On the Democratic side, the biggest of these is the Senate Majority PAC, aligned with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. It put $5 million toward Mr. Harrison’s effort and $35 million in the Senate race in North Carolina, where a Democrat also lost. In New York, the top 45 donors to this committee contributed close to $40 million, with nearly a third of that coming from three Manhattan money managers.
Overall the Senate Majority PAC raised $254 million during the 2020 election cycle; the subsequent failures ought to prompt a new conversation about money in politics among mainstream Democrats — about how it is solicited and allocated and where it is best deployed. Both Ms. McGrath and Mr. Harrison shattered fund-raising records, delivering unsatisfying returns on investment. Similarly, Michael Bloomberg’s outlay of $100 million spread through Florida, Texas and Ohio to defeat Donald Trump ended in losses for Joe Biden in all three states.
These questions take on an urgency now that the country’s next four years may be politically determined by the outcome of two Senate runoffs in Georgia — races that will attract enormous sums of money on both sides. Just this week, the former presidential contender Andrew Yang announced that he and his wife were moving to Georgia to help Democrats secure the Senate, without which the party will achieve few of its goals. On Twitter, he encouraged others to do the same.
While it is unclear how many Democrats will be free to pick up and move to, say, Twiggs County, any money spent on organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts will arguably have a greater yield than sending cash to individual candidates, much of which often ends up in the pockets of consultants and major networks.
As many on the left have pointed out, the situation in Georgia requires a different approach, when all four Senate candidates are known quantities in their own state. “When you have 100 percent name recognition,’’ Bradley Tusk, an investor and political strategist, said, “what is TV really going to tell you?”
Progressives want to see the balance shift, with more money given over to statehouse races and those further down the ballot, both to build a deep bench of potential candidates for federal elections and to ensure that Republicans don’t gain more control of redistricting. “Party organizations and recruitment organizations that do candidate training need money and resources consistently,” Michael M. Franz, a political scientist and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, told me. “It seems like we learn and unlearn this lesson on a regular basis.”
When Ms. Frontus’s opponent appeared on the scene, she knew not to dismiss him, although her fellow Democrats found that much easier to do, she told me. “People were thinking in terms of textbook definitions — ‘he has no money; his website looks like a fifth grader did it; it’s not a real race.’” But Ms. Frontus could see Trump fervor rising around her district; people were unhappy about quality-of-life issues and blaming Democrats. Though the race is still too close to call, Mr. Szuszkiewicz has a real chance of winning.
“I specifically said, ‘I’m expecting this guy to get upward of 15,000 votes,’” she told me, “and people said I was ridiculous.”
Rachel Shorey contributed research.