Democrats take fundraising lead in 9 key Senate battleground states ahead of the midterm elections

If money turns out to be the deciding factor in this fall’s election, Democrats so far have positioned themselves well to take back control of the Senate.

With a little more than three months left in the race, Democrats in eight of nine key battleground states have generated a substantial fundraising advantage, raking in far more cash than their GOP opponents, a CNBC analysis of the latest campaign finance data shows.

To be sure, elections forecasters typically give Republicans a better chance to hold on to their majority in the chamber. Democratic incumbents are defending Senate seats in 10 states Trump won in 2016.

Most of the money fueling the battle for the Senate is coming from large contributions from wealthy individuals and national political action committees. Of the $358 million raised in these nine battlegrounds, less than 14 cents of every dollar came from individual donations of $200 or less.

As of June 30, candidates from both parties had raised nearly $360 million in these nine swing states, which include Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Indiana, Montana and North Dakota are considered “toss-ups” by political pundits. The Democratic candidates running there have raised more in this cycle than any Senate candidate of either party in those states the last 20 years, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

CNBC’s analysis is based on the latest second-quarter filings for direct campaign contributions only. It does not include spending by so-called super PACs, which can collect unlimited donations from wealthy individuals, corporations, labor unions and other special interests.

Uphill battle

Most political analysts see the battle for control of the Senate as an uphill fight for Democrats. That’s largely because 26 Democratic incumbents face re-election, while only nine Republican seats are at risk of flipping parties.

In order to flip the Senate, Democrats need to defend the six battleground states they already represent and take two of the three GOP-held seats in battleground states Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee.

Here’s a look at the candidates' finances and the issues in play in the nine battleground states.

The front line of the battle for the Senate runs through the three GOP Senate seats — Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee — that Democrats think they can take back from the GOP.

Arizona

Arizona’s closely watched race features two women who currently represent the state in Congress and are vying for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.

Trump won the state by about four points in 2016, but the latest polls suggest the Senate race is competitive. A divided voter population includes a strong base of Trump supporters along with a growing share of minority and moderate suburban voters. Immigration is a key issue that draws a sharp partisan line throughout this border state.

Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who currently represents Arizona’s 9th Congressional District, is expected to win her party’s nomination in the state’s primary on Aug. 28. As of the end of June, she had raised a war chest of $9.4 million and had about $5.4 million in cash on hand.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) 
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) 

Three conservative challengers are battling it out for the Republican nomination. The front-runner, GOP Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona’s 2nd District, has raised about $6.6 million and has $4.2 million on hand.

McSally has staked out a moderate profile since her election in 2014, but has inched closer to the right as she competes in the Republican primary against former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, both ultra-conservatives. McSally leads her two GOP rivals in the polls.

McSally has also cozied up to Trump, despite openly criticizing his candidacy for presidency in 2016. She has embraced a hard line on immigration, along with Ward and Arpaio. Ward has defended Trump’s family separation policy at the border and has accused McSally of being soft on border security.

Nevada

Democratic voter turnout will be the deciding factor in the Nevada Senate race, especially in heavily populated areas such as Las Vegas, according to David F. Damore of University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller is running for re-election against Jacky Rosen, a first-term congresswoman representing the state’s 3rd Congressional District. The latest polls show Rosen holding a narrow lead against Heller in a state that Hillary Clinton carried by two points in 2016.

So far, Heller has raised $10.7 million and has about $5.9 million in cash. Rosen, who has relied more heavily on small-donor contributions, has raised $9.2 million and has about $3.8 million in cash.

Rep. Jacky Rosen speaks during the news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017
Bill Clark | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Rep. Jacky Rosen speaks during the news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017

Heller has voted with the president about 90 percent of the time, despite in 2016 declaring himself “vehemently opposed” to Trump as a candidate. The senator has also found himself in an awkward position over whether to repeal and replace Obamacare. Last year, he enraged conservatives by voting against the repeal, and then ultimately angered Democrats by turning around and voting for partial repeal.

Rosen has targeted that issue, as well as Heller’s vote favoring the GOP tax plan. She has also condemned Heller’s wavering stance on Planned Parenthood.

