Friday, August 22, 2008

Senate GOP hurting for campaign money

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Republican prospects in U.S. Senate races this November grew grimmer Friday, as the head of the party's campaign arm announced he must reduce its budget because GOP senators are raising too little money.

"I recently challenged my colleagues to step up to the plate and help me provide the resources our candidates need to compete in races across the country," Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said in a statement. "It has become clear that my call has gone largely unanswered....

"I have had no choice but to decrease the total budget" for running ad campaigns on behalf of GOP Senate candidates, Ensign said.

The announcement highlights the chances that better-financed Democrats will expand their 51-seat majority in the Senate. It would take nine victories for Democrats to reach a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority, a goal their campaign team is calling very difficult, but not impossible.

Ensign had conceded earlier that the GOP will lose two to four seats. The National Republican Senatorial Committee that he chairs has about $25 million cash on-hand, compared with nearly $43 million for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In recent days Ensign's committee has canceled ad buys that had been scheduled to begin next month in North Carolina, Colorado, Oregon and New Hampshire, all states with contested Senate races, according to Matthew Miller, spokesman for the rival Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Miller said he knew that from contacting TV stations in the states.

NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said she didn't know details on her committee's so-called independent expenditures and couldn't give specifics on the size of the budget decrease.

Ensign has said the Democrats have bought $44.8 million in TV ad time on targeted Senate seats for the fall. He did not identify by name the Republican senators who are not meeting fundraising goals for the committee.

Party campaign committees in the House and Senate typically encourage — even demand — donations from lawmakers, and it's not uncommon for lawmakers to fail to oblige to the extent their party leaders want.

But Ensign, who took over the NRSC chairmanship after the Republicans' dismal 2006 election showing, has been unusually public in pressuring his colleagues in a very difficult political environment for the GOP.

"It's extremely difficult because failure breeds failure, and contributors are less likely to spend money on a losing cause," said Jack Pitney, a congressional specialist at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. "Republicans just need to adapt to the conditions in each individual state, because if this election is a referendum on the state of the country, then they're going to do very badly."

In addition to Americans' pessimism about the direction of the country, as reflected in polls, other factors have lined up against Senate Republicans. There are 35 Senate seats up for election this year, 23 held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats, so Republicans are playing defense.

Plus, five Republican senators are retiring, but no Democrats are. Incumbents typically have an advantage over open-seat candidates.

And in Alaska, normally safe ground for the GOP, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens is running for re-election while under federal indictment on charges of lying about getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from an oil services firm.

Democrats say their candidates are ahead in five GOP-held seats: Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico and Alaska.

In six others, they say their candidates are close: Oregon, Minnesota, North Carolina, Maine, Kentucky and Mississippi.

Still, Miller, the Democrats' Senate campaign spokesman, declined to gloat on Friday.

"With new secretive Republican front groups appearing every day to attack Democratic candidates, there is no shortage of money on their side, but all we can do is work hard to match our goals and we are on course to do that," Miller said in a statement.

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