WASHINGTON (AP) — Trailing badly in his Arizona Senate race as votes poured in, Republican Blake Masters went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program and assigned blame to one person: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“You know what else is incompetent, Tucker? The establishment. The people who control the purse strings,” Masters said before accusing the long-serving GOP leader and the super PAC aligned with him of not spending enough on TV advertising. “Had he chosen to spend money in Arizona, this race would be over. We’d be celebrating a Senate majority right now.”
Masters not only lost his race against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, but he also trailed every other Republican running for statewide office in Arizona. There’s another problem Masters didn’t acknowledge: He failed to raise significant money on his own.
He was hardly alone.
As both parties sift through the results of Democrats' stronger-than-expected showing in the midterm elections, Republicans are engaged in a round of finger-pointing, including a failed attempt by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who led the Senate GOP's campaign arm, to challenge McConnell for his leadership post.
But the recriminations obscure a much deeper dilemma for the party. Many of their nominees — a significant number of whom were first-time candidates who adopted far-right positions — failed to raise the money needed to mount competitive campaigns. That forced party leaders, particularly in the Senate, to make hard choices and triage resources to races where they thought they had the best chance at winning, often paying exorbitant rates to TV stations that, by law, would have been required to sell the same advertising time to candidates for far less.
The lackluster fundraising allowed Democrats to get their message out to voters early and unchallenged, while GOP contenders lacked the resources to do the same.
“This has become an existential and systemic problem for our party, and it’s something that needs to get addressed if we hope to be competitive,” said Steven Law, a former McConnell chief of staff who now leads Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC that spent at least $232 million on advertising to elect Republicans to the Senate this year.
“Our (donors) have grown increasingly alarmed that they are being put in the position of subsidizing weak fundraising performances by candidates in critical races. And something has got to give. It’s just not sustainable," Law said.
In key Senate and House battlegrounds, Democratic candidates outraised their Republican counterparts by a factor of nearly 2-to-1, according to an Associated Press analysis of campaign finance data.
Consider the handful of races that helped Democrats retain their Senate majority.
In Arizona, Masters was outraised nearly 8-to-1 by Kelly, who poured at least $32 million into TV advertising from August until Election Day, records show. Masters spent a little over $3 million on advertising during the same period after Senate Leadership Fund pulled out of the race.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto raised $52.8 million compared to Republican Adam Laxalt's $15.5 million. And in Pennsylvania, Democratic Sen.-elect John Fetterman took in $16 million more than his GOP opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz. That's despite the celebrity TV doctor lending $22 million to his campaign, records show.
Similar disparities emerged in crucial House races, including in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Virginia, helping limit House Republicans to a surprisingly narrow majority.
When it came to purchasing TV ad time, Democrats' fundraising advantage yielded considerable upside. Ad sellers are required by law to offer candidates the cheapest rate. That same advantage doesn't apply to super PACs, which Republican candidates relied on to close their fundraising gap — often at a premium.