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MEMO: Five Facts for the Final 100 Days

TO: Interested Parties

FROM: Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

DATE: July 26, 2020

MEMO: Five Senate Facts for the Final 100 Days


Democrats have put the Senate in play with strong candidates who are expanding the map and forcing weak Republicans on defense, posting record-breaking grassroots fundraising, and maintaining a clear focus on the issues that matter most to voters, like access to affordable health care and defending protections for the millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions. 

Here are the five key facts to know about the Senate races in the final 100 days.

1. Strong Democratic Candidates Are Expanding the Map, Adding Paths to the Majority

In January 2019, Cook Political Report did not list a single GOP incumbent in the Toss-Up column. That advantage has evaporated: Arizona is now rated as Lean Democratic and the Toss-Up column currently includes SIX vulnerable seats held by Republicans: Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina. In addition, six more Republican-held seats have moved in Democrats’ direction: Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, South Carolina, and Texas. Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and POLITICO have made similar ratings shifts, as the core battlegrounds have moved towards Democrats and more seats have become increasingly competitive.

Here’s what nonpartisan analysts are saying about the Democratic candidates who have put these races further in play and created “multiple plausible paths… to a majority”:

  • AZ: “Retired astronaut Mark Kelly has consistently outpolled appointed Sen. Martha McSally” [POLITICO]
  • CO: “Gardner is consistently trailing Hickenlooper in the polls anywhere from mid-single digits to double digits” [Inside Elections]
  • NC: “positive ads also raised Cunningham’s name ID in the state, and he had an impressive pre-primary fundraising boom where he outraised Tillis by 2-to-1” [Cook Political Report]
  • ME: “Gideon gets high marks for working with new Democratic Gov. Janet Mills to shepherd a number of progressive bills through the legislature” [Cook Political Report]
  • MT: “Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has earned high marks for his handling of the pandemic, and even polls that show Trump with a solid lead in the state have Bullock leading or tied with GOP Sen. Steve Daines” [POLITICO]
  • IA: “Theresa Greenfield… has a compelling story of how she survived on Social Security benefits as her first husband, a union electrician, was killed on the job, leaving her with a small child and pregnant with another” [Cook Political Report]
  • GA: Jon Ossoff’s “passion does come across and he seems to be more comfortable as a candidate. Democrats say his focus on anti-corruption especially is resonating with voters…” [Cook Political Report]
  • GA: “Democrats wooed a top recruit in Rev. Raphael Warnock, the African-American pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church” [Cook Political Report]
  • KS: “waiting in the wings for Democrats is Barbara Bollier, an anesthesiologist and former GOP state legislator, which gives her cross-party appeal, and she raised $3.6 million last quarter, while no GOP candidate even topped a half-million” [Cook Political Report]
  • AK: Dr. Al Gross “has a unique political pedigree [that] is causing many to give this once-sleepy race a second look” [Cook Political Report]
  • SC: “We can’t overlook the considerable resume that Harrison also brings to the race, and even South Carolina Republicans admit he is a strong candidate” [Cook Political Report]

2. Weak GOP Incumbents: Unelected, Barely Elected, or Facing Toughest Election Yet

This weak class of Republican incumbents was either unelected by voters (McSally – who also lost in 2018 – and Loeffler), barely elected in the GOP wave year of 2014 (Tillis, Gardner, Sullivan), or suddenly face the toughest election of their political careers (Collins, Cornyn, Graham, Ernst, Daines, Perdue). These Republicans in most cases have never built their own independent brands in their states and/or have seen their approval ratings steadily crumble, and there is “no daylight” between them and President Trump in today’s GOP.

That’s why they are relying on desperate tactics in their races – with instructions and talking points from national Republicans – like manufacturing a fake debate over debates or trying to “blame China” instead of holding the White House accountable for failing the response to coronavirus.

