Reid’s Chairmen Come to His Aid

Posted May 17, 2010 at 6:38pm

Facing a brutal re-election battle, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is taking the extraordinary step of leaning on Democratic leadership to shake the money tree on his behalf before the Memorial Day recess, headlining a breakfast fundraiser alongside 15 of his committee chairmen.

Billed as a “pre-primary breakfast” honoring the Nevada Democrat, the Wednesday morning fundraiser at the Liaison hotel on Capitol Hill is drawing Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.), Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.), Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (Mich.) and Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (Conn.), according to the invitation. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois and Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer of New York are also listed on the invitation.

Suggested contributions for hosts are $2,500 for political action committees and $1,000 for individuals, which includes priority seating. Guests are encouraged to contribute $1,500 per PAC and $500 for individuals, the invitation says.

The lineup underscores how important the race is to Senate Democrats, who don’t want another leader taken out by Republicans, several lobbyists said.

“It’s not just the leader who is taking this race seriously, the entire Democratic caucus is taking it seriously,” Paul Equale of Equale & Associates said.

Also attending the event are: Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (Mass.), Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (Iowa), and Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.). So are Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Aging Chairman Herb Kohl (Wis.).

Reid won his last election in Nevada with 61 percent of the vote, but his other elections have been close and he has been trailing his prospective Republican challengers in polls for several months.

It’s unclear how much money the campaign is aiming to raise at the event, but the Senate race is expected to be the most expensive in Nevada history.

Reid’s campaign would not say what its fundraising goals are for the breakfast.

“The Republicans have made him a top target in this election,” Reid campaign spokesman Jon Summers said. “He’s got the strong support of his caucus and this is evidence of that.”

Democratic lobbyist Larry O’Brien of the OB-C Group said it was “highly unusual” to have so many chairmen come together for one event.

“The alarm bell has got to go off pretty darn early to go to a 7:45 a.m. breakfast,” O’Brien said. “It shows the seriousness of the race and the degree of fondness and respect that a lot of Harry’s colleagues have for him.”

One senior Senate Democratic aide said the event is a way for Senators to also show their support.

“It’s a natural type of event for them to hold in D.C.,” the aide said. The aide added that Senators “did not hesitate to [accept the invite], because it’s an opportunity for them to show loyalty. … Democratic Members are looking for any opportunity to help out Harry Reid.”

The aide noted that events are common with one or two chairmen in attendance but “they’re rolling out the big guns for the Majority Leader.” The aide acknowledged, “It’s one-stop shopping for lobbyists.”

Reid’s fundraising apparatus has been in high gear for the last year and a half. He had raised about $11.3 million with about $9.4 million in cash on hand by the end of March, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Many of the Senators participating in the fundraiser have already contributed financially to Reid’s re-election. Conrad, Dodd, Durbin, Feinstein, Harkin and Rockefeller all maxed out through their leadership PACs to Reid’s campaign, contributing $10,000 each, according to FEC records. Bingaman contributed $2,000 while Levin contributed another $4,000.

Not only are they putting their own money behind Reid, the Senators are now asking their supporters to do the same, lobbyists say.

“Having an event like this allows folks to go beyond just Sen. Reid’s core contributors,” said a former Democratic leadership aide, who is now working downtown. “It expands your range of donors.”

Another senior Democratic lobbyist said, “You are going to get a lot of personal dollars out of guys who typically aren’t in his sphere.”

The Nevada Senate race is key for both Democrats and Republicans, and the GOP would dearly love to have Reid as a trophy, much as then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) was when he lost re-election in South Dakota six years ago.

While Republicans inside the Beltway have largely stayed out of the Nevada Republican race, that is expected to change after the June primary.

Nevada Republican Senate candidates, including one of the frontrunners, former state GOP chief Sue Lowden, have done a series of meet-and-greets inside the Beltway over the past several months.

Jade West of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors said she would be open to running a “team” fundraising operation for the Republican primary winner. West ran a similar effort for now-Sen. John Thune (R) in his successful attempt to unseat Daschle in South Dakota.

“There’s nothing that Harry Reid has done that has advanced the free enterprise system,” West said of her willingness to take charge of Republican Senate candidates’ Washington fundraising.

“Reid has something of the same problem Daschle did in 2004. He has 100 percent name ID, so there’s a law of diminishing return for how much good advertising will do,” she added.

Still, Reid supporters say that while the Senator knows it’s going to be a tough race, he also believes it is winnable, which is why he is asking his colleagues for help.

“It is a very, very competitive race,” the former leadership aide said. “Any incumbent now has to take every race seriously. He is not going to leave a stone unturned.”

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.