The Wallet-to-Wallet Chasm

By Chris Cillizza and Peter Baker
Sunday, January 22, 2006

Despite a lackluster showing in 2005 elections for the GOP, the Republican National Committee raked in better than $100 million last year and enjoys its largest cash-on-hand lead over its Democratic counterpart in more than a decade.

For the year just passed, the RNC brought in nearly $102 million -- give or take a few hundred thousand -- and had $34 million in the bank. The Democratic National Committee raised $51 million in 2005 but showed $5.5 million on hand at the end of the year.

That cash disparity, which has led to grumbling and fretting by some people in the Democratic establishment, will be a major asset come November, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman argued.

"There's no question it's an advantage," he said. "We are in a position to be able to maintain majorities in the House and Senate by providing campaigns with the resources they need to be successful." Under campaign finance laws, the RNC can make unlimited transfers of campaign cash to other Republican national committees.

The Democrats -- led by DNC Chairman Howard Dean -- spent considerable resources in 2005 on resuscitating state parties and now have operatives on the ground in all 50 states. The party also made a successful investment in helping fund efforts to elect Democrat Timothy M. Kaine governor of Virginia.

Mehlman sought to cast the fundraising as the result of the RNC's "balanced approach" of courting large-dollar donors and working to encourage the small-dollar, grass-roots donor base, which grew by 250,000 new voters in 2005, he said.

He pitches in, too, spending seven or eight hours a week on the telephone thanking donors and soliciting contributions. "I'm a big believer [that] if you call and say thank you as well as asking for something, it's a good deal," he said.

In addition to dialing for dollars, Mehlman has crisscrossed the country in search of campaign cash. In 2005, he appeared at nearly 100 fundraising events.

Hawaii Gets a Democratic Senate Contest

No one has ever accused Democratic Rep. Ed Case (Hawaii) of a chutzpah deficit.

Case, who has served in Congress since winning a special election in November 2002, has decided to cast tradition and deference aside, and announced a primary challenge to Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) last week.

"We are in a time of transition in our Hawaii representation in Congress, especially in the Senate," Case said. "This transition requires that we phase in the next generation to provide continuity in that service." Case is 53; Akaka, who was elected the Senate in 1990, is 81.

Case's rise in Aloha State politics has been brisk, thanks in large part to his willingness to defy party leaders.

After eight years in the state House, Case ran and lost a gubernatorial primary to then-Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono (D) in September 2002.

A week later, Rep. Patsy Mink (D) died but won the November election posthumously. A special election was called for late November to fill the remaining five weeks of her term. Mink's husband, John, was the front-runner, but Case refused to bow out and eventually defeated him in the special election.

Although not the political legend Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) is, Akaka retains a reservoir of good will in the party establishment in Hawaii and in Washington.

He also has a financial edge over Case. At the end of October, Akaka had $591,000 in the bank, compared with Case's $174,000.

And, if Elected, They Won't Serve . . .

If you did not know any better, you would have to conclude there is not much political ambition in the White House anymore. President Bush says the first lady ain't running. Laura Bush says Condoleezza Rice ain't running. And Vice President Cheney says, again, that he ain't running.

Denials of interest all around kept echoing last week as Cheney dialed up conservative radio show hosts and tried to be as Shermanesque as he could that he has no interest in succeeding the boss in 2008.

Bush, meanwhile, told an audience in Loudoun County that his wife would "never" run for Senate, as another recent first lady did, and added for good measure, "I'm not going to ask her. Never."

Then Laura Bush chimed in, telling the BBC in somewhat less certain terms that it was "absolutely unlikely" she would run.

She was more definitive about her friend, Rice, though, who has been talked up for president by many Republicans, including the first lady.

"I think Condi's fully decided she's not going to run," Laura Bush said. "In fact, every time I endorse her, she probably gets a lot of letters from people who are 'Condinistas,' as they call them. So she's going to make me start answering those letters, probably."

Cillizza is a staff writer for washingtonpost.com. He writes an online politics column, The Fix, that appears daily at www.washingtonpost.com/thefix.

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