NRSC Chief Feeling More Optimistic

Says Loss of 2 Seats Would Be Good Day

Posted September 17, 2008 at 6:27pm

More than half a dozen Senators have recently ponied up to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) said at a news conference Wednesday.

A month ago, Ensign asked his Senate colleagues in safe seats to transfer funds from their campaign accounts and help out the cash-strapped committee.

Most recently, Sen. Kit Bond (Mo.) gave $150,000, Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.) gave $250,000, Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) gave $250,000 and Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.) gave $200,000, according to the committee.

“In the next several weeks, we expect others to be following suit with either that much or even larger amounts,” Ensign said.

In the committee’s first pen-and-pad briefing of the 2008 cycle, Ensign also said he has transferred an additional $300,000 out of his campaign committee to the NRSC, for a total of $500,000 this cycle.

Earlier this cycle, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) transferred $260,000, Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) transferred $100,000 and Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) transferred $100,000. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) also transferred an additional $50,000 recently for a total of $100,000 this cycle.

Ensign also announced that the committee had raised $5.1 million in August and expected to be $8 million ahead in cash on hand compared to this point in the 2006 cycle. As of the end of July, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had almost $43 million in cash on hand, while the NRSC had about $25.4 million in the bank.

The DSCC was not prepared to discuss its latest fundraising figures Wednesday.

An optimistic Ensign said he felt better about Senate Republicans’ prospects now than at any other point this cycle. He said that out of the top 10 races — and the NRSC is almost exclusively playing defense this cycle — about six or seven were polling within the margin of error.

“Now, I used to say that four seats would be a pretty darn good night, if we only lost four seats,” Ensign said. “Well, I feel much better than I used to feel. I think it’s possible for us to hold a little water and only lose one or two seats. That’s possible.”

After retaking the majority in the 2006 elections, Democrats currently hold a 51-49 seat edge in the Senate.

Of the seats in play, Ensign said he considered the races in Colorado, New Hampshire, Alaska, North Carolina, Minnesota and Oregon to be within the margin of error.

The Nevada Republican also pointed to two states where he said Republicans had leads outside the margin of error: Maine, where Sen. Susan Collins (R) consistently polls double-digit leads over Rep. Tom Allen (D), and to a lesser degree, Mississippi, where Ensign said Sen. Roger Wicker (R) leads former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D). Ensign said Democrats held leads outside the margin of error in both the Virginia and New Mexico open-seat races.

The Nevada Senator acknowledged that polls in some of the committee’s targeted Senate races had already perked up in August because of the energy debate, but said that the addition of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to the national ticket also helped.

“We felt that the momentum already starting to move in our direction,” Ensign said. “And there’s no question though, that Sarah Palin has given that much more energy to our side.”

Ensign said he had not spoken yet with the Alaska governor about fundraising for his Senate candidates, but hopes she’ll be able to help.

Meanwhile, Democrats made their own push for their Senate candidates Wednesday. In an e-mail from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, former President Bill Clinton asked donors to help the party attain 60 seats in the Senate.

“The DSCC must raise $4.4 million in September alone to make it possible,” Clinton wrote in the e-mail. “If DSCC fundraising comes up short, they have to pick and choose where to compete and we’ll lose races we could’ve won.”

In the fundraising pitch, Clinton evoked Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, writing that the Illinois Senator’s “job will be a whole lot easier with more Democrats in the Senate.”