Coleman Boosts NRSC Effort

Posted August 30, 2004 at 5:35pm

Continuing his push to head up the Senate GOP’s 2006 campaign effort, Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) is taking on a new fundraising role this week that puts him in charge of rounding up donations for the party’s top 11 races this fall.

GOP leaders have tapped Coleman to head a new joint-fundraising committee, the Majority Fund for America’s Future, which is being run through the National Republican Senatorial Committee and targeting cash to two incumbent races and nine challenger or open-seat races.

Donors will be able to cut one check of up to $22,000 to the new fund, the maximum $2,000 a piece for the 11 races, and also can give to the NRSC through the fund in amounts up to $25,000.

“It’s almost like this is one-stop shopping,” said one GOP source.

The challenge for Coleman, however, will be to raise the money in such a competitive atmosphere, with so much focus on the hotly contested presidential race. How successful he is in raising money for this program, his first such effort for the NRSC, may be the final push in a bid to win over his colleagues to allow him to take the helm of the campaign committee next year, which, for now, is the only open leadership seat at the Senate GOP table next Congress.

As Coleman said in a direct-mail pitch on Monday, “With a one-vote majority, there is no room for error.”

To this point, Coleman is the only GOP Senator openly seeking the NRSC chairmanship, which Sen. George Allen (Va.) must surrender because he’s up for re-election in 2006. Coleman publicly has announced his intentions and has begun to ask his colleagues for their support.

The base of his support for the position appears to be coming from fellow freshmen Senators elected in 2002, a group that includes Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Jim Talent (Mo.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.).

Coleman’s supporters believe after the Republican National Convention, he will be able to unveil the support of some veteran Republicans, which could help discourage any potential competitors, later in the fall.

There still is some talk that he may face a challenge from another Senator from the class of 2002, either Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) or Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.).

But aides and Senators not associated with the trio of freshmen say Coleman could be close to locking up the post because, as of now, he’s the only Senator actively asking his colleagues for their vote.

Despite talk earlier this summer with GOP campaign strategists and private talk among Senators, Alexander has expressed no interest in the job and has not made any public moves to push for the job.

The Alexander talk began after he headed up the successful “President’s” dinners for the NRSC in 2003 and 2004, which brought in a combined haul of roughly $16 million for the campaign committee.

But the Tennessean, whose political team has some overlap with Majority Leader and fellow Tennessean Bill Frist’s, has released public statements saying he wants to focus on legislation, not politics.

Dole, who has run one of the lower level fundraising programs for the NRSC this cycle, is the most prolific fundraiser in the freshmen class in terms of dollars raised for her leadership political action committee.

Dole’s PAC, the Leadership Circle, was formed in the spring and quickly raised $519,000 by June 30, more than any other freshman — the lion’s share of which had opened their PACs in early 2003. But Dole has publicly stated she would take on any position if asked by leadership to do so, and has yet to make any behind-the-scenes overtures to her colleagues that other Senators seeking leadership positions have done in the past.

Coleman’s new responsibility at the NRSC will add to the work he’s done in hosting fundraisers for candidates in Minnesota.

The Majority Fund for America’s Future will be targeting the incumbent races of Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Kit Bond (Mo.). While Murkowski is locked in one of the tightest races in the nation against former Gov. Tony Knowles, Bond is a clear favorite against state Treasurer Nancy Farmer, although many expect the race to tighten in the fall.

Coleman will be raising money for nine other races, most top-tier contests, including former Rep. John Thune’s (R-S.D.) bid to unseat Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Also on the Majority Fund’s target list are the open-seat races of Reps. David Vitter (R-La.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), as well as former Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and beer magnate Pete Coors (R-Colo.).

Coleman is also funneling money into the Florida Unity 2004 account, a bounty of cash that will go to the winner of today’s Senatorial primary, likely to be former Housing Secretary Mel Martinez or former Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.). The other challenger race benefiting from the Coleman fund is Rep. George Nethercutt’s (R-Wash.) race against Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and, in a sign that the NRSC feels it may have a surprising chance at the race, the Wisconsin Challenger Fund. That’s the pot of cash that will go to the winner of the Sept. 14 winner of that primary to challenge Sen. Russ Feingold (D).