By BRIAN SLODYSKO and AARON KESSLER
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Trailing badly in his Arizona Senate race as votes poured in, Republican Blake Masters went on Tucker Carlson's Fox News program and assigned blame to one person: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"You know what else is incompetent, Tucker? The establishment. The people who control the purse strings," Masters said before accusing the long-serving GOP leader and the super PAC aligned with him of not spending enough on TV advertising. "Had he chosen to spend money in Arizona, this race would be over. We'd be celebrating a Senate majority right now."
There's another problem Masters didn't acknowledge: He failed to raise significant money on his own.
He was hardly alone.
As both parties sift through the results of Democrats' stronger-than-expected showing in the midterm elections, Republicans are engaged in a round of finger-pointing, including a failed attempt by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who led the Senate GOP's campaign arm, to challenge McConnell for his leadership post.
But the recriminations obscure a much deeper dilemma for the party. Many of their nominees -- a significant number of whom were first-time candidates who adopted far-right positions -- failed to raise the money needed to mount competitive campaigns. That forced party leaders, particularly in the Senate, to make hard choices and triage resources to races where they thought they had the best chance at winning, often paying exorbitant rates to TV stations that, by law, would have been required to sell the same advertising time to candidates for far less.
The lackluster fundraising allowed Democrats to get their message out to voters early and unchallenged, while GOP contenders lacked the resources to do the same.
In Arizona, Masters was outraised nearly 8-to-1 by Kelly, who poured at least $32 million into TV advertising from August until Election Day, records show. Masters spent a little over $3 million on advertising during the same period after Senate Leadership Fund pulled out of the race.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto raised $52.8 million compared to Republican Adam Laxalt's $15.5 million. And in Pennsylvania, Democratic Sen.-elect John Fetterman took in $16 million more than his GOP opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz. That's despite the celebrity TV doctor lending $22 million to his campaign, records show.
When it came to purchasing TV ad time, Democrats' fundraising advantage yielded considerable upside. Ad sellers are required by law to offer candidates the cheapest rate. That same advantage doesn't apply to super PACs, which Republican candidates relied on to close their fundraising gap -- often at a premium.
In Las Vegas, for example, a candidate could buy a unit of TV advertising for $598, according to advertising figures provided to the AP. That same segment cost a super PAC $4,500. In North Carolina's Raleigh-Durham media market, a $342 spot cost a super PAC $1,270. And a $580 candidate segment in the Philadelphia area cost a super PAC nearly $2,000, the advertising figures show.
But money woes weren't the only complicating factor.
Donald Trump elevated a series of untested, first-time candidates. They included Masters, Vance and former NFL star Herschel Walker, whose complicated backstory includes threats of violence against his ex-wife, false claims of business success and allegations that he pressured two girlfriends to get abortions, which Walker denies. Then there was Oz, who moved to Pennsylvania to seek the seat and also secured Trump's endorsement, but was pilloried by Democrats as an out-of-touch carpetbagger.
Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, led by Scott, often worked at cross-purposes with McConnell's political operation.
Early on, Scott ruled out getting involved in primaries, which he saw as inappropriate meddling. McConnell's allies, meanwhile, moved to fend off candidates they saw as poor general-election contenders, like Don Bolduc, a far-right conservative who lost his New Hampshire Senate race by nearly 10 percentage points. McConnell forces also defended Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a GOP moderate, against a conservative challenger.
An internal document obtained by the AP, which was previously reported by The New York Times, shows the committee invested $23.3 million to build out their digital fundraising program between June and January of 2021. But the NRSC raised just $6.1 million during that time -- a deficit. Then, as inflation soared, the stream of cash from online donors slowed to a trickle.
Some Republican senators are now clamoring for an audit of the committee. In an at-times heated Senate GOP lunch at the Capitol last week, Maine Sen. Susan Collins questioned Scott's management of the NRSC.
During a Senate GOP lunch in August, Scott asked senators for donations to the NRSC, which is now at least $20 million in debt. Then McConnell addressed the room and told the senators to instead prioritize giving to Senate Leadership Fund.
Faced with the prospect of solidifying their majority with another seat during a December runoff election in Georgia, Democrats were happy to offer unsolicited guidance to Republicans.
"My advice is to keep on doing what they are doing," said Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who led Senate Democrats' campaign arm this year.