This item has been updated.
House Democrats have raised record amounts of campaign cash this year in hopes of chipping away at the Republican majority. But on Tuesday, top leaders delivered a desperate message to rank-and-file members: We need more money.
According to an estimate from one Democrat who listened to the conference call Tuesday during which the request was made, nearly $500,000 was pledged by roughly a dozen Democratic lawmakers who agreed to transfer money from their campaign accounts to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the hopes of protecting a small group of incumbents and preserving attempts to pick up at least some Republican-held seats.
The call was not limited to current members, so some Democrats who are poised to win their first election in heavily liberal districts contributed, including Debbie Dingell, wife of retiring Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who pledged $50,000 to the DCCC. Ruben Gallego, a 34-year old expected to succeed retiring Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), agreed to give $10,000.
During the call, which lasted between 30 and 40 minutes, DCCC head Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) assured colleagues that their donations would be "transferred into the trenches" to shore up the wavering incumbents.
Ahead of the call, Israel sent a memo to Democrats explaining that nine candidates on a last-minute "Red Alert List" need a big infusion of cash.
The list includes six at-risk incumbents: Reps. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Bill Enyart (D-Ill.), Pete Gallego (D-Tex.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) and Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), all of whom are freshmen and are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of television attack ads bankrolled by Republicans and GOP-leaning super PAC.
The memo noted that Nolan is facing up to $4 million in ad paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee: "Nolan must have the resources to communicate in the costly Twin Cities media market."
Leaders also want more money to help three challengers pick up GOP-held seats: Brad Ashford, who's hoping to unseat Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.); Aimee Belgard, who's hoping to pick up the seat of retiring Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.); and Domenic Recchia, who Democrats are hoping will defeat embattled Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who is facing federal charges.
While Terry has been airing TV ads since mid-August, Ashford only began advertising recently, according to the memo: "It is essential that Ashford continues to raise the resources he needs to stay on the air through Election Day to keep pace with Rep. Terry."
Ahead of the call, Israel conceded in an interview with The Washington Post that his party's chances of picking up seats and avoiding losses are diminishing.
"I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s a tough climate and it’s getting tougher," he said in an interview. "It’s the worst climate since 2010, but it’s not as bad as 2010. The good news for us is that by this point in 2010 many if not most of our competitive incumbents were already down and out. This year we prepared for the climate we have now – not a single one of our incumbents is a lost cause. Every single Democratic race is still competitive and we have a handful of Republican races that are competitive. I’m not going to say we’ll win them all, but we’d always prepared for the worst and the climate right now is pretty tough."
Israel said he would be telling colleagues that "as a result of preparation, the Democrat that they sit next to on the floor of the House is still either ahead in the polls or within the margin of error. So the next week has to be sealing the deal and making sure they can withstand what we expect will be a further blizzard of super PAC money."
But with so many potential pickup opportunities slipping away, Israel and other Democrats are already eager to turn their attention to 2016, when they anticipate that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presumed presidential campaign will help them make gains. As he seeks last-minute cash from to party donors in order to shore up struggling colleagues, Israel said he’s telling them that “Every race that we save in the last week in 2014 is one less race that we have to worry about in 2016."
The DCCC also released data showing that 90 percent of House Democrats have donated to the campaign committee. Of the 200 members in the caucus, 77 have met or exceeded their dues owed to the campaign committee. Of those, 37 have promised to donate more money by Friday.
The top donor by far is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has helped the DCCC raise more than $60.4 million. next on the list is Israel, who's helped raise nearly $18 million in his role as DCCC chairman. They're followed by House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) ($3.93 million) and Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) ($3.22 million) and DCCC Finance Chairman Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) ($2.2 million).
Among rank-and-file members, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) ($1.25 million), Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) ($1.07 million), Doris Matsui ($775,850), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) ($624,300), Sander Levin (D-Mich.) ($540,000), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) ($541,000), Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) ($496,753) and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) ($415,680) were among leading donors to the DCCC. Levin is the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee. Eshoo and Pallone are vying to serve as top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Frankel is among a small list of Democrats, including Himes, who are said to be interested in serving as the next DCCC chairman.
Here's the full list of dues paid thus far by House Democrats: