DSCC Loves Last Week

Posted March 14, 2008 at 6:13pm

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) began the two-week recess period exuding confidence that recent developments have left Senate Democrats in a stronger position than ever to pick up seats in November.

“It’s been a great week and a half for us,” Schumer said in an interview Friday.

DSCC officials are so convinced that the political headlines of recent weeks have been favorable for their candidates that they sent out a fundraising e-mail Friday saying just that.

Since early March, the Arkansas filing deadline has passed without Sen. Mark Pryor (D) getting a single challenger; Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) lost his toughest potential challenger when businesswoman Anne Evans Estabrook (R) dropped out of the race for health reasons; former South Dakota Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby (R) announced that he would not challenge Sen. Tim Johnson (D); and on Friday, the Iowa filing deadline passed without Sen. Tom Harkin (D) getting a major challenger.

“Our first and foremost goal is protecting our incumbents, and when we started we were worried about six incumbents,” Schumer said in the interview. “This week and last week, numbers two, three and four were getting shored up. Now, the only one with a significant race is [Sen. Mary Landrieu in] Louisiana.”

With Senate Republicans defending almost twice as many seats as Democrats — 23-12 — it was inevitable that the DSCC would largely be able to focus on its offense in 2008.

“With twice as many seats to defend than Democrats, this cycle has been more about defending our incumbent and open seats than it has been about offense,” said Rebecca Fisher, communications director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “We feel we have been very successful there and we are confident we will be returning all of our Republican Senators to Congress.”

Still, now that Democrats are convinced that all of their incumbents save Landrieu are safe, they believe they can finally, formally chart their strategy.

“It’s like a chess game,” Schumer said. “You do well in one area, it frees you up to concentrate on other areas.”

Indeed, the Democrats also got welcome news in recent days when it comes to their attempts to win Republican-held seats. In Minnesota, wealthy attorney Mike Ciresi (D) dropped out of the nominating contest, paving the way for comedian Al Franken (D) to concentrate on his general election matchup with Sen. Norm Coleman (R). Minnesota, which has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since 1972, remains one of their best pickup opportunities of the cycle. And in Kansas, Democrats put forward a credible challenger to Sen. Pat Roberts (R) last week in former Rep. Jim Slattery (D).

Some Republicans have suggested that Schumer’s talk is all bluster. They note that DSCC recruiting has not been as stellar as the committee is trying to make it sound, as Democrats missed the opportunity to attract top-tier candidates into the races in Nebraska, Texas, Kentucky and North Carolina.

What’s more, although the DSCC still has high hopes for ousting Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) this cycle given the Democratic lean of their states, polls have shown the incumbents leading so far.

Nevertheless, Democrats appear strong in open-seat races for Republican-held seats in Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado, and most polls have shown former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) with a significant lead over first-term Sen. John Sununu (R). In Alaska, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) has opened an exploratory committee, and he is seen as the best possible candidate Democrats could recruit into the race against embattled Sen. Ted Stevens (R).