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Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) wrested just shy of $1.5 million from his Senate colleagues last month, with one-third of the whopping sum coming from Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.).
Schumer, the notoriously aggressive head of the party fundraising arm, convinced 16 of his fellow Democrats to write checks to the DSCC before the end of the second-quarter fundraising period on June 30. The amounts, most of which came in during the final week of June, varied from a low of $5,000 to Baucus high of $500,000.
Beyond Baucus, the other significant contributors were Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), who shelled out $250,000 apiece, and from Sens. Tom Carper (Del.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.), who each gave the DSCC $100,000. All of those Senators contributions came from their re-election accounts, which unlike personal or political action committee money are not subject to campaign finance limits.
We could not be successful without the caucus fully behind us in every way, Schumer said in an interview Monday. Weve had many people give and we expect to see many, many more.
Schumer said he hasnt had to pressure his colleagues to open up their wallets, but he does continue to make the case for what he views as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pick up seats in traditionally conservative states such as Alaska and Mississippi. Those states have brought credible Democratic challengers to GOP incumbents, but they also have proved to be difficult terrain for raising money locally, Schumer argued.
I show [my colleagues] the need and show why we need the money and how I need help to gain new seats, Schumer explained. You know with my colleagues, we really are a team. It doesnt take that much. They do it nicely and willingly.
You have to make the argument, he added. But if its a logical and persuasive argument, they are generous.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), who gave $50,000 to the DSCC last month, said Schumers request wasnt difficult to heed, saying: He asked me if I would, and I did.
Ive spent half [my career] doing time in the minority and half of it doing time in the majority, added Leahy, who is in his sixth term and is up for re-election in 2010. Ive thought about it, and I like the majority better.
Democrats are feeling increasingly confident about their chances to pick up seats this November, particularly since just one of their 12 incumbents, Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), is viewed as endangered. By comparison, at least half a dozen Republican incumbents are considered imperiled, and the minority party is at risk of losing another three open seats to the Democrats.
Of the Democratic Senators in cycle in 2008, five of them gave to the DSCC last month, including Landrieu, who gave $10,000, and Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa), who gave $5,000. Baucus, Pryor and Rockefeller also are up for another term this fall, but along with Harkin, they face relatively smooth rides to re-election.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), who isnt up for re-election until 2010 but gave $25,000 in late June, said Schumer isnt twisting any arms to persuade Senators to make contributions to the DSCC. Rather, Dorgan said, theres a collective desire by Senate Democrats to grow their majority beyond its narrow 51-49 majority and to ensure the DSCC has the funding to run the races it wants to run.
Most all of us are really anxious to have a majority that gives us the chance to get things done, Dorgan said.
Dorgan has given $105,000 overall to the DSCC, and he is one of 21 Democratic Senators who have shelled out checks of at least six figures this cycle to the committee. Topping the total giving this cycle is Baucus with $615,000, followed by Feinstein with $585,500 and Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) with $530,000.
Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser said Monday that his boss is pleased to be in a position to help the DSCC: While at the same time campaigning hard at home, the chairman is fortunate enough to be able to help build a larger majority and bring more moderate consensus builders to the U.S. Senate.
Schumer, along with other Democratic leaders, have set an ambitious goal of trying to get closer to 60 Senate seats next year a number that would allow Democrats to have enough votes in the Senate to overcome GOP filibusters of their legislation. Republicans, who now have 49 seats, need just 41 votes to block Democrats from moving bills through the chamber and have successfully used their margins as leverage this Congress.
Overall, Senate Democrats are heading into the final stretch of the two-year cycle with momentum. The DSCC just wrapped up the second quarter with $46 million in the bank and having raised $21 million during the three-month period. Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee took in $15 million in the second quarter and has $25 million on hand.
The NRSC has seen marked improvement in its fundraising this year but has continued to struggle when it comes to convincing its GOP Senators to contribute to the committee. The exception is Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the newly appointed NRSC vice chairman, who has raised and given millions and lobbied his colleagues to follow his lead.
Part of the Democrats success has stemmed from the fact that their incumbents are sitting on piles of wealth. As of mid-May, the dozen Senators facing re-election this fall had amassed about $50 million in cash.
Schumer said none of the Senate Democrats up for re-election is over confident and realize their first obligation is to make sure they get re-elected. But, he said, many are now on solid enough footing that they can help out other Democrats by spreading their money around.
I try to ask each of my colleagues to do the maximum that would be generous but not overbearing, he said. I try to thread that needle.