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OPINION: Democrats burn money in fight to retake Senate



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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated Monday that he is bound by Senate rules to take up articles of impeachment if they are presented by the House. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

If you ask Democrats who their least favorite U.S. senators are, you’ll be sure to hear two people: Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). A self-proclaimed “grim reaper” of legislation and a man who morphed from a fierce Trump critic to a shameless sycophant, these two already have big bucks thrown against them by Democrats hoping to rid them this upcoming election. Unfortunately, their efforts are wasted as more winnable seats get ignored.

McConnell challenger Amy McGrath has all the right qualifications for a successful candidate. A former Marine fighter pilot who nearly toppled incumbent Rep. Andy Barr (R-Kentucky), she raised an astounding $10.7 million this past fundraising quarter, mostly from out-of-state, small donors. Similarly, Graham's leading Democratic opponent Jaime Harrison turned heads with a $2.1 million haul in the same period. This should be exciting news for Democrats.

However, these states are far too Republican-controlled and are only getting more "red" each election. With a respective Partisan Voter Index of R+15 and R+8, Kentucky and South Carolina are dead ends for the Democrats' fight to retake the Senate. Even with these fundraising totals, Sabato's Crystal Ball still rates these two races as likely Republican.

Meanwhile, more winnable races from key swing states are being outright ignored. Less than one year ago, Georgia’s gubernatorial election captivated the nation as Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the race after an extensive campaign. This rapidly diversifying state has been trending more and more Democratic each election cycle, yet it’s two (yes two!) Republican-held Senate seats up for election in 2020 have received little to no attention or crucial fundraising dollars.

Teresa Tomlinson is running for one of those seats. Seen as a frontrunner in the primary, she has floundered in fundraising. Niles Francis, an election mapper and active contributor to Georgia politics, explained to me that her “campaign thinks that she needs to raise $3 million by the end of the year,” yet she has only raised $400,000 this past fundraising quarter. Even combining all main candidates’ recent quarterly fundraising, they’ve only amassed a paltry $2.0 million or so. Incumbent Senator David Perdue (R-Georgia), in comparison, has amassed $2.4 million in this same period.

Democrats love to vote based on emotion. One common phrase I hear is that “Democrats fall in love while Republicans fall in line.” In the same vein, Democrats love to donate based on emotion too. While your Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) may not make as much noise as Graham, she still votes with him 95% of the time. She is more likely to lose her seat than him, so why aren’t donors, small and large, paying more attention?

If Democrats really want to make a difference and end McConnell’s reign as Senate Majority Leader, the solution is simple: Win back the Senate. McConnell loses his power if he can’t block legislation. Though defeating him directly and his more public lackeys is so appealing, ultimately defeating the quieter Senators who shuffle along to the chamber and vote while expressing they're with Trump is the true path.

As one ad from American Bridge 21st Century described one of these vulnerable Senators, “Susan Collins is sad and disappointed. Make Susan happy. Vote her out of the Senate.” These Senators can’t hide behind empty words and feigned dismay while at the same time voting in line with Trump’s destructive policies. 

These potential wins may not seem as glamorous, but they will make tangible, effective change. Democrats need to donate their time — and money — to races they can win, not those they want to win.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the outcome of the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race. Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the race. The IDS regrets this error.

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