Democratic senators facing tough re-election campaigns this year have a significant cash advantage over their potential challengers, according to the latest finance reports — though in some of those races, the GOP candidates are at least making up ground.
Every Democratic Senate incumbent running for re-election in a tight race had more cash on hand at the end of 2013 than their opponents. In New Hampshire, North Carolina, Minnesota and Colorado the advantage was overwhelming, while Republican challengers were somewhat closer in Arkansas, Alaska and Louisiana.
But Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said the advantage shouldn't be of much comfort to the incumbents because of the flood of money the national parties and outside groups can now pour into races.
"Individual fundraising in Senate races probably isn't as important as it used to be because the proliferation of outside third party groups can help to equalize ad spending in races where one candidate otherwise has a big advantage over the other," Mr. Kondik said. "Generally speaking, it's pretty common for even endangered incumbents to have a cash-on-hand advantage over their challengers at this point in the campaign. But money alone sometimes isn't enough."
Republicans need to net six seats to flip control of the Senate, in which Democrats hold a 55-45 advantage.
In Arkansas, Sen. Mark Pryor has $4.2 million in the bank, putting him in front of Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican challenger who has $2.2 million.
Mr. Cotton, though, raised more money than Mr. Pryor over the fourth quarter of last year.
Nathan L. Gonzales, of the Rothenberg Political Report, which covers U.S. elections, said the latest campaign finance reports showed that the Arkansas "race is already engaged."
"They are already on the air with commercials trying to frame the election," Mr. Gonzales said. "I think Arkansas falls into a category of top races that aren't going to be decided by money. I think there is going to be so much money spent in that race that we are not going to look back and say, 'Oh, if Mark Pryor only had one million more dollars, he could have pulled it out.' Or vice versa. I think it is going to be about the candidates, the messaging, the national political environment, the president's standing."
In Alaska, Republican candidate Dan Sullivan, announced he's raised nearly $1.3 million in the final three months of 2013, besting Sen. Mark Begich's $850,000, though Mr. Begich still holds a large advantage in cash on hand, with $2.8 million in the bank to Mr. Sullivan's $1.1 million.
"Begich is in a very vulnerable position," Mr. Gonzales said. "It is not the most expensive state in the country to advertise, so I think we will have to see if Sullivan can sustain his fundraising, but those early numbers show that he is a credible contender."
In North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan closed out last year with $6.8 million in the bank. Although polls suggest Mrs. Hagan is vulnerable, she has benefited from the fact that Republicans are divided over who should challenge her.
In Louisiana, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu raised $1.4 million, giving her $6.4 million in the bank.
Rep. Bill Cassidy, the leading Republican candidate, raised more than $1 million in the last quarter, bringing his total cash on hand to $4.2 million.
"I think it is important to remember that challengers don't have to raise as much as incumbents, they just have to have enough money to get their message out and run their race," Mr. Gonzales said.
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