Tennessee

Following GOP Sen. Bob Corker’s retirement, this seat is seen as a must-win for Democrats if they hope to take back the Senate. Although Tennessee hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1990, the Democratic candidate, former governor Phil Bredesen, has led his GOP rival, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, in the few polls taken in the race.

While Bredesen is popular in Tennessee, experts say that the Democratic Party is not. That means Blackburn will work to connect him to national Democrats.

Phil Bredesen, former governor of Tennessee.
T.J. Kirkpatrick | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Phil Bredesen, former governor of Tennessee.

“Bredesen is avoiding the national dialogue and focusing on the people of Tennessee,” said Josh Clinton, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University. “But Blackburn has the edge. She wants it all national.”

Blackburn also held a comfortable lead in cash on hand, as of June 30, despite having raised less than Bredesen. Each candidate took in about $5 million through the first half of the year, though Bredesen sweetened his pot with $3.5 million of his own money, according to campaign finance filings. He has also outspent Blackburn nearly 3-to-1.

On the issues, Blackburn's conservative agenda — taking a hard line on immigration and touting her support for gun-ownership rights — may seem to align with voter interest in a state Trump dominated in 2016 by 26 points. But Bredesen is striking a moderate tone by stressing a business-friendly approach while declining to make the election a referendum on Trump. Data research service Morning Consult says Trump has a net approval of 15 points in the state.

Bredesen also has a friend in Corker, who has said he wouldn't campaign against the Democrat.

North Dakota

North Dakota GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, a staunch Trump ally, is trying to unseat centrist Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp in a state where Trump is popular but his trade policies are not.

Heitkamp has raised $9.7 million and has spent $4.6 million, as of June 30. That’s big money for a North Dakota Senate race. With three months left before voters go to the polls, Heitkamp has already raised nearly twice as much as she did in the entire 2012 race and more than any Senate candidate has raised in the state in two decades.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
Olivia Michael | CNBC
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp

So far, Cramer has raised $2.4 million, less than the last three Senate cycles, and has spent just $870,000.

While Cramer is trying to strike a balance between loyally backing Trump and sympathizing with constituents who are hurting from the president’s trade war, Heitkamp is running as a centrist as she tries to align herself with more conservative voters. Her strategy may be a good example of how the Democrats can win in Trump states.

Heitkamp, the only Democrat holding statewide office in North Dakota, votes in line with Trump’s position more than 50 percent of the time. She often boasts about it in ads in an effort to win over conservative voters. Cramer, however, points out her more liberal stands including her support for abortion rights, her opposition to the GOP tax overhaul and her support of Clinton’s 2016 presidential election bid.

Florida

As Florida is the country’s fourth-most populous state, it’s no surprise that its Senate race is attracting a flood of campaign cash by both parties.

In a state that went red in 2016, Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson is defending his seat against a challenge from the state’s well-financed Republican governor, Rick Scott.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Bill Clark | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Real Clear Politics' average of polls gives Scott a slight edge.

Scott, a former health-care executive who backed Trump during the presidential election, has raised more than $22 million, about two-thirds of it from his own pocket, according to campaign finance reports. In the last 20 years, only GOP Sen. Marco Rubio has raised more in a Senate race in Florida.

On top of money given directly to his campaign committee, Scott is being supported by a super PAC that raised $7 million last quarter. With his large fundraising advantage, Scott has spent heavily, leaving his campaign coffers with just $4.5 million, as of June 30, compared with Nelson’s $13.7 million.

On the issues, Scott is playing something of a balancing act. He splits with Trump on immigration, but hesitates to criticize the president’s decisions outright. Health care is the primary issue, too. While Nelson said he will make preserving Obamacare a focus of his re-election campaign, Scott has urged Congress to keep working on a full repeal.

Indiana

Republicans see Indiana as a prime opportunity to flip a seat. That has set off a surge of outside money flooding into the state from wealthy donors, super PACs and other national organizations.

Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly enjoyed a substantial funding edge, as of June 30, and only about 10 percent of the $11.5 million his campaign has raised so far has come from small donations from individuals.

“Each candidate is trying to use outside money while walking a tightrope,” said Geoffrey Layman, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame. “Both candidates are being helped by outside money, yet each wants to criticize the other for using outside money.”

Mike Braun, who is running for the Senate in Indiana.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Mike Braun, who is running for the Senate in Indiana.

