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How much bang did CUNA get for its 3 million bucks on Election Day?


The Credit Union National Association may have helped Republicans retain control of the Senate.

While a few races had not yet been called by midday Wednesday, it appeared the GOP was on track to maintain control of the Senate, particularly after long-shot races in South Carolina and Kentucky failed to go Democrats’ way.

During the 2020 election cycle, the trade group and its federal political action committee, the Credit Union Legislative Action Council, spent more than $3 million on independent expenditures to support 11 incumbents — four senators and seven House members. The advertising, which consisted of direct mailings and digital ads, targeted swing voters and credit union households with positive messages about each candidate.

“We feel like in these priority races we made an impact,” said Trey Hawkins, vice president of political affairs at CUNA, said Wednesday morning during a press call. “They were razor thin.”

Two of the senators CUNA supported — Susan Collins of Maine and Steve Daines of Montana — were key to the GOP keeping the upper chamber. Democrats needed to pick up four seats to ensure control.

As of early afternoon Wednesday, several key Senate races were undecided, and Georgia will host a runoff for the seat currently held by Sen. Kelly Loeffler since no candidate received more than 50% of the vote on Tuesday. That could help decide who ultimately controls the Senate.

Overall, CUNA, CULAC and state credit union leagues spent $7 million supporting 411 candidates, with a roughly equal spend between Republicans and Democrats, according to the trade group.

The trade group said on Wednesday morning that more than 330 candidates they backed had won and they were projecting a more than 90% success rate.

The following is a look at the results in races where CUNA supported candidates with independent expenditures.

Sen. Susan Collins

Heading into Tuesday’s election, polling showed Collins was one of the most endangered Republican incumbents.

Collins, a senator since 1997, has been criticized by conservatives for not supporting President Trump enough, including voting against a bill in July 2017 that would have gutted much of the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, speaks to members of the media near the Senate Subway in Washington, D.C., in July 2017.

Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

However, the other side of the aisle has argued that Collins is not a true centrist, pointing to her votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and to acquit Trump during his impeachment trial.

CUNA threw its support behind the embattled senator with digital advertising that touted her support of the Senior Safe Act, legislation passed in 2018 that allows financial institution employees to report potential financial exploitation of consumers without fear of getting into trouble for violating privacy laws.

The group also did a direct mail campaign for Collins’s reelection bid.

A significant number of votes were still being counted in Maine on Wednesday morning and the race hadn’t been called yet. The state also uses ranked-choice voting, so if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote then the candidate who finished in last place is eliminated and voters’ second choices are considered. That continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes and could affect the outcome of the contest.

Sen. Steve Daines

The race for Daines’s Montana Senate seat was also highly contested. Less than a week before the vote, FiveThirtyEight, a website focused on political poll analysis, gave a slight advantage to Daines over his Democratic opponent, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who also ran a failed bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

CUNA created an ad that praised the Republican senator for his work passing “the Paycheck Protection Program so small businesses could keep their employees” once the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“Steve Daines: from Montana, for Montana,” the ad said.

The trade group also ran a direct mail effort for Daines’s reelection.

Daines was able to fend off the challenge and on Wednesday morning, he was projected to be the winner.

Sen. Gary Peters

The state of Michigan proved pivotal in the 2016 presidential election and heading into the 2020 contest, many experts predicted that could happen again. Both Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, campaigned heavily in the state, with Trump making two separate trips there on Monday alone.

CUNA supported Democrat Sen. Gary Peters with a direct mail campaign and digital advertising over the Republican challenger, John James, a businessman and veteran. James previously lost a 2018 Senate bid against the state’s other Democratic senator, Debbie Stabenow.

A digital ad from the trade group called Peters a “serious leader for deadly serious times” and praised his efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak, including ensuring personal protective equipment for essential workers and encouraging mask wearing, testing and contract tracing.

As of Wednesday morning, a winner had not been declared in the race with about 90% of the vote in. James appeared to be leading at the time this story was published, but many absentee ballots from the Detroit area, expected to skew Democratic, had not yet been counted.

Sen. Tina Smith

In Minnesota, CUNA targeted credit union members with direct mail ads and digital support for Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat. Heading into Tuesday’s election, Smith was expected to easily beat her Republican challenger, Jason Lewis, a talk radio host and former representative from the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

Smith was the projected winner on Wednesday morning.

Rep. Andy Kim

In the contest for New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, CUNA’s digital advertising supporting Rep. Andy Kim touted his efforts to ensure front-line workers had personal protective equipment when the coronavirus hit and to keep testing sites open. The ad said Kim had the “right priorities.”

Kim was heavily favored to defeat Republican businessman David Richter and on Wednesday morning was projected to retain the seat he first won in 2018.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small

Democrat Rep. Xochitl Torres Small was in a tight race to retain her seat representing New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District against Republican Yvette Herrell, who serves in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

CUNA targeted voters in southern New Mexico with direct mailings and digital advertising. A video ad described Torres Small as an “independent leader.” It also featured Torres Small giving a speech on the House floor supporting forgivable loans for small businesses and dedicated funding for small lenders.

Despite the boost from CUNA, Torres Small was projected to lose. She was trailing Herrell on Wednesday morning by 7 percentage points with 68% of the vote counted.

Other results from CUNA’s independent expenditures include:

  • Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican representing Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, faced a tough re-election challenge from Democrat Kara Eastman, a nonprofit executive who ran for the seat in 2018. On Wednesday, he was projected to win with about 51% of the vote compared with 46% for Eastman with more than 98% of the votes tallied. Hawkins noted that Bacon was able to hold on despite Biden carrying the district at the top of the ticket and said that CUNA’s efforts likely contributed to the win.
  • Rep. Rodney Davis was expected to keep his seat representing Illinois’s 13thCongressional District and defeat Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a former teacher. That came to pass with Davis, who has held the seat since 2013, up by 8 percentage points on Wednesday morning.
  • Experts anticipated that Rep. Jared Golden, who represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, would easily beat his Republican opponent, Dale Crafts, a businessman who has started several companies. However, a winner had not been projected on Wednesday morning.