US businessman Sheldon Adelson is recognized by  President Donald Trump during the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House in Washington in 2018. Adelson's wife, Miriam, is a recipient of the medal. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
CNN  — 

As states struggle to contain the coronavirus and President Donald Trump’s poll numbers tumble, some Republican donors are scrambling to protect their party’s majority in the Senate as a backstop against Democrats taking the chamber.

Two of the Republican Party’s biggest contributors, Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his physician wife Miriam, recently made their largest donation of the 2020 election cycle, giving a combined $25 million last month to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC working to retain the GOP’s majority in the chamber.

“Our donors are very concerned about the political environment and are focused laser-like on making sure we hold the Senate,” Steven Law, who oversees the Senate Leadership Fund, told CNN this week. Law is a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the super PAC is closely aligned with the Kentucky Republican.

Among Republican worries, Law said: A Democratic majority could move to gut the 60-vote filibuster rule in the Senate to advance Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, statehood for Washington, DC, and other Democratic proposals by a simple majority. Democrat Joe Biden has signaled an openness to ending the 60-vote threshold now needed to pass most legislation in the chamber.

“We see the Senate as the last and ultimate firewall to fend off Democratic left-wing policies that we’ve seen tumbling out of the mouths of candidates,” Law said.

Chicago executive and longtime Republican donor William Kunkler does not support Trump’s reelection and believes the President “is too far down at this point” in the polls to win another term. But he said he expects to join forces with Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney’s political team to hold a virtual fundraiser in September for endangered GOP incumbents in the Senate.

Kunkler donated $2,800 to Biden earlier this year but said he wants to guard against Biden “getting pulled too easily to the left” on issues such as forgiving student loan debt by protecting the Republican majority in the Senate.

Dan Eberhart, an oil executive and Trump supporter, meanwhile, said he plans to launch an independent effort in the coming weeks to help first-term Republican Sen. Steve Daines fend off a challenge in Montana from the state’s Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

Tough landscape

Republicans faced a difficult Senate landscape even before the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 140,000 American lives and cost millions their livelihoods. The GOP is defending 23 states to Democrats’ 12. Democrats need to net just four seats to reclaim the majority – or three if Biden wins the presidency and his vice president breaks ties in an evenly divided chamber.

Democrats have seats to protect in states Trump won in 2016: Democratic Sens. Doug Jones in deep-red Alabama and Gary Peters in Michigan.

And recent campaign filings show Democratic candidates are awash in campaign money.

In six of the races viewed as most likely to change hands by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, a nonpartisan handicapper and CNN contributor – contests in Iowa, Maine, Montana, Arizona, North Carolina and Colorado – Democratic Senate challengers collectively eclipsed GOP incumbents in fundraising by $20.9 million between April 1 and June 30.

Republicans have grown particularly alarmed by Democrats’ fundraising success with small-dollar donors who have provided a financial lifeline to candidates after the coronavirus halted in-person fundraising.

Tim Cameron, a Republican strategist and former chief digital strategist for the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, said the “threat” to the Senate majority has been communicated clearly to major donors, but individual GOP senators need to invest more heavily in outreach to make their case to online contributors.

Other Republican senators not on the ballot in November should follow the model of Democrats, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and deploy their email lists to raise money for other endangered colleagues, he said.

“This is a time for everybody to step up and make sure we’re able to secure these seats,” Cameron said.

Stanley Hubbard, a Minnesota broadcasting mogul and major Republican donor, has written checks to dozens of Republican candidates and committees this cycle, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“The Senate needs to stay conservative because I don’t want to have us going off the deep end with taxes and other things,” he said in an interview this week.

But Hubbard said he’s as committed to helping Trump win reelection as he is to rescuing the Senate majority.

Trump, he said, “yaks when he shouldn’t” but the President deserves a second term. “Look at the jobs. Look at the prosperity,” Hubbard said. “Everything had been going just great until the Covid hit. The people in charge should get credit.”