If Democrats manage to keep their grip on the U.S. Senate in November’s midterm elections, it won’t have been all about the money — but their success with fundraising will have helped.
Democratic candidates have a fundraising advantage in nine of the ten Senate races rated competitive by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
This is illustrated in the chart below, which is based on Federal Election Commission filings by the candidates’ principal campaign committees and joint fundraising committees with their parties.
According to Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One, a nonpartisan watchdog group that aims to reduce the influence of big money in politics, a number of Democratic candidates in battleground states may have a fundraising advantage because they are “incumbents who don’t need to jump over all the hurdles of running for office for the first time.”
Beckel believes the Democrats have an advantage over their Republican opponents in terms of established fundraising machines and name recognition. In some of the other competitive races, the Republican incumbent is retiring, which can motivate Democratic donors because it is generally easier to win an open seat than it is to unseat an incumbent, he said.
Five of the ten competitive races have Democratic incumbents (Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Colorado), while only two have Republican incumbents (Florida and Wisconsin), and three have no incumbent because a Republican senator is retiring (Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina).
This year’s fundraising is also influenced by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June, which overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established a constitutional right to abortion.
According to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, abortion is the top voting issue for 22% of Americans, up from 18% in July. Inflation is the top concern, with 30% of respondents citing high prices, down from 37% in July.
“The issue of reproductive rights has motivated many Democratic voters and donors,” Beckel told MarketWatch. “There is a very strong fundraising appeal underway as a result of the Supreme Court decision.”
Democratic campaigns are “trying to capitalize on that energy and motivate people to both vote and open their wallets to give them more campaign cash,” according to the Issue One expert.
Due to Senate rules, Democrats would need 60 votes to codify Roe, with some of those votes potentially coming from Republican senators who occasionally defy their party. However, regardless of how many seats Senate Democrats control, Beckel believes that if they have a majority, they will be able to do more on abortion than if they are in the minority.
Democrats currently control the Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to cast tiebreaking votes.
While individual Democrats have largely outraised Republicans in competitive Senate races, as shown in the chart above, some key national Republican committees are doing better in attracting donations than their Democratic counterparts.
Other Republican-affiliated players, such as billionaire Peter Thiel and One Nation, a so-called dark money group that does not disclose its donors, are also stepping in to help GOP candidates. As a result, money from principal campaign committees and joint committees becomes just one piece of the puzzle.
He pointed out that a recent Wesleyan Media Project report used data on advertising spending to shed light on the Senate control battle.
According to the September 8 report, Democratic Senate candidates were the top five advertisers on broadcast TV in the previous month, indicating that those politicians have plenty of cash, whereas Republican Senate candidates “have been relying on the National Republican Senatorial Committee and One Nation — a group organized as a 501c — to support their campaigns on the air.”
The candidates for the ten competitive Senate races are now set, with retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc winning New Hampshire’s GOP Senate primary on Tuesday. His main opponent, state Senate President Chuck Morse, conceded to Bolduc early Wednesday.