Democrats raise more than the GOP for US Senate races: Big deal?

Right now this campaign season, Democrats have $6 million more cash on hand than Republicans do for US Senate races. But they also have more vulnerable Senate seats to defend.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday. It could be an uphill fight for Democrats to keep him in the Senate majority leader seat.

The Democratic Party campaign committee that supports Senate candidates raised more money than its Republican counterpart in March: $8.1 million, as opposed to the GOP’s $6.3 million.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has now outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in 13 of the past 15 months, according to a report by the Associated Press. The DSCC is sitting on $22 million in its bank account while the NRSC has $16 million.

Wow, this is kind of a political man-bites-pooch story, isn’t it? The Democrats have been insisting that the wealthy and conservative Koch brothers may buy control of the Senate for Republicans via their contributions to outside groups, yet it is the Democrats themselves who have the edge in a key inside party financing measure.

Will this make a difference in November?

Well, we’d say don’t go to an online betting site and put down money on Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada remaining Senate majority leader next year.

“They’re gonna need it. Every cent,” tweeted NRSC strategist Brad Dayspring in regards to the DSCC numbers.

First of all, this figure deals with just one of the streams of cash that will pay for Senate campaigns throughout the year. As noted above, outside groups that aren’t supposed to directly coordinate with candidates will throw tens of millions of dollars into Senate-related ads. Given the Koch brothers and other deep-pocketed backers, the GOP will do quite well in this regard.

Second, the advantage here really isn’t that big. A dirty secret of big politics is that on the national level, the parties are roughly equal and their money just cancels each other out. The gang at NBC’s “First Read” notes that truism Wednesday in a bit on how big piles of cash do not guarantee a big vote. If it did, billionaire Sheldon Adelson would have funded the success of President Newt Gingrich. Billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have successfully backed the passage of gun control measures nationwide.

“While money can buy you many things in American politics, it doesn’t always buy you victory,” write Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann.

And third, Democrats face a structural disadvantage in the coming midterm vote that money won’t be able to erase. They are defending many more vulnerable Democratic Senate seats than the GOP is defending vulnerable Republicans. Some 11 or 12 current Democrat-held seats may be up for grabs. If Republicans just win all the Senate races in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012, they’ll take control of the chamber.

That said, the DSCC haul is not a bad thing. It’s better to have enough money than not, obviously. And the cash may help them overcome another structural problem: Democrats in general turn out for midterms at a lower rate than do Republicans. That’s because Republicans tend to be older and wealthier, two characteristics associated with higher turnout percentages.

Writing in the Huffington Post, George Mason University associate professor Michael P. McDonald notes that Democrats managed a much-better-than-usual turnout in 2006. One thing that might help duplicate this success would be astute organization – and cash.

“Planned attempts by Democratic organizations to build a presidential-style field operation to mobilize those who typically drop out in a midterm election can be important to tilting the playing field,” McDonald writes.

[Editor's note: The subhead for this story incorrectly described how the $6 million figure relates to Democrats.]

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