Senate fundraising keeps up blistering pace; Kelly’s $52 million leads pack

Analysts say part of the fundraising success of Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., is due to the fact that he was elected just two years ago in a costly, hard-fought special election. That’s put Kelly in a position where he has “essentially been campaigning nonstop for years now,” one said. (File photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., reported raising almost $52.5 million as of June 30, putting him well ahead of the pack of would-be Republican challengers who are locked in the final days of a bitter primary fight.

With no primary challenger of his own, Kelly started the final months of the campaign with almost $25 million in cash on hand while the five GOP hopefuls, just two weeks from their primary, had less than $5 million combined in the bank, according to the most recent reports with the Federal Election Commission.

But while Kelly continues to post what analysts call “astronomical” fundraising numbers, they note that outside political action committees have targeted more than $42 million to oppose him in the general election this fall. And that, with an unpopular president, Democrats face stiff headwinds in November.

“I don’t think the Republican Senate field in Arizona has blown anybody away, but at the same time the environment nationally is pretty bad for Democrats,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Kelly can do everything right and raise an unlimited amount of money and still lose.”

And Kelly, who one analyst said “continues to be the gold standard for fundraising,” is definitely raising money. Of the $52.5 million he had raised as of June 30, according to the FEC, Kelly reported spending just under $29 million in this election cycle, leaving $25 million in the bank.

Those numbers dwarfed his five Republican challengers, who reported raising a total of $25.4 million and spending $20.1 million ahead of the Aug. 2 primary.

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Businessman Jim Lamon continued to lead the GOP field in campaign funds, with $15 million raised as of June 30, but $12 million of that has come from Lamon’s own pockets. Lamon reported having $2 million on hand as of June 30.

But Lamon’s spending has not allowed him to overcome the lead currently held in most polls by GOP hopeful Blake Masters, who reported raising $4.6 million and having $1.6 million on hand. Masters’ campaign has been boosted by large amounts of funding from his former boss, tech billionaire Peter Thiel, and by a coveted endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

One analyst said the lack of in-state, grassroots donors to those campaigns could be a problem.

“If you don’t have rank-and-file Republican partisans who have donated to your campaign, are they going to be excited about you?” asked J. Miles Coleman, an associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the U.Va. Center for Politics.

But Masters, with the Trump endorsement, is leading the Republican field in most polls, trailed by Lamon and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who reported raising $3 million and spending $2.5 million as of June 30. Former Arizona National Guard Adjutant Gen. Mick McGuire and Arizona Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson round out the GOP field, with fundraising of $3 million and $308,185, respectively, as of June 30.

While they battle in the primary, Kelly has been able to focus on fundraising, becoming the second-biggest Senate fundraiser in the nation, behind Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who reported raising a total of $84 million as of June 30.

“(Kelly’s) putting out the same kind of astronomical numbers that we’ve come to expect from him since he started running for Senate a couple of years ago,” said Jacob Rubashkin, reporter and analyst for Inside Elections.

Kondik said that Kelly and Warnock, both of whom won their Senate seats in special hotly contested elections in 2020, “continue to dominate in fundraising.”

“Kelly and Warnock have essentially been campaigning nonstop for years now because of the circumstances of their victories in their special elections, they’ve continued to prove that they’re incredible fundraisers,” Kondik said.

That was echoed by Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections.

“I think the combination of him coming out of a high-profile Senate race and into another high-profile senate race, and the way he’s been able to cultivate his list of supporters and donors over the years continues to pay off,” Gonzales said.

Kelly’s performance is due to not only the “robust fundraising list” he built during his 2020 campaign, said Jessica Taylor, Senate and governors editor at the Cook Political Report. She also pointed to his bipartisan appeal and the high profile he enjoyed as a celebrated former astronaut and the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, a gun-control advocate and former Arizona congresswoman.

Taylor said Kelly’s best bet is to bank his money for now, considering the amount of outside money that will flow into Arizona’s Senate race targeting him. FEC reports show that outside PACs – including the Senate Leadership Fund, which tied to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Defend Arizona – have already budgeted more than $42 million to oppose Kelly’s reelection.

Rubashkin said that outside money is already being spent in the race and that it will “only increase in pace and ferocity as we get closer to Election Day, especially because there’s such a gap between Kelly’s fundraising numbers and those of his various, potential opponents.”

Tracy Abiaka TRAY-see Ah-"bee"-ah-kah (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Tracy Abiaka expects to graduate in December 2022 with a master’s degree in mass communications. Abiaka has been a research assistant for the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at ASU and an editorial intern for Phoenix Business Journal.