Senate 2020: Endangered Republicans raise big money, Mark Kelly achieves lift-off

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Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband, Mark Kelly, who is running for Senate in Arizona as a Democrat (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

With two well-funded candidates already building war chests, the Arizona Senate contest has the makings of an ultra-competitive race.

Sen. Martha McSally had a strong first quarter, raising $2.1 million, but her likely opponent has much more. Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, took in $4.1 million, a massive first quarter haul for a Senate candidate that even surpasses several presidential candidates.

Nearly 38 percent of Kelly’s money came from small contributions under $200, compared to 34 percent for McSally. With Rep. Ruben Gallego declining to challenge Kelly in the primary, the 2020 matchup is all but set, allowing both candidates to raise as much as possible.

Kelly already has the support of pro-scientist liberal group 314 Action and could get help from Giffords’ gun control group, also named Giffords. It’s likely McSally will get heavy support from conservative groups despite their displeasure about her loss to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema last year.

In the Alabama Senate race, it’s no secret that Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) faces an uphill battle to keep his seat in a state that President Donald Trump won with 62 percent of the vote.

Jones narrowly defeated former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore — who’s campaign was tainted by accusations that he sexually harassed teenage girls while in his 30s — despite outraising him $25 million to $5 million.

To pull off another upset, Jones will need serious cash. He raised more than $1.6 million in the first quarter, leaving him with $3.1 million cash on hand. Just 14 percent of Jones’ funds came from small contributions under $200, while 26 percent came from PACs — a stark departure from his small dollar dominance in 2017.

To kick off 2019, Jones took money from several fellow Democrats’ PACs, including $5,000 from presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) leadership PAC. Most of his PAC money came from corporations and trade associations.

With Jones looking particularly vulnerable, several high-profile candidates are expected to compete in the Republican primary. Rep. Bradley Byrne has raised the most, collecting nearly $2.1 million, much of which came from his House campaign and a brand new joint fundraising committee. That kind of money is unprecedented for Byrne, who has never raised as much as $2 million while in his safe House seat.

Tommy Tuberville, former Auburn University football coach, is another contender. Former Trump White House Communications Director Sean Spicer is working with the Tuberville campaign, signaling that Washington Republicans believe the former coach has what it takes to win.

Perhaps the favorite in the Republican primary hasn’t officially thrown his hat in the ring yet. Rep. Mo Brooks has attracted the support of conservative groups expressing concern that other Republican candidates might not be able to beat Roy Moore, who hasn’t ruled out a run.

Conservative powerhouse Club for Growth in March released polling that showed Brooks ahead of Moore by 20 points. It also released a poll putting Brooks ahead of Byrne.

Brooks told AL.com that conservative groups, including Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, have already pledged $3.7 million to support his bid, but the financial support wasn’t “sufficient” for him to pursue a run.

Though Democratic groups say they are going to take down Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado, only one significant challenger has emerged so far. Meanwhile, the Republican incumbent took in a whopping $2 million in the first quarter

Just 2 percent of Gardner’s funds came from small donors, while one-third came from PACs. That could create a fundraising conundrum, as PACs are subject to strict contribution limits while small donors can continue to give throughout the cycle without hitting the individual limit.

Gardner’s challenger, former Colorado state senator Mike Johnston, raised a whopping $1.8 million, none of which came from PACs but just $19,783 from small donors. That haul gives Johnston a big head start over other Democrats who want to challenge for the seat.

There are even fewer Democratic challengers in Maine, where Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is perceived as vulnerable but doesn’t yet have a well-known opponent. Collins raised $1.5 million, only $15,009 of which came from small donors.

Employees of New York private equity firm Blackstone Group have already contributed $37,600 to Collins, including the maximum $5,600 from the company’s CEO, megadonor Stephen Schwarzman.

Though $3.8 million in crowdfunded money is waiting for Collins’ challenger, Democratic opponents haven’t been eager to step up to the plate. Former Obama Administration National Security Advisor Susan Rice recently said she will not run. Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon and former Speaker Hannah Pingree have expressed interest in running but haven’t jumped in.

Other senators looking to fend off challengers raised serious cash. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) raised $2 million, his best quarter ever, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) collected $2.1 million, including a massive $658,686 from PACs.

Georgia’s David Perdue ($1.8 million), Iowa’s Joni Ernst ($1.7 million) and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis ($1.2 million), all three potential Democratic targets, also brought in strong hauls. Potential Republican target Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) raised $1.4 million.

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