid PAC that focuses on candidate fundraising, pointed to 2020 Democratic candidates such as Amy McGrath in Kentucky and Jaime Harrison in South Carolina, who each raised significant money in their bids to oust Republican senators, only to lose by double-digit margins.
“They raised exorbitant sums of money, but you don’t really need that much to win,” Gorman said. “The point is not to raise extreme sums of money because a lot of times you have to do and say things that are out of step with the electorate to raise that. It’s raising enough to win.”
Gorman said the Democratic cash edge does highlight “the importance of our party cultivating grassroots low-dollar donors,” something Democrats have done through ActBlue, the fundraising platform that has become ubiquitous in Democratic campaigns. Republicans have looked to counter with WinRed, but that platform has not been able to keep up with its Democratic counterpart.
Incumbent Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Hassan in New Hampshire raised $4.4 million and $4.3 million, respectively, hauls that dwarf what potential GOP opponents have been able to raise in earlier quarters.
Cortez Masto, one of the most threatened incumbents on the Senate map, has a particular money advantage over Adam Laxalt, the former state attorney general looking to oust her. After a series of strong hauls, Cortez Masto has more than $11 million in the bank, compared with just more than $2 million for the Republican.
“While Sen. Cortez Masto continues to fight for the people of Nevada, our campaign is making sure she has the resources to win,” said Tyler Langdon, the campaign’s finance director.
In the Pennsylvania Senate race, one of Democrats’ best chances to flip a seat in 2022, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman raised $3.1 million in the first quarter, boosting his cash on hand to more than $4 million.
Fetterman’s haul is particularly meaningful, given that he is currently locked in one of the most contentious Democratic Senate primaries of the cycle, facing US Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta. Fetterman has consistently had the fundraising advantage over both Democrats, but Lamb has been supported by sizable super PAC money in the primary. Lamb raised $1.7 million in the first quarter, while Kenyatta pulled in just over $300,000.
The Pennsylvania Senate race also highlights an important fundraising dynamic this cycle — while leading Democratic candidates have raised big sums, wealthy Republican candidates who are self-funding their campaigns were able to pour millions into their bids, partly offsetting that advantage.
Celebrity heart surgeon Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund executive David McCormick, both GOP candidates in Pennsylvania, loaned their campaigns $5.9 million and $6.9 million, respectively, in the first quarter. While their cash-on-hand totals were under $3 million, the option to draw more funds from their personal wealth mitigates that concern.
There’s a similar dynamic in the open-seat Senate race in Ohio, where US Rep. Tim Ryan, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, raised $4.1 million in the first quarter and reported $6.5 million in the bank on March 31. On the GOP side, businessman Mike Gibbons loaned his campaign $5 million in the first three months of the year, bringing his total personal contributions to more than $16 million, while state Sen. Matt Dolan has loaned his campaign $2.5 million so far, though he didn’t make any personal contributions in the first quarter. JD Vance, the Trump-backed Republican in the race, also gave himself $600,000 in the first quarter to keep his campaign going. Republicans Josh Mandel and Jane Timken had first-quarter hauls of $519,000 and $809,000, respectively.
Even Democrats in some of the party’s longer-shot 2022 races were able to raise sizable sums of money.
US Rep. Val Demings, challenging Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida, was the top nonincumbent fundraiser, bringing in $10 million in the quarter and reporting $13.1 million in the bank as of March 31. While this is a notable uptick for Demings, who raised just over $7 million in the last three months of 2021, some Democrats are concerned this money could be going to a lost cause given how Florida has moved away from the party in recent years.
And North Carolina Democrat Cheri Beasley, the former state Supreme Court chief justice, raised $3.6 million in the first quarter, bringing her cash on hand to over $5.1 million, more than double the amount banked by either former Gov. Pat McCrory, US Rep. Ted Budd, or former US Rep. Mark Walker, who are fighting for the GOP nomination.
One of the few races where Republicans have a sizable money advantage is in Wisconsin, another key state for Democrats looking to flip Senate seats in 2022.
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson raised nearly $6 million in the first quarter, bringing his cash on hand to $3.6 million, more than double his leading Democratic opponents’ hauls.
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