Democratic Party plans unprecedented aid for congressional campaigns

By Paul Kane and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 17, 2010

As Republicans show new momentum in their fundraising, White House officials are promising congressional Democrats about $50 million in support to shore up their reelection bids this fall.

Run through the Democratic National Committee, the plan relies primarily on help from the millions of young and minority voters who cast their first ballots ever for President Obama in 2008 but whose energy has since waned. About $20 million of the total is dedicated to traditional campaign resources such as TV advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts for the midterm elections.

White House officials cast the strategy as the first time that Obama's massive online fundraising capacity will be brought to bear in a significant way to help the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Organizing for America, the entity created by the Obama political team in the wake of the 2008 presidential campaign, is also planning to send staff to the states with competitive races to help on the ground. That aid is estimated at $30 million.

GOP fundraising gains

Republicans are raising more money than Democrats in many of those races, particularly Senate contests in such key states as Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports.

The outline of the DNC's effort was unveiled Thursday at a Senate Democratic luncheon, also attended by six senior White House staff and outside consultants. Democrats in Congress have been particularly nervous about their political standing in the wake of their passage last month of health-care legislation.

Aware of such concerns, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told Senate Democrats that Obama would soon be hiring a "very senior official" whose sole portfolio would be to sell the health-care overhaul to the public ahead of the Nov. 2 elections, according to participants in the meeting.

Many independent political handicappers, pointing to the health-care divisions and unemployment numbers that have remained high, suggest that Democrats are in jeopardy of losing control of the House; they currently hold a 254-177 majority, with four vacant seats. Substantial GOP gains are likely in the Senate, although Republicans appear to lack enough front-line candidates to pick up the 10 seats they would need to reclaim power in that chamber.

The DNC's aid for congressional campaigns is unprecedented for the national party committee, which in years past has focused almost entirely on presidential campaigns.

Some congressional Democrats privately expressed concern that the primary benefactor of the DNC effort might be Obama's own reelection, as this midterm effort will serve as a warm-up for keeping his organization functioning in advance of the 2012 race.

A new batch of fundraising reports, filed Thursday with the FEC, suggest that congressional Democrats can use the help, with Republicans doing well with their fundraising.

"It's much easier now than it was in January 2009," Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said of his fundraising efforts.

Former Bush administration budget officer Robert Portman, running to replace retiring Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), raised more than $2.3 million in the first quarter of 2010, four times more than the top Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher.

A year after switching parties, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) raised a little more than $1 million last quarter, a total that was doubled by his GOP challenger, former representative Patrick Toomey.

Obama's old seat

In the contest for Obama's old Senate seat, Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.), a Republican who represents Chicago's North Shore suburbs, raised $2.2 million in the quarter -- roughly $1 million more than state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D).

Even in states where Republicans face primaries, they showed strength. The two GOP contenders to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) raised double the total of the two Democratic contestants.

In addition, Democratic candidates will need the boost from the DNC to help make up for the fundraising troubles experienced by their congressional committees. At the end of February, the DSCC and DCCC held a net total of $23.2 million cash, about $40 million less than they had banked at the same point in the 2008 campaign cycle.

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