By Fredreka Schouten and Alex Rogers, CNN
Democratic Senate contenders in some of the most competitive races announced big fundraising hauls this week — as they prepare for a costly battle to preserve their party’s razor-thin majority in next year’s midterm elections.
Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, considered one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents, raised more than $9.5 million during the third quarter of this year, his campaign manager Quentin Fulks announced Friday. Warnock’s haul — one of the largest of any Senate candidate — far outpaces his best-known Republican rival, former football star Herschel Walker.
Walker raised $3.7 million in five weeks, according to spokeswoman Mallory Blount. Walker entered the race in late August with the encouragement of former President Donald Trump.
Warnock, the state’s first Black senator, ended the quarter with more than $17.2 million in available cash remaining in his campaign account — as he seeks a full, six-year term in the Senate after winning a special election runoff earlier this year.
That’s more than any Georgia Senate campaign has ever reported at this stage in the election cycle, Fulks said. Warnock’s total was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In Arizona, Sen. Mark Kelly, another endangered Democrat seeking a full term, brought in $8 million in total receipts during the third quarter, his campaign announced. (The total includes a refund from a campaign vendor.) But he is expected to report nearly $13 million in available cash for what likely will be one of the most expensive Senate contests of the 2022 election cycle.
The midterms are more than a year away, but the stakes are enormous. The ability of President Joe Biden’s administration to advance his agenda hinges on whether Democrats can retain control of Congress.
Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to win the Senate majority in 2022. In the House, the GOP will take the majority if they net five seats. In addition, Democrats face the headwinds of history: The party of a first-term president typically loses ground in Congress in midterm elections.
Warnock and Kelly, fresh off recent special election victories, have “solidified their status as fundraising juggernauts,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections. “It’s clear they are not going to lose because of lack of resources.”
But while “fundraising is important, most strategists would take a favorable political environment over money any day of the week,” he added.
Other fundraising standouts in the July-to-September fundraising quarter include Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings, who is hoping to face Republican Sen. Marco Rubio next fall. She announced bringing in $8.4 million during the third quarter, surpassing the $6 million the Rubio campaign collected during the same period.
In Nevada, another key battleground for control of the Senate, first-term Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto raised nearly $3.2 million in the fundraising quarter and about $14 million in total this year for her reelection bid. Adam Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general who entered the race for the Republican nomination in August, raised roughly $1.4 million in his first six weeks as a candidate, according to numbers released earlier this week.
Laxalt has the backing of both Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but another Republican, Sam Brown, said he came close to that haul, collecting $1 million.
Other marquee contests
In New Hampshire, first-term Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan raised nearly $3 million and ended September with roughly $6.5 million in cash reserves, according to her filing with federal regulators. She also spent heavily during the three-month period — plowing more than $1.5 million into media buys alone, well ahead of next year’s general election.
If New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu enters the race for the Republican nomination, as expected, the contest is likely to become one of the marquee Senate battles of the cycle.
“Democrats’ massive fundraising shows the strength of our candidates’ grassroots support, and the enthusiasm that exists for Democrats’ work in the Senate,” Jazmin Vargas, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement to CNN.
But Republican Party officials said the early Democratic financial advantages do not predict electoral outcomes. In 2020, for instance, Democratic challengers in states such as Kentucky and South Carolina shattered fundraising records but lost their bids to take out sitting Republicans by wide margins.
“Candidates from both parties will have plenty of money to get their message out this cycle,” said T.W. Arrighi, national press secretary for the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “But Democrats will have to spend that money attempting to cover up the failures of President Biden and Senate Democrats.”
In this cycle, Democrats also are looking to open seats now held by Republicans in competitive states as one way to expand their narrow hold in the Senate.
In North Carolina, where multiple GOP candidates are jockeying for the nomination to replace retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr, two Republicans vying for the seat — former Gov. Pat McCrory and Trump-endorsed Rep. Ted Budd — each raised about $1 million in the quarter, their filings show.
Cheri Beasley, a Democrat running for the Burr seat, announced Friday that she had collected more than $1.5 million to lead the field in fundraising over the three-month period.
Beasley, a former chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court, has drawn endorsements from national groups with big donor networks, including EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who back abortion rights.
To help counter the early fundraising strength of individual Democratic candidates, Republican outside groups have begun to put big dollars behind the effort to take the Senate majority.
This week, an advocacy group affiliated with McConnell began a $10 million advertising campaign to hammer three Democratic incumbents — Kelly, Cortez Masto and Hassan — over Democrats’ domestic policy plans. The ads cast a Democratic policy bill still being hashed out on Capitol Hill as imposing “the largest tax increase in decades.”
In Arizona, one of the Republicans vying for the chance to take on Kelly in the general election, Blake Masters, raised about $1 million in the third quarter. But Masters has the backing of a super PAC, called Saving Arizona PAC, funded by his boss, Peter Thiel, the billionaire tech entrepreneur. It already has begun advertising on his behalf and blasting another Republican seeking the nomination, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
Masters runs Thiel Capital and the Thiel Foundation.
Some Republican candidates brought in substantial sums, too.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, viewed as a potential candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, raised more than $8.3 million in the third quarter for his reelection bid in a safe Republican seat, new filings with the Federal Election Commission show.
He ended September with nearly $19 million in available cash. Any remaining funds from his Senate bid can be transferred to a presidential campaign account should he decide to run for higher office.
Federal candidates face a Friday deadline to report their fundraising and spending during the third quarter of 2021.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s David Wright and Michael Warren contributed to this story.