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The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $4.4 million in the first quarter of 2003, including a whopping $2.8 million in March alone, setting a new hard-dollar record for the organization in the first quarter of an election cycle.

Nearly 25 percent of the committee’s take for the reporting period, which also covers expenditures and disbursements from Jan. 1 to March 31, came from a March 4 fundraiser at a Washington hotel that netted $1.1 million, according to Communications Director Michael Siegel.

Another event held this month at the Northwest Washington home of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) raised $500,000 for the committee.

Also included in the committee’s take is a $25,000 personal donation from DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.), a wealthy investment banker who spent better than $60 million of his own money to win his Senate seat in 2000.

“The fact that we are in the position we are in right now says something about the creativity and aggressiveness of Senator Corzine and also the participation of the Democratic Caucus,” Siegel said.

The DSCC’s financial showing is tempered somewhat by the more than $6 million it still carries in debt from the 2002 cycle. Also, the committee did not make public Friday the amount it spent or how much it had left in the bank. All campaign finance reports will be available for public viewing in early April.

Although the National Republican Senatorial Committee did not release its numbers Friday, it is widely expected that the GOP committee will eclipse its Democratic counterpart.

Through February, the NRSC had raised $3.2 million with $1.1 million left in the bank. It carried just $386,000 in debt at the end of last month.

“We are very pleased with where we are at,” said NRSC Communications Director Dan Allen. “We are pleased that we weren’t burdened with a $5 million debt to start the cycle.”

Siegel retorted that while fundraising is important, Democrats are certain to have an issues edge over Republicans in 2004.

“We are talking about a presidential election year and a cycle where issues are going to matter as much as money raised,” Siegel said. “No matter how much money Republicans raise they can’t cover up their abysmal domestic record.”

The DSCC’s take is a significant increase from this point in the 2002 cycle, when they had raised $2.9 million in hard money through the end of March. The committee had also brought in roughly $1.5 million in soft, nonfederal contributions, which are now banned under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

Siegel emphasized that in order to stay competitive in an all-hard-money world, Corzine has repeatedly urged his colleagues to aggressively work their own donor bases to raise funds for the committee.

“There has been a tremendous increase in terms of Senators coming over to the DSCC and putting in the hours” making phone calls, Siegel said. “There is a real drive and desire right now that is displayed by those Senators who are working their donors and putting the pressure on.”

At first glance, Senate Democrats have an uphill fight to retake the majority they lost in the 2002 elections. Of the 34 Senators up for re-election in 2004, 19 are Democrats, while 15 are Republicans.

Only one seat is currently open, that of Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), who announced his retirement in January. Rep. Johnny Isakson (R) is the only announced candidate in the race; state Attorney General Thurbert Baker (D) is considering a candidacy.

Democrats are coming off of a difficult 2002 cycle in the Peach State, as Sen. Max Cleland (D) was defeated by then-Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R) and Gov. Roy Barnes (D) was ousted in the most surprising result in the country.

The ever-burgeoning field of presidential candidates also makes Democrats’ future uncertain. Sens. John Edwards (N.C.) and Bob Graham (Fla.) are both pursuing their party’s presidential nomination, and it remains unclear whether either will seek re-election in 2004.

Rep. Richard Burr (R) is already in the North Carolina Senate race, raising money and traveling the state. In the Sunshine State, Rep. Mark Foley (R) is running, as is former Rep. Bill McCollum (R).

Democrats are most keen on their chances in Illinois, where Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R) has struggled to unify the party behind his candidacy. Already four Democrats are seeking the right to challenge Fitzgerald in November 2004.

Other Democratic opportunities come in Alaska, where the DSCC has recently released a poll showing that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is vulnerable [see related story, page 11], as well as Missouri and Kentucky.

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