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Senate Republican midterm alarm over 'white hot' Democrat fundraising

Money doesn't equal happiness, at least not for Senate Republicans.

After a dismal fall and winter where many Republican candidates failed to raise as much money as Democrats, the GOP finally found their groove in the first quarter of 2018. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican fundraising behemoth, entered the race against Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., early last week, while Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., posted a $1.1 million dollar haul in only six weeks — both of which give Republicans hope.

But Democrats still hold a massive advantage after incumbents and key candidates continued to pile up their own cash in the first three months of 2018.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, posted a $6.7 million quarter, while Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, raised $3.9 million and $3.3 million, respectively. The two incumbent Democrats each have over $11 million in the bank, agitating to Republicans.

"We have seen absolutely white-hot fundraising from Democrats up and down the board for over a year," said Josh Holmes, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "Lots more needs to be done. We're not anywhere near where we need to be."

In addition to Scott's entrance and Cramer, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, raised $3.3 million — less than half of O'Rourke's total, but both reported just north of $8 million in cash on hand.

Other Republicans have remained underwhelming on the fundraising circuit.

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., posted $1.2 million in the first quarter, an uptick from the paltry $500,000 he raised at the end of last year. However, he has only $1.6 million in the bank compared to $10 million for Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

"We have very robust numbers. If you look at our candidates, they've done very well," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "A key indicator from my perspective is the amount our candidates are raising online. That's a sign of a lot of grassroots energy and activism."

Two top Republican candidates in key races, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Missouri Attorney Gen. Josh Hawley, both posted underwhelming figures in the eyes of top Republicans in the final months of 2017, raising questions about their campaigns in the process. Neither has released their opening 2018 fundraising numbers ahead of the Monday night reporting deadline.

Republicans are still banking on President Trump's help to boost Senate candidates and their bank accounts.

Thus far, he has only held one fundraiser for any of the GOP candidates slated to be on the ballot in November, Hawley. Vice President Pence has been active on the fundraising circuit, having held an event for Cramer in North Dakota in late March. He was also slated to fundraise for Heller in Las Vegas on Friday, but canceled due to his last minute trip to Peru.

They are viewed as crucial cogs if the GOP is going to raise the needed funds, which remains an open question.

Some top Republicans, however, are encouraged with what they've seen out of the first quarter, which came right after the GOP passed their tax reform package that has seen mixed results politically. One area where the law has helped is by attracting the attention of donors.

"We are [encouraged]. We're getting a lot of interest," said North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, co-chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, pointing to the post-tax reform boost candidates has gotten financially. "We're getting a lot of people that are really receptive. They're responding really well to the tax cuts and tax reform. They're eagerly awaiting a good outcome on the banking reform bill, and it's resonating."

"For us, we're in the retail politics phase of campaigning and the one thing that's absolutely true is the vast majority of people have less money withheld, more money at the end of the pay period, and that's what we're going to pound," said Tillis.

And that's good news for nervous Republicans like Holmes.

"There is no Republican candidate anywhere in the country here you're going to look at their cash on hand and say 'that's enough,'" Holmes said. "That phrase will never come out of any Republican's mouth. It's never enough. It's an extremely difficult cycle that Democrats are raising money hand over fist. It's going to be one of those constant efforts and attempts to try to get everybody engaged in providing the resources necessary to protect the majority."

"Every candidate either becomes a great candidate," Holmes said, adding, "or they're going to lose."

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