Senate Democrats in Trump States Raise More Than GOP Challengers

  • Ten incumbents raised $19.9 million in fourth quarter of 2017
  • More than 20 Republican candidates netted just $6.6 million
The 2018 midterms look good for Democrats

Senate Democrats in this year’s toughest re-election races have raised millions more than their Republican opponents as the party looks to turn donor anger at President Donald Trump into success at the polls in November.

The 10 incumbents facing re-election in states won by Trump raised $19.9 million during the last three months of 2017, while 24 Republicans competing in primaries to select their challengers raised $6.6 million, a Bloomberg analysis of filings this week with the Senate Office of Public Records shows.

The Democrats had a combined $71.3 million in their campaign accounts as of the end of the year, nearly four times more than the Republican candidates, who had about $20 million and must still finance primary campaigns.

At stake is whether Democrats can wrest control of the Senate from Republicans in the mid-term elections. Most analysts suggest they have a better shot of winning the House of Representatives. 

Fundraising Edge

The Democrats’ early fundraising edge comes as the party faces a much more challenging Senate map this year than Republicans. Democrats and independents who caucus with them are defending 26 seats, while Republicans are protecting just eight as they try to hold or build on their 51-49 advantage.

The states where Democrats could face the most serious contests are Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and West Virginia, all of which Trump won in 2016.

"Democrats in those states are running scared," said Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. "Incumbents as a group always raise more than challengers as a group and endangered incumbents raise much more."

The collective total these 10 Democrats have in their campaign accounts is almost double what they had at this point in 2012, when they last faced election. The total raised far exceeds the $10 million they netted in the same quarter six years ago. So far, with the exception of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the 10 incumbents raised more during the quarter than their Republican challengers combined.

Outside Groups

Strong fundraising by the Democratic incumbents could help discourage outside groups from supporting their rivals. Super political action committees put money into close races where there’s a chance to change the result. If the Democratic incumbents in states that Trump won keep their poll and fundraising numbers up, they might avoid an onslaught of outside spending.

Still, the passage of a major tax overhaul late late year has energized GOP donors, who could even out the end-of-the-year advantage enjoyed by Democrats.

“I think that’s a lagging indicator,” said Dan K. Eberhart, chief executive officer of oil services firm Canary LLC and a GOP donor and fundraiser. “Republican donors were waiting for Congress to produce results, which they did in the form of the historic tax reform act. From what I have heard, fundraising numbers have soared since the passage of the tax cuts.”

Still, Democrats are showing fundraising advantages among the key committees and super PACs that are most heavily involved with Senate races. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $53.4 million in 2017, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled in $41.5 million.


SMP, formerly known as the Senate Majority PAC, a super political action committee aligned with Senate Democrats, reported raising $20.7 million in 2017 and had $13.7 on hand at the end of the year. That was well ahead of the $13.6 million and $6.3 million for the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

The Senate races, of course, will play out state-by-state. Among the incumbents in pro-Trump states, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri raised the most during the quarter. Her campaign reported collecting $2.9 million and had $9.1 million in the bank.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, McCaskill’s top Republican challenger, raised $958,784 and had $1.2 million in his campaign account. McCaskill is viewed as a top target for Republicans because Trump won the state by 19 percentage points.

Baldwin Race

Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who is running for a second term, was the next biggest fundraiser among the 10 Democrats. She pulled in $2.7 million during the quarter and has $6.9 million in the bank.

Baldwin’s top two Republican challengers, state Senator Leah Vukmir and businessman and Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson, together raised less than half of what she pulled in.

Vukmir and Nicholson each have a Republican mega donor behind them and could end up in a heated battle that lasts until the mid-August primary. That would narrow the window for Baldwin to be the sole focus of Republican attacks to just two and a half months.

In Pennsylvania, where Trump won by 1 percentage point, incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Casey has built a huge lead in the money race, raising $2.5 million during the fourth quarter and starting the year with $8.6 million in the bank. His top challenger, Republican Representative Lou Barletta, raised $516,282 during the quarter and had $1 million in his campaign account.

The other Democrats included in the analysis are Senators Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana, Bill Nelson of Florida, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Small-Dollar Donors

So-called small-dollar donors, who give $200 or less, provided 15 percent or more of the contributions to all but four of the incumbents. Baldwin led the pack, with 44 percent of her money coming from them. Manchin got less than 2 percent of his take from small donors.

Bob Biersack, of the Center for Responsive Politics, said candidates from bigger states or with high profiles draw more money from small donors.

“The ones who don’t have much small-dollar money don’t have national reputations,” he said.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE