Carolina Copycats at Work
Hoping to avoid competitive primary challenges and consolidate their financial support, Reps. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) are modeling their off-year Senate campaigns on the successful blueprints mapped by freshman Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) in 2002.
Both Graham and Dole combined an aggressive fundraising strategy with a focus on grassroots party building that helped them keep other candidates out of the race and allowed them to conserve resources for the general election.
“The game plan that Dole and Graham used last year is a good example for any Republican campaign this cycle,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen.
The Carolinas are seen as two of Republicans’ best pickup opportunities in 2004.
Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) remains undecided on a re-election bid — although he did hold a fundraiser last week — and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) is pursuing the presidential nomination and has not announced whether he will seek a second term.
Whether or not these seats come open, DeMint and Burr are expected to run and national Republicans are working hard to ensure that they are in a strong position, both organizationally and financially, by year’s end.
“I look at what [Graham] did,” said DeMint. “He had the same situation that I did at the beginning.”
Like Graham, DeMint will have served six years in the House from a strongly Republican district before making his Senate bid.
Graham, however, had made national headlines for his role as an impeachment manager in the Senate trial of then-President Bill Clinton and as a major backer of the maverick presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2000.
“I had some visibility on some high-profile issues,” Graham acknowledges. “I had some things going for me in terms of name identification that not all Members of Congress have.”
On the fundraising front, DeMint has assembled a finance team aimed at replicating the success of Graham both in Washington, D.C., and in the Palmetto State. He has secured key fundraisers affiliated with the campaigns of Graham and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who won the state’s top office in 2002 after serving six years in the House from 1995 to 2001.
“[Graham] has recommended some PAC fundraisers,” said DeMint. “He is mentioning to the right people back in South Carolina that I am the right candidate.”
DeMint begins from a dead stop in the political action committee community as he refused to accept their contributions in his three House runs.
Graham said the key to his success was “financial support married with political support.”
He explained that he would sign on several elected officials in a county and then call the key finance operatives in the area, using his political support as leverage.
“The political people help you get credibility with the finance people,” Graham said. “The finance people help you get people who are on the fence because everyone likes to be with the momentum.”
DeMint must make significant strides to match Graham’s impressive fundraising totals. He posted a meager $3,000 on hand at the end of 2002. Graham had $423,000 in his House account at the same time in the 2002 cycle, which he transferred to a Senate account.
Graham showed nearly $1.7 million on hand in his June 30, 2001, report, a figure that kept other prospective candidates for the seat being vacated by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) at bay. DeMint said that “the money is starting to come in” and he hopes to bank $1 million by the end of June.
Several other potential GOP candidates will be monitoring DeMint’s progress closely for signs of weakness. Former state Attorney General Charlie Condon, who placed third in the 2002 gubernatorial primary, has filed papers establishing an exploratory committee for the race. Former Rep. Tommy Hartnett is also thinking about a bid; he took 47 percent against Hollings in 1992.
In the Tar Heel State, Burr is doing his best to follow in Dole’s footsteps — literally — by embarking on a tour of North Carolina’s counties similar to Dole’s in early 2002.
Burr is in the midst of a four-month period in which he will deliver 14 Lincoln Day speeches throughout the state. He estimated he has already given 35 Lincoln Day addresses over the past three years.
“Over the life of this exploratory committee it is my intent to get to the majority of the counties in North Carolina,” Burr said.
Burr does not share the celebrity status that Dole, a two-time Cabinet secretary and 2000 presidential candidate, did, but he believes the speeches are already paying dividends.
But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been on the attack after reports surfaced that Burr traveled to Las Vegas last year to attend a convention, paid for by the National Association of Broadcasters.
“I’m not surprised that Burr is taking a tour of North Carolina,” said DSCC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. “The last five years he has taken a tour of the world on the dime of the corporate special interests.”
Burr contemplated running for the Senate in 2002 but pulled back in deference to Dole, and now the incumbent Senator has kind words for the Congressman — though she has stopped short of endorsing him. She says Burr has “done an outstanding job representing his district and our state in the House of Representatives.”
Burr has the tacit backing of both the White House and the National Republican Senatorial Committee as well. According to published reports this week, chief White House political adviser Karl Rove is scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Burr next month.
In the financial arena, Burr is already working to match the prodigious Dole, who raised nearly $14 million last cycle. The North Carolina Senate race was the most expensive in the nation last year, with Dole and Democrat Erskine Bowles spending $26 million between them.
“It is safe to say we are focused on the financial structure first and foremost,” Burr said.
In putting together his fundraising organization, Burr said he “tried to merge the successful campaigns of the past,” including Dole’s 2002 race and the 1992 campaign of then-Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R).
Burr ended 2002 with $1.7 million, all of which can be spent on a Senate race; he describes his past fundraising as “effective and comfortable.”
He admitted, however, there is a “sense of urgency” in raising dollars for his Senate campaign because of the new campaign finance laws and the fact that the presidential race is sucking up potential campaign contributions.
“I am beginning to hear the vacuum cleaner in the back room starting to hum a little bit,” Burr said.