Beyond an increasingly unpopular president, the most vulnerable Senate Republicans have their own unique and self-inflicted vulnerabilities hampering their re-elections:

  • Gardner’s failure to put Colorado ahead of Trump led the Denver Post to revoke their 2014 endorsement, calling it “a mistake”

The NRSC also bungled recruitment in multiple races across the map, causing late and nasty intra-party fights in Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, and now Tennessee that are distracting national Republicans and sucking up resources at the worst possible time.

3. Republican Outside Spending: Nearly 100% Defense

As of now, national Republican outside groups do not have a single offensive ad reservation on the books for after Labor Day. According to ad tracking, Republicans have reserved fall ads in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Montana and North Carolina. One hundred days out, there is not a single offensive dollar on the board for the final weeks of the election.

A recent Cook analysis of Senate outside ad spending and reservations in 2020 found:

  • 97.4% of the Democratic outside spending is offensive this year
  • 96.6% of the GOP outside spending is defensive this year

4. Small-Dollar Donations Build Money Advantage, Reveal Grassroots Enthusiasm Gap

Democratic Senate candidates grew their fundraising considerably again in the second quarter, outraising vulnerable Republican incumbents and candidates in 13 GOP-held seats. For the Q2 reports filed in mid-July, Democratic challengers outraised Republicans in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, both Senate races in Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In critical races rated as toss-ups, Democratic challengers all outraised Republican incumbents by a wide margin in Q2.

That fundraising advantage has helped Democratic challengers erode incumbents’ cash on hand advantage everywhere going into the final months of the election. In some states – like Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Carolina – Democratic challengers have been able to erase that advantage entirely. In Arizona, Kelly has outraised McSally six quarters in a row and holds a nearly $11 million cash on hand advantage. Senators Doug Jones and Gary Peters continue to hold multi-million dollar cash on hand advantages for their races. The DSCC also holds a cash on hand advantage over the NRSC for the first time this cycle, starting July with over $7 million more in the bank.

With Republicans lagging behind, Democrats are riding a surge of enthusiasm among grassroots donors. A POLITICO analysis found that Democrats have “outraised Republicans in small-dollar donations (under $200) in 10 of the 12 most competitive races” for Senate, and those grassroots donations also represent a higher percentage of individual fundraising for Democrats “in every competitive race featuring a GOP senator.” While billionaire mega-donors are scrambling to try to make up the deficit, the reality is that outside spending from Mitch McConnell’s dark money group and Super PAC will be far less efficient in the coming months than candidate rates for paid media.

5. Yes, This Election Is Still About Health Care

Health care was the biggest issue of the 2018 midterms… but instead of Senate Republicans addressing their vulnerabilities, they’ve only added to them. With a massive public health crisis that has taken the lives of more than 140,000 Americans and infected more than 4 million, the ongoing crusade to dismantle the health care law and end its protections for people with pre-existing conditions has never been a more toxic liability.

  1. Every Senate Republican voted for or supports the tax bill that sparked the GOP’s lawsuit to end protections for pre-existing conditions, and not one of them has taken meaningful steps to stop this dangerous legal attack from plowing forward to the Supreme Court.
  2. Vulnerable incumbents including McSally, Gardner, Daines, Perdue, Ernst, Tillis, and Cornyn all voted again last year to defend the expansion of junk insurance plans that can bankrupt families and deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.
  3. Republicans have kept special enrollment for the ACA’s health exchange closed for months, an “unpopular” move that is making life even harder for millions of Americans who urgently need health coverage because they lost their job in a pandemic.

Instead of taking responsibility, GOP senators are trying to mislead voters. Independent fact checkers have been forced to debunk Republicans’ false claims that they support protections for people with pre-existing conditions when “their records show the opposite.” From threatening Medicaid expansion and backing cuts to Medicare, to blocking meaningful prescription drug reform, health care is losing terrain for Republicans because they are on the wrong side of what is still voters’ top concern.

Bottom Line: An expanding map, a weak class of Republican incumbents on an almost entirely defensive battlefield, a candidate fundraising advantage fueled by a grassroots enthusiasm gap, and a stark contrast on health care — these trends have all shaped the battle for control of the Senate so far this cycle and will continue to drive the final 100 days.

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