With the 2008 Senate battleground increasingly inhospitable for the minority, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is attempting to overcome several built-in disadvantages while moving to maximize its limited opportunities.
The NRSC has almost twice as many seats to defend as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, yet barely half the cash on hand. To compensate, the NRSC is conserving its resources for the home stretch while counting on smart polling and effective opposition research to prevent the DSCC from steamrolling its candidates one year from now.
“I’m very realistic that the deck is stacked against us. But any poker player will tell you, it’s how you play those cards that counts,” said Mike Slanker, the NRSC’s political director. “It’s obvious we will be outspent. But rest assured, we will have the dollars we need to compete and win.”
The DSCC, led by Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), questioned exactly what cards the NRSC has to play.
“The NRSC’s rhetoric would be a lot more impressive if it were backed up by results,” DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller said. “I have lost count of how many Republican Senators have job-approval ratings in the 40s, and voters consistently say they prefer Democrats by double-digit margins.”
Of the 34 Senate seats up for election this cycle, the NRSC must defend a whopping 22.
Within that framework, Slanker said his committee’s two biggest challenges are finding a way to defeat popular former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), who is running for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. John Warner (R), and overcoming a fundraising disparity that found the DSCC leading the NRSC in banked cash at the end of August, $20.6 million to $7.1 million.
After the DSCC’s $3.5 million debt is accounted for, its 3-1 cash advantage drops to about 2-1 over the NRSC, which has zero debt.
Adding to the NRSC’s challenges, four of the seats up for re-election next year are in Democratic-leaning blue states — Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Oregon — while two are in the red states of Colorado and Virginia but in serious jeopardy of flipping thanks to the impending retirement of Warner and Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.).
Further putting the NRSC on the defensive is Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-Neb.) decision to retire and the possibility that former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) might run for his old job — not to mention the legal jeopardy Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) finds himself in and the possibility that iconic Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) might have lost some of his luster with voters in the Land of Enchantment, according to recent polls.
Also, there is still a chance that red-state Sens. John Cornyn (Texas) and Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) could face competitive contests, as could Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Meanwhile, the NRSC has been unable to dig up a threatening challenger for any of the 12 Democratic seats up next year, save for Louisiana.
Slanker indicated that, other than the potential for South Dakota to develop into a top-tier pickup opportunity, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) appears to be it for the NRSC this cycle in terms of legitimate targets.
“There aren’t a whole lot of targets. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few big ones,” Slanker said.