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Ensign: NRSC Regains Footing

While acknowledging that he will fall short of his $119 million fundraising goal this cycle, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) said Wednesday that the committee is on its strongest footing in at least two cycles with cash in the bank to take on a powerful Democratic money machine.

Ensign, speaking in an interview at the NRSC headquarters, didn’t attempt to downplay the difficulties Republicans face in 2008, a presidential election year in which 23 GOP-held seats are up for election compared with just a dozen Democratic slots. But Ensign said he has a lot more to crow about after the final quarter of 2007 proved that Republican donors are renewing their commitment to the party, and that his restructuring has made the NRSC leaner and a better manager of its books.

“It’s been a very difficult year fundraising for Republicans — everyone recognizes that. But it got far better as the year went on,” Ensign said. “People wouldn’t even take my phone calls in New York in the beginning of the year. ... Donors were really down. But after seeing what Democrats were like, they were like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get in the game.’”

“It’s getting easier in the last few months to raise money,” Ensign added.

In their final fundraising tally for 2007, Senate Republicans will report having $12.08 million in cash on hand after having raised $31.8 million for the year. The committee spent some $19.9 million last year, but also closed out the first 12 months with no debt. The NRSC continues to trail the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in fundraising, but Ensign was quick to point out that his committee has more money in the bank than it did when the GOP had a Senate majority.

Ensign noted that in December 2003, the NRSC had just $8.56 million in the bank, while it finished 2005 with only $10.5 million.

Although the DSCC declined on Wednesday to reveal its year end fundraising numbers — the figures are due out today — there’s little doubt it will remain well ahead of the GOP in virtually every fundraising category, as it was for all of 2007.

The power of Democrats’ fundraising is a reality that’s not lost on Ensign. Having reached just over a quarter of his original $119 million target for the two-year cycle so far, Ensign acknowledged that he won’t meet that goal, which was the amount raised by the DSCC during the 2006 cycle.

“I don’t think so,” Ensign said of raising the $119 million. “But I’m going to do the best I possibly can.”

While Republicans look to put a positive spin on their position, Democrats are quick to argue that Ensign’s problems go deeper than fundraising, and include candidate recruitment and incumbent retention.

The incumbent retention charge could be considered dubious, as Republican incumbents have chosen to re-up in the tough, Democratic-leaning states of Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Oregon, while two of the retirements — Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and John Warner (R-Va.) — could be chalked up to illness and age, respectively.

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