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Democrats are crushing GOP incumbents in ad spending in battleground Senate races

The match-up between Democrat Mark Kelly and incumbent Republican Senator Martha McSally in Arizona has netted an eye-popping $116 million in ads, including spending from outside groups. In Kelly's quest to take the seat, he has spent $37 million on ads compared to McSally's $18.6 million so far. 

It's one example of the big spending on ads undertaken by Democratic hopefuls in key battleground states. In some cases, the Democrats have outspent Republican incumbents by as much as 2 to 1.   

Democrats face a friendlier map than in 2018 and have been gearing up for a battle to take control of a chamber that had been under Republican leadership since 2015. The late inning addition of a Supreme Court vacancy has only added fuel to the fire and cash to their war chests. 

In North Carolina, a race now upended by both a scandal involving Democrat Cal Cunningham's flirtatious text messages and Republican Senator Thom Tillis testing positive for coronavirus, about $130 million has already been spent on ads and another $35 million at least is expected by Election Day according to tracking by Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group.  Cunningham alone has spent nearly $18 million already in comparison to Tillis' just $5.5 million on a race that has them neck-and-neck before word of the scandal broke. 

Election 2020 Senate North Carolina
Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, left, and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. talk during a televised debate Thursday, October 1, 2020 in Raleigh, N.C. Gerry Broome / AP

It's a two-woman race in Maine, where polls show Senator Susan Collins trailing Democrat Sara Gideon as the Senator campaigns between a rock and a hard place thanks in part to the recent Supreme Court vacancy. Gideon has also spent more than double what Collins has on ads to date with more than $17 million to Collins' less than $8 million.

And now Collins is facing an additional challenge. The senator has used her ads to tout her work drafting the Paycheck Protection Program as a part of the CARES Act which delivered relief to thousands of Mainers. But President Trump kneecapped that message this week by encouraging lawmakers to stop further COVID stimulus until after the election. Collins issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the decision. 

When it comes to Senate campaign spending, Democrat Theresa Greenfield is also dolling out the big bucks in Iowa. She has outspent her Republican opponent, Senator Joni Ernst, by more than $16 million on advertising to date according to Kantar/CMAG. Greenfield has dropped more than $23 million so far; Ernst has dropped less than $8 million. And Greenfield could outspend Ernst by more than $25 million by Election Day in the Hawkeye state.

On Thursday, Greenfield announced she had raised $28.7 million from July through September, more than double what she raised this cycle to date so far through June. 

Even the Senate race in Montana has hit nearly $100 million spent on ads so far. Democratic Governor Steve Bullock is facing off against Senator Steve Daines. Bullock has spent more than $1 million more on ads so far, with $15.1 million to Daines' $13.9 million. By Election Day the race could see more than $125 million spent on ads.

Perhaps the biggest surprise this cycle is the Cook Political Report moving South Carolina's Senate race to a toss-up. Democrat Jaime Harrison has spent more than $46 million to date against Senator Lindsey Graham, who has spent just $15.7 million. The once reliably red state could see nearly $100 million in ad spending on the Senate race by November 3 according to Kantar/CMAG tracking.

In Colorado, Democrat John Hickenlooper has already outspent Senator Cory Gardner by more than $5 million on ads. In Kentucky, Amy McGrath has outspent Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on ads by more than $10 million to date. And in Kentucky, Democrat Barbara Bollier has outspent Republican Roger Marshall $8 million to $2.6 million. Even in Mississippi, Democrat Mike Espy has outspent Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith more than five to one. 

In the two Senate races taking place simultaneously in Georgia, Democrat Jon Ossoff has outspent his Republican opponent Senator David Perdue by nearly double,  but that's not the case for the special election where appointed Senator Kelly Loeffler is facing both Republican and Democratic challengers.

Of all the groups investing in the Senate races, the Senate Majority PAC and Senate Leadership Fund are spending the most. Each has already put in more than $100 million toward advertising in races according to Kantar/CMAG. Both are slated to spend upwards of $150 million each by Election Day. 

The Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC that supports Republicans, has seen record fundraising in 2020, meaning they're also able to spend more than ever before. 

A spokesperson for Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democratic candidates, told CBS News their record breaking fundraising has allowed them to compete deep into the map.  

Like candidates, the committees on both sides have focused their ads in recent months on health care. For example, in Iowa, groups behind both candidates are hitting opponent plans hard. An ad from the Senate Majority PAC supporting Greenfield highlights that Ernst has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, the Republican PAC Senate Leadership Fund supporting Ernst criticizes Greenfield's support of a public option with some of the same criticism levied against Senator Bernie Sanders' Medicare for all plan during the Democratic presidential primary in Iowa. 

This comes as the full picture is still slowly emerging on how much money was raised during the third quarter of 2020. Like Greenfield, Cunningham earlier this month announced raising upwards of $28 million over three months indicating Americans are focused on and donating to Senate races in an unprecedented way. The deadline for Senate campaigns to file with the Federal Election Commission is October 15.

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