July 15, 2020 / 10:50 PM / 19 days ago

Democrats see surging donations as they seek U.S. Senate majority

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Campaign donations are flooding into the coffers of Democrats running for the U.S. Senate, but some Republican incumbents looking to protect their Senate majority hold a powerful cash advantage over their challengers as the election battle enters its final months.

FILE PHOTO: Then-2020 Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Montana Governor Steve Bullock speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Scott Morgan/File Photo

Early second-quarter campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission showed a surge in donations for Democratic challengers trying to flip Republican-held Senate seats in at least 10 states seen as potentially in play as President Donald Trump’s poll numbers decline.

The filing deadline was due to expire shortly before midnight on Wednesday and several prominent Republican incumbents had not yet reported their totals for the three months ended June 30.

While the Nov. 3 election is still 3-1/2 months away, the flood of campaign contributions shows Democrats benefiting from voter discontent over Trump’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic and race relations, among other issues, analysts say.

“The intensity of the opposition to Donald Trump has motivated a lot of people to donate to Democrats for the first time, or more than they have before,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant.

Republicans currently hold a four-seat majority in the 100-seat Senate. With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, Republican control of the Senate has been crucial in buttressing Trump’s presidency including keeping him in power after his February impeachment trial.

But superior fundraising does not guarantee Democratic challengers success on Election Day against Republican incumbents who have had longer to build up their financial firepower.

Democrats would need a net gain of four Republican-held seats to take control of the chamber if Trump wins re-election - or three if Democratic candidate Joe Biden defeats him. Democrats are widely expected to lose one seat - Senator Doug Jones of Alabama.

FEC documents filed on Wednesday showed that Iowa Democrat Theresa Greenfield, who is running against Republican Senator Joni Ernst, nearly tripled her quarterly fundraising total to $6 million from $2.3 million earlier this year. Although she out-raised Ernst’s $3.6 million, Greenfield ended up with only $5.7 million in cash on hand, behind Ernst’s $9.1 million.

Likewise with Jon Ossoff, the Georgia Democrat running against Republican Senator David Perdue. Ossoff’s $3.9 million in quarterly donations surpassed Perdue’s $2.2 million. But the challenger was still behind in cash, with only $2.5 million on hand, versus Perdue’s $10.7 million.

In other races, Republicans had smaller cash advantages over Democrats or were at least competitive.

Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath outraised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell once more, bringing in $17.4 million in the second quarter versus his $12.2 million. But the top Senate Republican edged her out in cash, $16.7 million to $16.2 million.

Democrat Steve Bullock, the Montana governor who is running to unseat Republican Senator Steve Daines, more than doubled his first-quarter fundraising performance by raising $7.8 million in the second, while Daines raised $5 million. Bullock also came out on top in cash with $7.6 million, against the Republican’s $7.1 million.

Twenty-three Republican incumbents are seeking re-election to new six-year terms, compared with 12 Democratic incumbents. Polls show Senate Republican incumbents running slightly behind their Democratic challengers in half a dozen states: Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina.

Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Leslie Adler

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