Democratic Senate candidates have a cash advantage in the fall, but face the GOP’s advertising onslaught


Seven Democrats in the 10 most hotly contested Senate races entered the opening stretch this month and into Election Day with more cash than their Republican rivals, newly filed campaign finance reports show.

But even with that financial advantage, Democrats face a massive advertising onslaught in the final weeks of the campaign from deep-seated outside groups.

The stakes are high for both political parties: Control of the Senate — along with the ability to shape the rest of federal policy for President Joe Biden’s first term — hinges on results in a handful of states.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, led non-GOP groups in fundraising, receiving $111 million in the three months ending Sept. 30, new filings show. That number matched what the competitor achieved in the first 18 months of this election cycle, as some of the GOP’s biggest donors stepped up their contributions.

“SLF is steadily shrinking in its fight to regain the Senate majority, and our donors are fired up to put the brakes on Joe Biden’s disastrous left-wing agenda,” the group’s president, Steve Law, said in a statement.

In all, the fund has spent more than $200 million on advertising this cycle, including ads that have already aired and bookings for the final weeks of the election, according to a CNN review of data compiled by AdImpact.

The McConnell-aligned group has “really been a life raft for Republican Senate candidates who have struggled with huge fundraising numbers,” said Jacob Rubashkin, a political disability analyst with Nathan L. Gonzales at the nonpartisan Inside Elections. “What we see from state to state is the burden of publicity that SLF and outside groups face.”

Here are more takeaways from third-quarter fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission:

Reports on Saturday night show Democratic Senate contenders outdoing their Republican rivals in a number of competitive races, including Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Democrats from those four states – Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Mark Kelly of Arizona; John Fetterman of Pennsylvania; and Wisconsin’s Mandela Barnes — each raised more than $20 million during the quarter. This was a milestone in which the Republican Senate had no hope of a competitive race.

Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, seeking a full six-year term after winning a special election last year, raised $26.4 million in the June-September fundraising period to lead all fundraising for Senate candidates. That’s more than double the nearly $11.7 million raised by his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker.

Those numbers, however, don’t reflect recent developments in the Georgia contest, including Friday night’s controversial debate in Savannah.

National Republicans have rallied behind Walker in recent weeks following news that the Republican paid for a woman’s abortion in 2009 and asked her to terminate a second pregnancy two years later.

Walker, who said in May that he supported a blanket ban on abortion with no exceptions, called the allegations “false.” CNN has not independently confirmed the woman’s allegations.

In a statement, Walker’s aides said the campaign recently bought more than $450,000 online as prominent Republicans, including Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who heads the Senate GOP campaign arm, joined the campaign trail in an effort to appease him. controversy

While Warnock has used his big war push to hammer Walker on the airwaves, a CNN review of advertising purchases tracked by AdImpact from Oct. 1 through Election Day shows outside groups, led by the Senate Leadership Fund, dominate advertising in the Peach State.

SLF advertising topped the list with $25.2 million, with Georgia Honor, a Democratic super PAC, in second place with just under $21.7 million.

Major donors to the Senate Leadership Fund in the third quarter were some of the largest financial contributors to Republican politics. Topping the $10 million list were three millionaires: Miriam Adelson, the physician and widow of the late casino magnate Sheldon Adelson; Ken Griffin, founder of the Citadel hedge fund; and Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman. The Senate Leadership Fund also contributed $20 million to its nonprofit, One Nation, which does not disclose the identities of donors.

SLF entered October with $85.2 million in cash reserves.

(Senate Majority PAC, the leading super PAC working to elect Democrats to the Senate, will file a report this week detailing its most recent fundraising. The group reported more than $65.7 million left in the bank at the end of August. )

Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat from Arizona, raised $23 million in the June-September window, more than four times the contributions collected by his Republican opponent, Blake Masters, new filings show.

And Kelly started October with more than $13 million left in the bank, far surpassing the Masters’ $2.8 million.

GOP leaders have asked billionaire investor Peter Thiel to put more money into the Arizona race to bail out Masters, his former staffer. (The initial $15 million Thiel sent to a pro-Masters super PAC, Saving Arizona, helped the first contender earlier this year.)

Saturday’s filing shows Saving Arizona raised a little more than $4.4 million during the third quarter without Thiel’s additional investment.

Among the three months’ biggest donors: Shipping and packaging magnate Richard Uihlein, who gave $3 million. And Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the billionaire investor twins perhaps best known for their legal battle with Mark Zuckerberg, gave $500,000 to the super PAC last month.

The notable exception to the Democratic primary fundraiser: Washington state, where first-time Republican candidate Tiffany Smiley raised $6 million in three months to beat five-term Sen. Patty Murray’s $3.6 million.

National Republican groups have so far not invested in Murray, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, in this traditionally blue state. (Inside Elections rates the contest “Likely Democratic”).

But Smiley’s recent fundraising success has put the spotlight on the 39-year-old former nurse, who is running her first political campaign.

Murray entered October with a larger pool of available cash: about $3.8 million to Smiley’s nearly $2.5 million.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, a state that has swung Republican in recent cycles, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan raised a whopping $17.2 million, with Republican JD Vance trailing far behind in a closer-than-expected race.

Ryan, who has poured millions of his campaign dollars into advertising, began October with just $1.4 million in the bank compared to Vance’s nearly $3.4 million. Ryan, a 10-term congressman, has asked national Democratic organizations for support, but has prioritized other high-profile contests in states like Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina.

SLF and, more recently, a super PAC aligned with former President Donald Trump, have hit the airwaves on Vance’s behalf in an effort to keep this Senate seat open in the Republican column.

The current incumbent, GOP Sen. Rob Portman, is retiring.