Democrats Raised Twice the Money Republicans Did in Five 2020 Races That Could Determine Control of the Senate

Democratic challengers raised nearly twice the amount Republicans did in first-quarter fundraising in five must-watch races that could determine who controls the Senate, the latest campaign finance figures showed.

Republican incumbents facing tough re-elections races in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine and North Carolina all raised significantly less cash than their Democratic rivals in the first three months of 2020.

These contests are some of the best opportunities Democrats have to flip the seats and regain the Senate majority in November. They're rapidly becoming some of the most expensive and contentious matchups in the country. In Kentucky, for example, the multi-million dollar ad war between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Amy McGrath started 16 months before Election Day.

In some races, such as Maine and North Carolina, Democrats actually doubled the amount of cash brought in by their Republican challengers. In Maine, state representative Sara Gideon raised nearly three times more money than four-term incumbent Susan Collins.

The Senate is now made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. Democrats need to win four seats to regain control of the chamber, or three seats if the vice president is a Democrat. The vice president serves as the "president of the Senate" and can cast tie-breaking votes.

For Republicans to maintain control of the Senate, all they have to do is hold on to the seats they already have. But the GOP has far more territory to defend than Democrats: 23 of the 36 seats in play in November are held by conservatives.

"It is concerning for the Republicans as they try to hold on to these very competitive seats," said Ryan Winger, a Colorado-based Republican strategist and pollster, about the first-quarter fundraising numbers. "The money is going to matter."

Winger added that it's only going to be more difficult for candidates from both parties to fundraise amid the coronavirus pandemic. Campaigns at every level have been forced to suspend in-person events as the virus continues to spread.

"Just like it has upended so much else in life, it's also going to upend how these campaigns are not only going about raising money but also how they're spending money," he said.

All congressional campaigns were required to file fundraising reports for the first quarter of 2020, which ended on March 31, with the Federal Election Commission by April 15. Here's a look at where candidates stand money-wise in five of the top Senate races to watch.

Arizona

Political newcomer Mark Kelly has been one of the most prolific fundraisers of the 2020 election cycle. The Democrat challenging Republican incumbent Martha McSally reported raising $11 million between January and March. McSally's team raised $6.3 million.

McSally is facing a tough re-election effort as Arizona becomes an increasingly purple state. She actually lost her 2018 Senate bid to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema but was appointed to Congress to temporarily fill the vacant seat of John McCain. Now, she and Kelly are running to complete the final two years of his term.

A Monmouth University survey of registered voters conducted in mid-March showed Kelly 6 points ahead of McNally. But a new Arizona Public Opinion Pulse survey released on Wednesday found Kelly had already expanded his advantage to a 7-point lead.

Colorado

Incumbent Cory Gardner is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election this year as he's likely to go up against former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Hickenlooper outraised Gardner in the first quarter of 2020, bringing in roughly $4 million to Gardner's $2.4 million. But the Republican still has more cash on hand with $9.6 million in the bank compared with Hickenlooper's $4.9 million.

"What's clear from Senator Gardner's Q1 fundraising numbers is Coloradans want a commonsense conservative who delivers results, not a liberal socialist bent on changing America as we know it. Our campaign's cash on hand advantage will allow us to have the necessary resources to defeat the far left in 2020," said Casey Contres, Gardner's campaign manager.

Sabato's Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan election forecaster, shifted its rating of the Colorado Senate race from a "toss-up" to "leans Democratic" after polling showed Gardner to be unpopular with residents. The survey, conducted by Global Strategy Group in February, found that 48 percent of state voters disapproved of Gardner while just 37 percent approved of him.

Kentucky

In Kentucky, Democrat Amy McGrath outraised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by more than $5 million. McGrath's campaign hauled in $12.8 million in the first three months of 2020 while McConnell raised $7.8 million.

us capitol senate building march 2020
The U.S. Capitol Building on March 25, 2020, in Washington, D.C. As Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the Senate this November, first-quarter fundraising totals show Democrats outraising incumbents in five key races. Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

Though McGrath still has to get through a primary against several other Democrats. The contest was scheduled for May has been pushed back to June 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two polls conducted in January showed the general election to be winnable for McGrath. In one poll she was tied with McConnell while the other showed the Republican incumbent up by just 3 percentage points. But McConnell is going to be difficult to beat considering he's the most powerful Republican in Congress and a close ally to President Donald Trump, who won Kentucky by roughly 30 points in 2016.

Maine

Republican incumbent Susan Collins trailed her expected Democratic rival in fundraising by $4 million. Democrat Sara Gideon, the speaker of Maine's House of Representatives, raked in just over $7 million this year while Collins collected $2.4 million.

The race is likely to be Collins' toughest re-election effort since being elected to the Senate in 1996. Her controversial votes against impeachment and for Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court are likely to hurt her in a state President Trump lost in 2016. She's also the most unpopular Senator in Congress, according to Morning Consult, with a 52 percent disapproval rating. A poll conducted by Colby College in February showed Collins trailing Gideon by 1 percentage point.

North Carolina

Democrat Cal Cunningham has outraised Republican incumbent Thom Tillis by more than $3 million so far in 2020. Cunningham's campaign reported a $4.4 million fundraising haul between January and March. The Tillis campaign reported raising $1.3 million in the same time period.

But while Cunningham raised more money, Tillis still had more cash on hand. The Republican senator reported $6.5 million in the bank compared to Cunningham's $3 million.

Democrats won big in the 2018 midterms, signaling that the traditionally conservative state is becoming less reliably red. Polls currently show a tight race between Cunningham and Tillis. An East Carolina University survey conducted in February showed Tillis with a 2-point lead over Cunningham. But a NBC News/Marist poll from early March had Cunningham ahead by 5 percentage points. The Cook Political Report recently deemed the race a "toss-up" after it had been "leaning Republican."