Matsui: Majority In Reach

Upswing In Recruiting Seen

Posted November 4, 2003 at 6:53pm

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) sought to reassure his colleagues that regaining control of the House is in their grasp with roughly one year to go before the 2004 elections, in a memo sent to Members Tuesday night.

“One year out of the election, we are looking strong and competing fiercely to put the People’s House back in the hands of the people,” wrote Matsui. “We have only 12 seats to go — a deficit that history and the current political environment indicate is surmountable.”

In the memo, Matsui argued that Democrats have stayed remarkably competitive with their Republican counterparts in terms of finances, and says that after a slow start have experienced a major upswing in their recruiting efforts.

On the financial end, Matsui emphasized the “leaner and meaner” approach the DCCC has taken in response to the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which banned national party committees from raising and spending soft money.

Matsui noted that the DCCC has brought in $20 million in the first nine months of 2003 and “despite House Republicans raising $58 million (a figure inflated by at least $30 million spent on deceptive telemarketing practices), Democrats have maintained a cash position very close to theirs.”

The NRCC has expended significant funds throughout the year on an Akron-based phone banking company — Infocision Management Corp.

NRCC officials have maintained that the committee has a break-even agreement with Infocision, meaning that if the NRCC does not raise at least the amount they invest in donor prospecting, Infocision refunds any difference.

Still, the NRCC had spent nearly $54 million through September to the DCCC’s $15 million.

“We have cut costs in our operations and made necessary investments in our direct-marketing and on-line programs,” Matsui wrote. He also noted that September was the DCCC’s fifth straight month of raising more than $1 million through direct mail donations.

Even so, the House Republican Committee had $8.7 million in the bank at the third quarter; the DCCC had $6.5 million. The DCCC also carried roughly $1.75 million in debt leftover from the 2002 cycle while the NRCC has erased its own debt.

“Neither their candidates nor the DCCC has the money it takes to win back the House,” NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti said flatly.

Republicans currently enjoy a twelve-seat House majority after picking up six seats in 2002.

On the recruiting front, Matsui acknowledged that “due to the difficult election in 2002, a then popular president and a war, it was no surprise that in the first months of 2003 recruiting was slow.”

Neither side has enjoyed a clear recruiting edge in the first nine months of the year, in part because few seats are truly competitive after an incumbent-friendly nationwide redistricting in 2001.

Matsui said that the committee has now secured commitments to run from 20 Democratic candidates in targeted races, although even with that number of candidates, House Democrats would still need to win nearly 75 percent of the most competitive races — while losing none of their incumbents — to regain control of the chamber.

Democrats have placed heavy emphasis on expanding the playing field in 2004, recruiting in roughly 40 total districts.

Forti sought to poke a hole in Democrats’ recruiting optimism.

“It’s hard to target and win 40 races with less than 20 candidates,” he said.

Another strength for House Democrats pointed to by Matsui was that they have been successful so far in stemming the expected wave of retirements after four consecutive failed attempts to regain the majority.

Democrats currently have five open-seat races — only one of which, Rep. Joe Hoeffel’s 13th district in Pennsylvania, is considered competitive.

Eleven House Republicans have announced their intention to retire, with the seats of Reps. Scott McInnis (Colo.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and George Nethercutt (Wash.) likely to be targeted by both parties.

Both party committees may face a handful of competitive special elections in the first six months of 2003, however, as seats in Louisiana, Kentucky, South Dakota and California may come open.

Providing another preview of the national Democratic message in 2004, Matsui claimed that “House Republicans have spent ten years turning their backs on the needs of ordinary Americans.”

“People are starting to feel the effects of their absent-minded leadership in their homes and in the job market,” he added.

Anticipating Republican arguments that the 7.2 percent growth in the gross domestic product in the third quarter presages an economic recovery, Matsui pointed to jobless figures as evidence that the economy is not yet healthy.

“While the Republicans insist that last week’s GDP reports will get them out of the rut they are currently in, we know from economists and others that the real challenges Americans face, like finding a job, are still a very big problem.”

Forti predicted that “Democrats’ arguments about the economy will fall flat nationally.”

“They are the ones who are devoid of any leadership or any coherent message and are being pushed farther to the left by their presidential candidates,” Forti said.