Fundraising surges for Democratic Senate challengers, reports show

Every Republican senator facing a competitive race was outraised in the third quarter

Democrat Jaime Harrison broke the quarterly fundraising record in his race against South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.  (Nathan Ouellette/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democrat Jaime Harrison broke the quarterly fundraising record in his race against South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham. (Nathan Ouellette/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 16, 2020 at 11:51am

Senate Democratic challengers have been releasing eye-popping fundraising totals, and the third-quarter reports filed Thursday present a clearer picture of their financial advantage in the final weeks before Election Day. 

Every Republican senator facing a competitive race was outraised in the third quarter. The average Democratic challenger in 11 races rated competitive by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales raked in $23.1 million from July through September. That's more than twice the $10.4 million average for their incumbent Republican opponents, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis of fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

When the open seat in Kansas and two races where Democratic incumbents face strong challenges are included, Democrats' total receipts during the quarter were a whopping $339 million. Republicans raised $137 million. 

Democratic challengers have spent much of their third-quarter hauls, but they’ve still closed the gap in cash on hand in the final weeks of the race. On average, a Democratic challenger had $7.8 million on hand while the GOP incumbent had $7.2 million. 

Gonzales, an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call, said the cash figure in a campaign's final weeks can be deceptive.

"A candidate may not have a lot of cash on hand with a few weeks to go, but it's because they've already pre-bought their television ad time up to Election Day," he said. "The goal of the election is not to finish with the most cash on hand, it's to get the most votes. Good campaigns shouldn't have any money in the bank by the end."

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The third quarter was a fundraising boon for Democrats as they look to take control of the Senate. The average challenger raised nearly five times more than in the second quarter, when the average haul was $4.9 million. 

Democrats saw a surge in fundraising after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last month and as attention turned to flipping the Senate. Democrats need a net gain of four Senate seats to take control, or three seats if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wins the race for the White House, since the vice president can break tie votes.

These third-quarter figures include some outliers, such as Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly, who raised $38.8 million in his race against GOP Sen. Martha McSally, who raised $22.3 million in the third quarter. Kelly also had a cash-on-hand advantage as of Sept. 30, with $18.8 million in his campaign account. McSally had nearly $12.2 million on hand.

South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison also smashed the quarterly fundraising record that former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke set in his 2018 Senate race in Texas. Harrison raised $58 million from July through September in his race against Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who raised $28 million.

Harrison’s report shows he spent $60 million in the third quarter, with more than $42 million on TV, radio and digital ads. Graham ended the quarter with nearly twice as much cash on hand for the campaign's final weeks. The incumbent had nearly $14.8 million on Sept. 30, while Harrison had nearly $8 million. Inside Elections rates the South Carolina Senate race Tilt Republican. 

In other competitive races:

Alabama: Democratic Sen. Doug Jones raised $10.4 million to Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville’s $3.4 million. Jones had $7.9 million on hand as of Sept. 30 to Tuberville’s $1.7 million.

Alaska: GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan raised $1.7 million, compared with $9.2 million for Al Gross, an independent who will caucus with Democrats if elected. Gross had $5.2 million to Sullivan's $2.6 million on Sept. 30.

Colorado: Democratic former Gov. John Hickenlooper raised nearly three times GOP Sen. Cory Gardner’s total, raking in $22.6 million to Gardner’s $7.8 million. Hickenlooper had a slight advantage in cash on hand with $7.2 million to Gardner’s $6.8 million. 

Georgia: GOP Sen. David Perdue raised $5.6 million to Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff’s $21.3 million, but the two had almost equal amounts of cash on hand, with $8.2 million for Perdue and $8.3 million for Ossoff. 

Georgia special: Appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler had $7.2 million in receipts, including $5 million of her own money, and GOP Rep. Doug Collins raised $2.3 million. Democrat Raphael Warnock raised $12.9 million and led in cash on hand with $6.5 million, followed by $5.6 million for Loeffler and $2.4 million for Collins. 

Iowa: Real estate executive Theresa Greenfield raised $28.8 million, roughly four times more than Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who raised $7.2 million. Greenfield also ended the quarter with more cash on hand, with $9.5 million in her campaign account to Ernst’s $4.3 million. 

Kansas: In the open Senate race, Democrat Barbara Bollier raised $13.5 million to Rep. Roger Marshall’s $2.9 million. Bollier had $7.6 million to Marshall’s $1.7 million on Sept. 30.

Maine: GOP Sen. Susan Collins raised $8.3 million in the third quarter, compared with $39.4 million for state House Speaker Sara Gideon, her Democratic challenger. Collins had $6.6 million in the bank as of Sept. 30 to Gideon’s $22.7 million.

Michigan: Democratic Sen. Gary Peters raised $14.7 million, while his challenger, Army veteran and Republican businessman John James, reported $14.4 million. Peters held $3.5 million to James’ $8.8 million as of Sept. 30.  

Montana: Incumbent Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, reported $11.5 million for the third quarter, while his Democratic challenger Gov. Steve Bullock raised $26.9 million during the same period. Daines had $3.5 million on hand to Bullock’s just under $2 million as of Sept. 30. 

North Carolina:  Republican Sen. Thom Tillis hauled in $6.6 million to his Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham’s $28.3 million. Tillis held $6.6 million as of Sept. 30 to Cunningham’s $4.2 million. 

Texas: Air Force veteran MJ Hegar raised nearly twice as much as GOP Sen. John Cornyn, raking in $14 million while Cornyn raised $7.2 million. She also had a slim cash-on-hand advantage with $8.5 million in the bank compared to Cornyn’s $8 million.