FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky's two U.S. Senate candidates shattered their own fundraising records on Tuesday as they collectively raised more than $7 million heading into the November election.
McConnell raised $3.1 million from April to June this year, the best showing of his Senate career. But it still wasn't enough to top Alison Lundergan Grimes, his Democratic challenger who raised more than $4 million in her bid to unseat the 30-year incumbent.
The fundraising hauls dwarfed those of the other competitive Senate races across the country, cementing Kentucky's status as a focal point of the 2014 midterm elections.
In the four fundraising quarters that Grimes has been a candidate, she has outraised McConnell in three of them. But July was her biggest victory yet, where she bested McConnell by nearly $1 million.
"We went form Sen. McConnell having a 10 to 1 cash advantage over us to now just a little bit over 1.5," Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst said. "We have closed the gap to something that is very manageable."
The McConnell campaign has $9.8 million in the bank compared to Grimes' $6.2 million, a $3.6 million advantage with less than four months to go before the Nov. 4 general election. That's despite McConnell having to traverse a bruising primary election in which Louisville businessman Matt Bevin spent more than $3.5 million against him.
Grimes, meanwhile, had no serious primary opposition and has been able to focus all of her attention on McConnell since the beginning.
"At this stage in the election it's not what you raise, it's what you have left in the bank to spend," said John Holmes, a senior advisor to McConnell's campaign. "Despite not having a primary election, Alison Lundergan Grimes somehow spent $5 million and her bank account is $3.6 million thinner than Sen. McConnell's is with only four months to go."
But McConnell has continued to spend more than he has raised the past few months. His cash on hand has dropped from $10.8 million at the end of 2013 to $9.8 million at the end of June. Grimes cash on hand, meanwhile, has risen every quarter.
"We feel very, very good about that," Hurst said.
It is not unusual for a challenger to post huge fundraising numbers when going against the leader of one of the country's two major political parties. McConnell, the Senate minority leader, likes to joke that Grimes raises most of her money because of him.
In a 2010 Nevada race, Sharon Angle raised more than $28 million — including $14.3 million in one quarter — in her bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. She lost by 5.7 percentage points.
"There is no question that Barack Obama's fundraising base has shown up to support Alison Lundergan Grimes," Holmes said. "After watching Sharon Angle raise $28 million against Harry Reid in 2010 we were well prepared for the Obama crew to return the favor."
But the Grimes campaign pointed to the more than 100,000 contributions of $50 or less, which they attribute to Grimes' focus on middle class families.
"People don't give in these kinds of numbers if they don't believe in the campaign," Hurst said.