WASHINGTON -- Democratic senators and candidates running in the 2014 elections posted strong fundraising numbers and cash-on-hand totals in their first quarter fundraising reports for what looks like another challenging election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission filings and reports.
There are 21 Democratic-held Senate seats up for election, compared to just 14 for Republicans in 2014. Seven of the seats Democrats have to defend are in states that voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. At the same time, the large Democratic freshman class elected on the 2008 election wave must win their first reelection campaigns.
The big fundraising quarters by already-declared candidates in competitive races give Democrats a leg up on their competition, which the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee highlighted in noting the numbers Wednesday. More importantly, the early fundraising advantage allows these candidates to compete with the anticipated early spending by independent groups such as those connected to Karl Rove and the billionaire Koch brothers.
This appears to be one big lesson from the expansion of independent spending in the 2012 election, allowed by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling: It is better for a candidate to have as much control as possible over the money spent in his or her race, rather than relying heavily on outside groups with their own motivations that are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns.
The New York Times' Tom Edsall details this argument partially from the perspective of advisors to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Edsall quotes Romney advisor Stuart Stevens explaining that a big problem with the independent groups "was that they were not coordinated with the campaign. They produced ads that were good as they stood alone, but they weren’t directing one message.”
Candidates are also allowed to buy at the lowest unit rate for television advertising while super PACs and nonprofits must pay the same price that any other commercial advertiser pays. This means that the money raised by candidates goes further than the unlimited money that independent groups can raise.
In most of the key Senate races in the 2012 elections, Democratic candidates outraised their Republican opponents. There were only three competitive races where Republicans raised more in the last election cycle and in two of those, Indiana and North Dakota, the Democratic candidate still won. In Nevada, incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller was outraised by Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, but went on to defeat her by a thin margin.
For the 2014 election, Democratic candidates posting big fundraising quarters in races expected to be competitive include Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) with $1.9 million, Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) with $1.6 million, Max Baucus (D-Mont.) with $1.56 million, Mary Landrieu (D-La.) with $1.2 million, Mark Begich (D-Alaska) with $935,000 and Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) -- who is running to replace retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) -- with $1 million.
Democratic candidates in races that do not appear immediately competitive also raised big sums in the first quarter, including Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) with $2 million, Mark Udall (D-Colo.) with $1.5 million, Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) with $1.2 million, Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) with $1.1 million, Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) with $1 million, Tom Udall (D-N.M.) with $800,000 and Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D-N.J.) -- running to replace retiring Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) -- with $1.9 million.
"The numbers show that they've done a decent job of fundraising in the first quarter, but that's to be expected," said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring.
These candidates are, so far, spending this money lightly. All of them have more than $1 million cash on hand, with Baucus, Pryor, Hagan and Landrieu boasting more than $2 million cash on hand. Baucus, who raises money with ease as chairman of the powerful tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, holds the largest campaign war chest with $4.56 million available.
Unlike in the 2012 elections, though, many of these candidates are running in states much less hospitable to the Democratic Party. Sometimes excellent fundraising cannot make up for a state's political proclivities. In 2010, Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln heavily outraised her opponent Republican John Boozman, but lost by a large margin.
There are few declared candidates for these seats on the Republican side. Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is running for the Republican nomination to challenge Landrieu. He raised $524,090 for his House committee in the first quarter and has a strong $2.4 million cash on hand.
In the two states won by Romney where the incumbent Democratic senator is retiring, South Dakota and West Virginia, no Democratic candidate has come forward yet to raise money. The announced Republican candidates in the states have had mixed results in fundraising.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) raised $915,000 in the first quarter of 2013 while former Gov. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) only pulled in $184,000. Both Capito and Rounds have been targeted for primary challenges by conservative independent groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and Club for Growth. Rounds' weak fundraising poses a problem if he is going to survive a challenge by an independent group.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky was critical of the Republican's slow start at fielding candidates, saying, "Republican operatives in Washington have promised big donors that they would hand select candidates for all these races, but so far they are off to a disastrous start."
Dayspring called these comments a "nice smoke and mirror trick" pointing to the Democratic failure to field a candidate in Kentucky to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"We will have 'A-level' candidates in each of these races and the DSCC should be a little bit careful getting ahead of itself because it's going to look foolish in about six to eight months," Dayspring said.