Donnelly's Republican opponent, businessman and former state Rep. Mike Braun, has raised even less from small donors; most of the $5.8 million his campaign has raised so far has come from his own pocket. Braun has also been spending heavily. With $1.4 million in cash on hand, his war chest was less than a quarter as big as his Democratic opponent, as of June 30.

Braun has supported Trump’s vision of building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and repealing Obamacare. Though he voted in Democratic primaries until 2012, he is now strongly endorsed by the president.

Donnelly, meanwhile, has voted with the president more than 50 percent of the time, including a vote to confirm Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel to lead the State Department and the CIA, but also voted against the Republican tax overhaul.

Missouri

Republicans also believe Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s seat is vulnerable, and polls suggest she will face a tough battle against GOP state attorney general Josh Hawley. McCaskill, whose centrist views contrast with Hawley’s more-conservative positions, recently had a slight edge in Real Clear Politics' polling average.

McCaskill has outraised Hawley by more than 4-to-1, pulling in nearly $22 million as of June 30, about a third of that from individual small donations. That leaves her campaign with a war chest of more than $12 million, four times as much cash as Hawley’s campaign had on hand June 30.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.
John Sleezer | Kansas City Star | TNS | Getty Images
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Both candidates are expected to win their party nominations in the state’s Aug. 7 primary.

On the issues, the two are sparring over Obamacare, trade and Trump. McCaskill also faces a tough confirmation vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. She opposed the confirmation of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch last year, and despite pressure from Hawley, has not revealed where she stands on Trump's new Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

Hawley has criticized McCaskill for her personal finances, after financial disclosure forms showed high returns on investment in a hedge fund on an offshore tax haven, and her use of private air travel during campaign trips.

Hawley, meanwhile, has received criticism from his own party for calling on former Gov. Eric Greitens to resign amid sexual misconduct allegations. Greitens quit in late May.

On Tuesday, Trump praised Hawley in front of a VFW event in Kansas City, calling him up on stage to deliver campaign-style remarks. "That was great," Trump said as Hawley finished.

West Virginia

Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin remains a strong brand in West Virginia, despite Trump’s massive win in 2016. Manchin currently holds a comfortable lead in polls against his Republican opponent Patrick Morrisey, the state’s attorney general.

Manchin has also significantly outraised Morrisey, taking in $7.3 million to the Morrisey campaign’s $1.9 million. Manchin had $6.3 million in cash on hand, as of June 30. That’s roughly eight times as much as Morrisey’s campaign.

Manchin is hoping to maintain his appeal with voters in a red state that has historically been friendly toward Democrats but more recently shifted to the right in reaction to Obama administration policies that many viewed as hostile toward the coal industry.

Morrisey sued the Obama administration over environmental regulations and is one of the leaders of a 28-state coalition aimed at canceling out Obama-era climate regulations. Trump has promised to restore coal jobs and cut regulations in West Virginia and has endorsed Morrisey in his Senate bid.

Manchin also faces a tough vote for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, an issue that is central to the race. One West Virginia poll shows that a "yes" vote will increase favorable odds for the incumbent.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Montana

The few polls in the race give Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester a slight edge over Republican Matt Rosendale, whom Trump campaigned for in a trip to Montana in July. Yet while Trump won the state in 2016 by 20 points, Tester has shrugged off the president's attacks and looks well-positioned to win re-election.

Tester has an overwhelming lead in raising money, having collected more than $14 million, by far the biggest campaign fund of any Montana Senate race in 20 years. As of June 30, Rosendale had raised just $2 million. That left Tester with $6.1 million in cash on hand and a 10-to-1 advantage as the race entered the second half of the year.

Both candidates have relied heavily on contributions from large donors and PACs. Neither one has contributed any of his own money.

Rosendale, a state auditor and former majority leader in the Montana state Senate, has been backed by multiple conservative groups and super PACs that have funneled millions in outside spending to pay for campaign ads for him.

Tester has focused much of his campaign on local issues such as work for veterans in the state. He’s voted against Trump’s nominees for secretary of state and CIA director, and voted against Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, Republican tax cuts and the repeal of Obamacare.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that recent polls show U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen holding a narrow lead against U.S. Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada.

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