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Amidst an outcry from Senate Democrats, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has proclaimed former Rep. John Thune’s bid to oust Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) a “race of national importance” that GOP donors should consider their top priority.
In the latest indication that Frist will personally campaign against his Democratic counterpart, the Republican leader signed a two-page fundraising letter last week for Thune that was sent to thousands of potential donors. The letter was a clear call to arms on behalf of the former three-term House Member who is trying to oust Daschle, a three-term Democrat.
“If you can only make one more contribution to one of our Republican Senate candidates this election cycle ... you should make that gift to John Thune,” Frist proclaimed in the letter. To add emphasis, that phrase was set in bold-faced capital letters, accompanied by an exclamation point.
The direct-mail pitch is the latest step in Frist’s escalating battle to oust his Democratic counterpart, the first Senate floor leader to face a tight re-election battle in almost 40 years.
As of March 31, Daschle had $5 million in cash on hand and led in polls by about a half-dozen points. Thune had $1.9 million in the bank.
While Daschle has not spoken publicly about Frist’s efforts against him, his top deputies say the Majority Leader has ruptured the decorum that has historically existed between the chamber’s two leaders. “This breaks all Senate tradition. You have to have leaders work together for the good of the Senate,” said Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “If they can’t work together, the place falls apart.”
“It cannot help the relationship,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), an Assistant Floor Leader appointed by Daschle.
Frist said Tuesday that his relationship with Daschle is fine and that the two continue to speak on a regular basis, including discussions about Frist’s campaign efforts for Thune. “We continue our conversations, which remain confidential,” Frist said.
However, the Majority Leader indicated he wasn’t certain that he had fully read the letter and signed off on its contents before it was mailed on Thune’s behalf. “I need to go and look at the letter and see if I’ve seen it,” he said.
Frist did not disavow the letter, however, and his aides and other Senators said Daschle’s supporters were painting their candidate as a victim in a bid to inoculate him from attack. “It’s a standard fundraising letter — Daschle should be familiar with it,” said Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson.
Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), the chairman of the Republican Conference, accused Daschle’s camp of creating a “false outrage factor” at Frist’s efforts for Thune. Santorum said Daschle and his fellow Senate Democrats already destroyed the chamber’s traditions through the use of filibusters to block judicial nominees and other acts of alleged obstruction, leaving the Senate at a legislative standstill for much of this year.
“Any line that has ever been laid in the Senate, Senator Daschle has crossed over,” Santorum said.