How does a Democratic Senate candidate running in a conservative state in 2014 try to win? There are many strategies, from Louisiana’s incumbent senator Mary Landrieu emphasizing her ties to the energy industry to Michelle Nunn of Georgia running as a business-friendly moderate willing to work with Republicans. Behind the various strategies is an underlying principle: These Democrats should distance themselves as far as possible from their unpopular party and its head, the increasingly unpopular Barack Obama. The goal is to convince red-state voters that you’re not one of those Democrats.
Even so, it’s tough to raise campaign cash from Democratic donors when you’re touting your oil-and-gas bona fides or saying you’ll reach across the aisle. That explains why the campaigns of five Democrats, including four from Republican-heavy states, have created a joint fundraising committee with one stated goal: keeping the Senate blue. In fact, it’s in the organization’s name.
On August 13, Blue Senate 2014 registered with the Federal Election Commission as a joint fundraising committee, a sort of political fundraising co-op that allows like-minded candidates to raise and pool funds. The campaign committees of Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Natalie Tennant of West Virginia, and Michelle Nunn of Georgia are listed as participants in Blue Senate 2014. Each hail from states Barack Obama lost in 2012 and, in the cases of Landrieu, Tennant, and Nunn, from states the Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t won since 1996 or earlier. In addition, the campaign committee of Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire is listed as an additional participant in the joint committee.
According to the FEC filing documents, Blue Senate 2014 “collects contributions, pays fundraising expenses and disburses net proceeds” on behalf of all five Democrats’ campaigns. The group’s treasurer is Judith Zamore, a veteran of Democratic campaigns including Sherrod Brown’s successful 2006 Senate run in Ohio. Zamore is described at her firm’s website as having done “extensive work in the area of joint fundraising agreements [that] has been unparalleled.” The listed address for Blue Senate 2014 is in Washington, D.C., just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
All five participating candidates are running in Senate races of varying difficulty. In the most trouble is Tennant, West Virginia's secretary of state whose campaign has struggled to gain much traction against Republican Shelley Moore Capito, the popular congresswoman whose likely to succeed retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller in the Senate. In Georgia, Nunn has a better shot against Republican David Perdue in that state's open seat; she's behind by about 4 points, and has racked up the endorsement of conservative Democrat (and frequent Republican supporter) Zell Miller. The daughter of former senator Sam Nunn will need plenty of cash to run ads in the expensive Atlanta market if she hopes to have a chance.
Of the three sitting senators involved in Blue Senate 2014, Landrieu may have the toughest road to reelection. She only trails Republican Bill Cassidy by one point in a head-to-head matchup, but more scrutiny of her official travel violations and Louisiana's increasingly Republican tilt suggests Landrieu may struggle to pull out a victory in the state's general election runoff. That runoff, in December following the November open primary, could determine the control of the Senate and will likely be very costly.
The race in North Carolina has already proven costly, with the Hagan and her Republican challenger Thom Tillis spending more than $10 million combined so far. Millions more are being spent by outside groups on behalf of both candidates, and the race continues to be close. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Shaheen appears to be in good shape against likely Republican opponent Scott Brown and, through her own fundraising network, may be able to help out her fellow Democrats as November approaches.