Dole, Coleman Sprint For Helm of NRSC

Posted November 3, 2004 at 5:48pm

With the dust from Tuesday’s Republican romp barely settled and Senate Democrats beginning the process of determining who their leader will be in the next Congress, both party caucuses in the chamber also were pondering the identity of their respective campaign chairmen for the 2006 cycle.

Both National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Jon Corzine (N.J.), are up for re-election in 2006 and therefore ineligible to head their party’s campaign efforts. Corzine is considered likely to run for governor next year, while Allen is seen as a potential 2008 presidential contender.

The race for NRSC chairman already is well under way, with Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) waging an aggressive behind-the-scenes battle for the post. The race heated up in the final weeks before Election Day, as Dole accelerated her campaigning for GOP Senate candidates across the country and made the pitch that her star power is what’s needed for the committee.

In an Oct. 26 letter that went out to most of the GOP Conference, Dole argued that she is better prepared to lead the NRSC than Coleman because her pre-established celebrity among GOP donors would help drive fundraising efforts.

“Because my name is well known to Republicans across the country, I believe I have the ability to substantially increase NRSC funding through traditional sources such as direct mail and telemarketing but also through new fundraising opportunities on the Internet,” she wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Roll Call.

Dole’s office declined to comment on the race, and in her letter to Senators she vowed to wage a behind-closed-doors race and not to let it be conducted in the media. She cited her experience managing the American Red Cross for eight years, raising $3.4 billion during that time, and running the departments of Transportation and Labor in previous GOP administrations.

Coleman, meanwhile, is using the expected 2006 Senate battleground — which is highly concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast — to make his case that he is best positioned to lead the committee next cycle.

Republicans are defending 15 seats and Democrats 17, including eight Democratic Senators who are seeking re-election for the first time. Among that group is Coleman’s home-state colleague, Sen. Mark Dayton (D), who is expected to face a strong challenge.

A critical voting bloc in the NRSC race could be the large class of incoming freshman GOP Senators, seven strong, as well as the nine Senate Republicans who took office after the 2002 elections. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was appointed after the ’02 midterms and won a full term Tuesday.

Both Coleman and Dole can lay claim to having some advantages among the new class.

Down the stretch, Coleman took over a NRSC fundraising drive for those critical races helping pump money into key battlegrounds. Dole was a big hit on the stump in the final weeks of the campaign, appearing on the road for every one of the incoming Senators with the exception of Rep. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), whose election was a foregone conclusion. Isakson also has ties to the Dole family, having chaired the Georgia presidential bid of Dole’s husband, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.).

So far neither Coleman nor Dole has made public his or her list of supporters, although a group of seven Coleman backers did release a letter in mid-October making a case for him. The Senators signing the letter intentionally were picked to try to demonstrate that Coleman has support from a wide political, geographical and generational base: Trent Lott (Miss.), Larry Craig (Idaho), Susan Collins (Maine), Jim Talent (Mo.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Mike DeWine (Ohio).

The NRSC selection will be made by the Republican Conference in an organizational meeting currently slated for Nov. 17, with all 55 Senators in office for the 109th Congress able to vote.

Democrats also are slated to meet that same week to decide their new leadership slate, although the contest for Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman is less developed at this point as the party seeks to restructure its leadership team following Tuesday’s defeat of Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.). Ultimately, the new leader will appoint the DSCC chairman.

Some leading Democrats believe that Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who cruised to a second term on Tuesday, could be first in line for the position if he wants it. If he decided to take the job, it would almost surely land him a highly prized seat on the Finance Committee, which will have at least one Democratic vacancy next Congress.

But Schumer has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2006, and his level of interest in the DSCC job remains unclear. A spokesman for the Senator did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

Sen. Evan Bayh’s (Ind.) name has also surfaced in the DSCC mix for next cycle, and Bayh has already felt out some major party donors about his potential interest in the job, according to knowledgeable Democratic sources.

Bayh would likely seek the same Finance seat deal, although his standing among party leaders may have been hurt by his failure to cut a sizeable check to party causes this cycle.

Bayh, who faced a noncompetitive re-election race this cycle and is considered a possible presidential contender in 2008, had $7.5 million still sitting in the bank on Oct. 13. His was the second largest war chest among Democratic Senators up for re-election behind Schumer, who showed almost $17 million in his campaign account at the end of September. Sources indicated that Bayh’s willingness to take on the DSCC role is likely to hinge on his presidential decision.

Schumer, however, was a leading contributor to the DSCC, giving the committee a total of $2.5 million in the later part of the cycle.

Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) has also been floated as a possible DSCC contender.

Although not yet elected, Sen.-elect Barack Obama (Ill.) was also a generous benefactor to the DSCC this year, and he has been mentioned as a potential vice chairman of the committee next Congress.

Obama, whose starpower skyrocketed following his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, raised more than $14.3 million for his bid to become the Senate’s only black Member. Obama also helped to funnel more than $1 million to Democratic candidates and causes in the waning days of the campaign and traveled the country on their behalf.