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Decision 2020: Southern U.S. Senate races see cash avalanche, as Democrats set the pace

Democrats in competitive races raise eye-popping amounts, which Republican incumbents are struggling to match

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — How much money has Democrat Jaime Harrison raised for his race against Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham in South Carolina?

Enough to give every woman, man and child in the Palmetto State $21. Graham could fork over $13 more. And if people in Kentucky could divvy up all the money raised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Amy McGrath for their contest, each one would pocket $33.

One of the biggest stories of the 2020 election has been the avalanche of campaign cash that candidates have been able to raise, much of it from small donors who contribute online. Campaign finance data from the Federal Elections Commission shows that in the South, as in the rest of the country, Democratic challengers have been the biggest recipients of this largesse.

Indeed, only two Southern Republican incumbents facing competitive challenges — John Cornyn in Texas and Kellly Loeffler in Georgia — have raised more money than their Democratic rivals. But Loeffler only did so by pouring $23 million from her considerable personal fortune into the race.

Of course, the candidate who raises the most money doesn’t win; the candidate with the most votes does. Just ask Beto O’Rourke, who burned through $80 million on his way to not becoming a U.S. senator from Texas in 2018.

But the fundraising dominance of Democrats has put many challengers within shooting distance as the election approaches, and raising money can also be a reliable sign of energy and momentum behind a campaign.

Harrison, for instance, has never won political office before and is running against a man who has been in Congress for 26 years in a state that has been red for generations. But the $109 million he has raised, at last count, has helped turn this race into a dead heat — and reduced Graham to begging supporters to send him money on the Fox News Channel.

Graham has raised $68 million, which in a normal year would be exponentially more money than a Senate candidate in South Carolina would need. But this year, he is facing a $40 million gap, as Harrison blankets the airwaves of South Carolina in an advertising storm.

In Kentucky, McGrath has nearly matched Harrison’s per-person fundraising total, raising at least $90 million, or $20 per person. McConnell–who as majority leader has access to every Republican donor under the sun–has not been able to keep up, coming in at $57 million at last count.

In North Carolina, Democrat Cal Cunningham has raised $48 million, more than double the $22 million raised by Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Thom Tillis.

In Alabama, the only state where Republicans are trying to oust a Democratic incumbent, U.S. Senator Doug Jones has raised $27 million, dwarfing the $8.2 million collected by Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville.

Another state with a significant disparity between Republican incumbent and Democratic challenger is Mississippi, where Democrat Mike Espy has raised $9.3 million for his rematch against Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, more than three times as much as she has raised at $3 million.

The fundraising disparity has generated national attention on the possibility of an Espy upset — which shows how fundraising alone can change the conversation about a race.

In Georgia, which has two Senate races this year, five candidates have raised a combined $110 million, with Democrat Jon Ossoff leading the pack at $33 million. He is running against Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue, who has raised $21 million.

In the special election for the other seat, Loeffler has raised $28 million, $23 million from personal loans. Democrat Raphael Warnock has raised $22 million, while Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Colllins, who is trying to come at Loeffler from the right, trails badly at just $6 million.

Warnock, a political newcomer, surged to the front in polls of this race after he put his campaign money to use running ads. Though Collins has struggled badly in fundraising, polls show him still neck-and-neck with Loeffler for the second spot in the January runoff.

In Texas, Democrat MJ Hegar has raised $24 million compared to $31 million for Cornyn. However, she has been closing the gap with two strong fundraising quarters.

These are the figures reported with a week to go before the election. Given the prodigious pace of fundraising, the final numbers for many of these races are likely to be even larger by the time the votes are counted.

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