Funding Constrains Democrats

Former congressman John Brademas (D-Ind.), left, stumps for Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly in Indiana's 2nd Congressional District.
Former congressman John Brademas (D-Ind.), left, stumps for Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly in Indiana's 2nd Congressional District. (By Jim Rider -- South Bend Tribune Via Associated Press)
By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Top Democrats said yesterday that they are planning to significantly expand the number of GOP House seats they will target during the final 20 days of the campaign but that financial disputes and fundraising problems are hindering the effort.

Democrats said private polls have convinced top party officials that they could pick up 40 or more seats -- nearly double their internal projections from a week ago -- if they spend enough money on television advertising for long-shot races. Strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg are among those pleading with party leaders to go deep into debt to run ads in as many as 50 GOP-held districts.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) has privately signed off on targeting a new group of GOP incumbents who were once considered safe for reelection, starting with Rep. Gil Gutknecht in rural Minnesota, officials said.

The number of seats Democrats could pick up "is expanding, no doubt about it," Emanuel said. "But you have to figure out what is smoke and what is fire."

Emanuel said he believes as many as 58 seats are now in play.

Still, several Democrats complained that the party is on the verge of blowing a once-in-a-decade political opportunity because of financial troubles.

The Democratic National Committee has no plans to help finance a last-minute push because it just took out a loan to spend up to $10 million more, primarily on Senate races, and particularly in Virginia and Tennessee, a top official said. "We are looking, but unfortunately there is not much more we can do," said DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Harold Ickes -- a Democratic operative who recently created an independent political group called the September Fund with a goal of raising $10 million to $20 million for House and Senate campaigns -- said his group cannot afford to target races beyond those that Democrats have already identified as must-wins to capture control of the House for the first time since 1994.

"It has been more difficult raising money than I expected," said Ickes, noting that his group has raised between $5 million and $10 million, half its original goal. "My sense is there is more optimism than is probably warranted," he said about Democratic prospects.

If Ickes's statement is correct, most of his group's money has come in recent weeks. According to the latest Federal Election Commission filings, Ickes's group had raised slightly more than $1 million through Sept. 30.

Greenberg added: "I don't see the evidence the big donors are stepping up."

More broadly, Democrats are deeply divided over the smartest political strategy for profiting from a political environment that has deteriorated for Republicans in the aftermath of the Mark Foley page scandal.

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