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Republicans Alarmed By Democratic Senate Hopefuls’ Fundraising Haul

‘We’re scared to death by what we see,’ one Senate GOP strategist says. Republicans Alarmed by Democratic Senate Hopefuls’ Fundraising Haul

Republicans Alarmed by Democratic Senate Hopefuls’ Fundraising Haul

Republicans are sounding alarms after Democratic Senate candidates outraised their GOP opponents in the first six months of the year, a gulf driven largely by small-dollar online contributions.

Democratic candidates in the 11 most competitive Senate races collectively raised $67.3 million in the second quarter of the year, $20.5 million more than their Republican counterparts, according to fundraising reports filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission. The total includes two Republicans who gave almost $6.5 million to their own campaigns. Democrats in those battleground states—which include Arizona and North Carolina—also raised more than Republicans in the first three months of the year.

The fundraising filings covering April to June also underscore Democrats’ advantage over the Republicans when it comes to donors giving small amounts online—a vital source of campaign cash since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most in-person fundraisers. Small donors are defined in FEC filings as those who contribute $200 or less.

GOP strategists called the fundraising gap an urgent problem, as Senate Republicans facing re-election this year see their polling numbers dip in important battleground states. And they warn it could harm Republicans’ prospects in elections long after 2020.

“It’s a serious fundraising disparity that jeopardizes our Senate majority, and Republican senators need to wake up and develop a small-dollar program or they’ll be out of a job,” said Michael Duncan, a Republican digital strategist who works with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign.

“We’re scared to death by what we see,” another Senate GOP strategist said.

At a closed-door lunch in June for GOP chiefs of staff, the National Republican Senatorial Committee shared a power-point presentation that concluded with a slide showing a train about to hit a man standing on the tracks, along with bullet points highlighting the digital fundraising gap between Democratic challengers and their Republican rivals in the first quarter of this year. The NRSC declined to comment on the presentation, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal and first reported by Politico.

While some GOP Senate candidates have made strides online, “we’re still light-years away from where we need to be as a party,” NRSC executive director Kevin McLaughlin said.

In Arizona, Democrat Mark Kelly outraised Republican Sen. Martha McSally in the second quarter, bringing in $12.8 million to her $9.3 million. With $24 million in his campaign coffers as of June 30, Mr. Kelly had a cash advantage of nearly $13 million over Ms. McSally.

In North Carolina, Democrat Cal Cunningham had half as much cash on hand as Republican Sen. Thom Tillis at the end of March. But Mr. Cunningham’s strong small-dollar fundraising—which more than doubled Mr. Tillis’s in the second quarter—helped him close that gap almost entirely by the end of June, the filings show.

Sara Gideon, the Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Susan Collins in Maine, raised $9.4 million to Ms. Collins’s $3.6 million in the second quarter. Ms. Gideon more than tripled what Ms. Collins raised from donors who gave $200 or less, the filings show.

“Our campaign has always known we would be outraised and outspent,” the Collins campaign said, adding that the senator will have enough funds to highlight her “long record of bipartisan accomplishments.”

The presidential race is also seeing evidence of the Democratic fundraising surge. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign announced Thursday that it had narrowed President Trump’s cash advantage after outraising the president’s re-election effort for two straight months.

Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon tweeted that the campaign and DNC had $242 million in cash on hand, compared to $295 million for the Trump campaign and the RNC. Three months ago, the president’s reelection bid had $187 million more cash on hand than Mr. Biden’s operation.

Late last year, Republicans developed an online payment portal called WinRed to compete with ActBlue, which Democratic candidates and groups have used in increasing numbers since 2004. President Trump and most federal GOP candidates now link to WinRed for online donations. The vendor processed $245 million in contributions during the second quarter; ActBlue says it processed $392 million in donations in June alone.

The fundraising disparities and weak polling for Republicans in some battleground-state races have prompted GOP party committees and outside groups to spend more money than they anticipated in places they didn’t consider particularly competitive even a few months ago, according to advertising data and interviews.

“The Republicans are playing more on the defensive. Their map is getting larger, not smaller,” said Scott Reed, senior political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Democrats need to gain three seats to win control of the Senate if Mr. Biden wins, or four if Mr. Trump is re-elected since Vice President Mike Pence would break ties. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report in June rated Arizona, Montana, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina as tossups, and Iowa, Michigan, Kansas, Alabama and two seats in Georgia as leaning toward one party, the next most competitive ranking.

Downballot Dollars

Big-spending Democratic and Republican groups have reserved $90 million in TV and radio ad time to run through the fall in the most competitive Senate races. Republicans are planning to spend heavily to defend a slate of incumbents while Democrats are focusing on boosting challengers.

Republican incumbents are tied or trailing in polls in several of those states, and some strategists in charge of holding the GOP Senate majority have begun describing Iowa, Montana and Georgia—states President Trump won in 2016—as the new defensive firewall.

In Iowa, where Republican Sen. Joni Ernst is seeking a second term, Democrats and Republicans are on track to spend at least $82 million in advertising before Election Day, according to ad tracker Kantar/CMAG. That is the second-most planned spending in any Senate race, after the $110 million of ads booked in North Carolina, a state long expected to be a top battleground.

Georgia last elected a Democratic senator 20 years ago, but the GOP is defending two seats, and planned advertising spending by both parties has picked up in recent days. Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler is mostly self-funding her campaign, as is GOP Senate hopeful Bob Hamilton in Kansas, where the primaries will be held next month.

The GOP still expects to flip at least one Senate seat from blue to red—the one held by Alabama Sen. Doug Jones—but hopes of unseating Democrat Gary Peters in Michigan are fading as polls show Mr. Trump struggling there against Mr. Biden.

One Nation, a politically active nonprofit run by allies of Mr. McConnell, invested in a $3.2 million ad buy in Alabama from late July through August. “It’s a pre-emptive measure if anything,” said One Nation spokesman Jack Pandol. While Republicans duked it out in a primary that concluded Tuesday, Mr. Jones aired positive campaign ads.

Mr. Jones’s $1 million in the second quarter from donors giving $200 or less was more than eight times GOP challenger Tommy Tuberville’s. By the end of June, Mr. Jones had an $8.8 million war chest, compared with Mr. Tuberville’s $551,000.

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