As outside-group crossfire blasts through two Senate races, candidates aren’t just raising money early — they’re spending it.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., don’t have opponents yet, but both are already participating in an ad war unleashed exceedingly early in the cycle, starting 20 months before Election Day in one case.
With the close of the second fundraising quarter on June 30, the threat — and, for those two, the reality — of early attacks reinforces the need for candidates to lay the groundwork now for an expensive election season that’s grown longer in recent years.
It’s why national Democrats, who are defending most of the vulnerable seats up this cycle, have increasingly pushed their incumbents to raise money early. And Republican challengers, even those who haven’t officially announced, must begin socking away for next year.
After losing two seats last cycle, Republicans must add a net of six seats to take the majority.
Fundraising reports covering April through June are due to the Federal Election Commission by July 15. The toplines will shine a spotlight on incumbents’ financial positioning, indicate who has a head start in primaries and provide clues about who is moving closer to a Senate bid.
Here is what to watch for as reports begin rolling in over the next two weeks:
Incumbents to Watch
As top incumbent targets, McConnell and Pryor turned in two of the biggest hauls after the first three months of the year. Wielding a couple of the largest war chests in the Senate, the money has already come in handy. Both have launched ads of their own amid a back-and-forth between outside groups.
Even their prospective opponents, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton, are feeling some super PAC heat. Outside groups have already expended at least $1 million combined on the two races.
Pryor is far more vulnerable at this point, and he is among a handful of Democratic incumbents to watch as fundraising reports are revealed. Others include Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.
Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is taking on Landrieu; North Carolina Speaker Thom Tillis recently entered the race against Hagan; and Begich so far has two Republican challengers in Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and 2010 nominee Joe Miller.
Democrats to watch in what are at this point less competitive races include Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, Mark Warner of Virginia and Al Franken of Minnesota, who raised more than any other senator last quarter.
Open-Seat Primaries to Watch
Retirements have provided even more competitive races, along with a few intriguing primaries. In Iowa, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley won’t know whom he’ll face in the general election, but there will likely be at least three Republicans filing quarterly reports this month. More candidates are coming.
In Georgia, GOP Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston, and Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, are all vying for the nomination and jockeying for in-state cash. Democrats don’t yet have a candidate in what is now their best pickup opportunity, but Points of Light Foundation head Michelle Nunn is likely to join soon.
After a monstrous start in late 2012, former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds turned in a less impressive first-quarter report. A strong second quarter could help stave off a GOP primary challenge from his right, which conservative activists are promising. Former Senate aide Rick Weiland is the only Democrat in the race for now.
Potential Candidates to Watch
Among the potential candidates to watch for in the reports are three Republican House members who have yet to announce their plans for next year: Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Steve Daines of Montana and Cotton.
Conservative advocacy groups have been encouraging Cotton to run for months, releasing polls showing him competitive and ads tying Pryor to President Barack Obama. And Democratic outside groups hit the airwaves last week to attack him. After one of the strongest first quarters of anyone in the House, another exemplary three months of fundraising could signal his impending candidacy.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., announced this month that he won’t run for Senate, leaving Amash as the most likely House member to run for the open seat against Democratic Rep. Gary Peters. His relatively small first-quarter haul didn’t exactly signal a Senate bid, but he has not yet ruled it out.
Daines wasn’t even on the Senate radar three months ago, but the impending retirement of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has pushed the freshman Republican — who briefly ran for Senate last cycle — to take a serious look. Should he run, he could face former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, whom national Democrats are recruiting to run.