Senators Work To Boost Ranks

Posted October 20, 2004 at 6:45pm

The Senate’s leaders and stars are fanning out across the country in the campaign’s final 12 days, as well as drafting direct-mail pitches and recording phone messages, all part of the last push to determine control of the chamber when the next Congress convenes.

Led by a new e-mail fundraising drive spearheaded by former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and aimed at raising $2 million, Senate Democrats are racing to put their top attractions in states where they can make a difference and trying to raise every late dollar possible to deliver the message and turn out the votes on Nov. 2.

With Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) tied down in his own re-election battle, Sen. Clinton and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) are hitting the campaign trail for both Senate Democrats and the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Senate Republicans are also on the trail, with Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) in Florida yesterday on behalf of President Bush and attending events for Senate nominee Mel Martinez. Having already announced his retirement plans for 2006, this election will go a long way toward shaping his political legacy.

Meeting with reporters on Columbus Day, the Senate’s last day before adjourning for the elections, Frist set the expectations bar at gaining at least one seat for Republicans, and added that he saw an outside chance of big gains.

“Net one seat up is a win, but my goal is three seats” he said. “I expect [at least] one seat.”

With Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R) race for re-election apparently closing fast, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R) will be focusing almost entirely on the Bluegrass State in the campaign’s waning days.

On a campaign swing through Florida, Sen. Clinton will be in Miami, West Palm Beach and Boca Raton Saturday and Sunday for Florida Senate nominee Betty Castor and Kerry, while also attending a fundraising event for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Sunday. Next week Clinton will be on the trail, mainly for Kerry, in five battleground states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Michigan.

Democratic nominees for Senate seats in those states, including Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.), are also expected to be on stage at the events with Clinton, whose husband, the former president, has been recuperating from heart surgery and has not been able to hit the stump as much as was originally anticipated in the summer.

But Bill Clinton did send out an e-mail Tuesday for the DSCC intended to kick-start a drive to raise up to $2 million. In the message, he said Sen. Clinton and other Democrats would transfer excess cash from their campaign accounts to the DSCC, matching dollar-for-dollar whatever amount the e-mail pitch raised.

“If our candidates can move past the smears and distractions, they can focus voters on the disastrous record of the Republican Congress,” Clinton wrote. Brad Woodhouse, DSCC spokesman, said that the former president’s e-mail had generated $115,000 in contributions in the first 36 hours it circulated.

“We need a Democratic president, but we need more than that,” Clinton wrote in the fundraising plea titled “The Choice We Face.” “Real change requires a Congress led by a Democratic Senate.”

On Monday, Clinton is scheduled to appear at a rally for Kerry in Philadelphia, the hub of the electoral vote rich state of Pennsylvania.

In the cases of both Clintons and Kennedy, their efforts are being focused in places where they are particularly popular, the Northeast and Midwest, as well as in e-mail and phone pitches. Sen. Clinton has already recorded “robo calls” — automated phone calls that go out to registered Democrats — for voters in Iowa and Wisconsin and will also do calls for Castor’s campaign in Florida, aides said.

Kennedy, who has been Kerry’s most aggressive backer in the Senate, has been focusing on the presidential campaign and revving up the liberal base in critical states. He keynoted a United Auto Workers rally and a health-care event in Michigan on Wednesday.

On Friday he’ll be stumping in Connecticut for former Norwich City Councilman Jim Sullivan, who’s running in a tight House race against Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.). On Sunday Kennedy plans to do a series of church events in Philadelphia.

Frist leaves Florida and goes to Nashville today, where he’ll cast his vote as part of the state’s early voting, before heading to Indiana for an event with former OMB director Mitch Daniels (R), who is running for governor.

On Monday he’ll do double-duty for Bush-Cheney ’04 and Senate Republicans, attending a health care event in Philadelphia with former first lady Barbara Bush and heading to Pittsburgh for Specter.

After that, Frist’s aides expect him to criss-cross the Midwest for Bush, hitting Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio, as well as making a trip to Colorado on behalf of GOP Senate contender Pete Coors. Other top Senate candidates will likely get a late Frist visit, but his schedule remains in flux.

McConnell had been planning all along to focus his final push in Kentucky, according to chief of staff Billy Piper. But Bunning’s recent slip in polls against state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo (D) will make McConnell’s efforts all the more important.

From Monday through Oct. 29, McConnell will accompany Bunning on a statewide bus tour, and then will be at his side for a final fly-around of the state on Nov. 1.

Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.), once considered a prime GOP target, is cruising to re-election and will focus his efforts on doing events for Kerry in Nevada — one of the Democrat’s best pick-up opportunities of states won by Bush in 2000 — and working the phones for the DSCC.

Reid, who recently cut an ad on Kerry’s behalf that is on the air in Nevada, plans to do a press conference in Las Vegas today with Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

On Monday, Sen. Clinton sent out her own fundraising plea to supporters on her political action committee e-mail list urging them to make a donation so that she can in turn make donations to Democratic candidates across th country.