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‘Mod Squad’ Aids Centrist Democrats

A well-connected group of ex-Senate staffers is pulling together a self-described “Mod Squad” to put some financial firepower behind the election and re-election of moderate Senate Democrats.

A new political action committee — aptly called The Moderate Democrats PAC but more informally referred to as the “Mod Squad” — will hold its kickoff event tonight at a private home on Capitol Hill.

Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Tom Carper (Del.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) are headlining the fundraiser and expected to attend.

“Sen. Baucus feels very strongly that the party ought to continue to be a big tent and this is a way to help moderate candidates,” Baucus Chief of Staff Jim Messina said. “He’s very excited about this new opportunity.”

Baucus is one of a handful of moderate Democrats representing conservative states up for re-election in 2008, though he currently is on solid ground to win a sixth term.

Organizers of the new PAC said they hope to fill a void, since there is no entity on the Senate side devoted solely to helping protect and elect moderate Democrats.

They said that while several policy-oriented organizations currently exist to provide assistance and resources for ideological moderates in the Senate — including Third Way, the New Democrat Network and the Democratic Leadership Council — there is little to no financial support mechanism attached to those efforts.

“These groups are all doing policy work on behalf of moderates,” said one of the organizers of the new PAC. “There really isn’t an entity that is providing fundraising for these same people.”

By contrast, on the House side the Blue Dog Coalition and New Democrat Coalition are able to provide their moderate-to- conservative Members and endorsed candidates with financial support through their PACs.

This past cycle, the Blue Dog PAC raised $1.2 million and spent a little more than $1 million — $425,000 of which went directly to federal candidates — in helping to elect moderate and conservative Democrats to the House.

Pryor, who also is up for re-election in 2008, said he couldn’t speak directly to the Mod Squad’s efforts, but he said he embraces any move to aid centrist candidates and incumbents. Having no set constituency from which to draw contributions can often prove daunting, he said.

“In general terms, the way the fundraising world is geared right now, you do very well if you are firmly to the left or firmly to the right,” Pryor said.

“But if you are in the middle it can be much harder to raise funds for your election or re-election.”

Aside from Pryor and Baucus, Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) are seen as the incumbents most likely to get support from the new PAC this cycle. The PAC also may look to help candidates such as former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), who is being recruited heavily to run against Sen. John Sununu (R), and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), who is the Democrats’ top choice to run in the event Sen. John Warner (R) decides to retire.

The initial steering committee for the PAC includes six one-time chiefs of staff to current or former Senators who have gone on to lucrative jobs on K Street and other Democratic operatives with strong ties to other moderate groups.

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