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NRCC Poised For Windfall

In a sharp departure from past years, the National Republican Congressional Committee stands to take nearly twice as much money as its Senate counterpart away from tonight’s dinner honoring President Bush at the new Washington Convention Center. Overall receipts from the dinner are now projected to reach $18 million or more.

While the NRCC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have traditionally split the take from the dinner down the middle, the House committee is poised tonight to bank roughly $5 million more than the NRSC.

Bush’s enormous popularity has enabled both committees to raise far more than originally anticipated for the event. Less than one week ago GOP operatives were setting the expectations at $10 million, an estimate they now say could eventually double when all the checks are counted.

“It’s still coming. There are the amounts we’ve already received, and then there are the pledges,” said Sen. George Allen (Va.), chairman of the NRSC.

But whatever the final haul is, top Republican officials say the NRCC’s take will dwarf that of their Senate counterparts. By midday Tuesday, the NRCC had sold $11.4 million worth of tickets to the event, compared to the $6.4 million the NRSC had raised for the dinner, according to Republican insiders.

At $2,500 per ticket, more than 7,000 people are expected to attend the event, which will kick off with the Oak Ridge Boys singing the national anthem. With a president who is notoriously fussy about appearing high-brow — he’s already done one black-tie event this week, a state dinner — Bush has instructed those Senators and House Members who will be sitting at the head table not to wear tuxedos, according to Allen.

Otherwise, the event is black-tie optional.

In previous years, the joint dinner run by the two committees and dubbed the “President’s Dinner” when the GOP controls the White House has been a 50-50 split in terms of receipts and costs. Last year’s event raised roughly $30 million, split evenly between the NRCC and the NRSC.

But money was easier to raise in the pre-McCain-Feingold days, with roughly three-fourths of the 2002 President’s Dinner total coming in the form of the now-illegal soft-money donations from wealthy individuals, corporations and other special interests.

Without any soft money to rely on this year, the two committees decided to determine this year’s split strictly on the basis of how much each chamber raised for the event, something that gave the aggressive House Republicans an inherent advantage.

“The House has 200-plus guys calling, but we have only 10 to 15,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), who is in charge of organizing the NRSC’s fundraising effort for the dinner.

House GOP leaders said their Members worked hard to outshine their Senate counterparts, with the knowledge that whatever they raised would go to benefit the NRCC.

“That’s been a real motivator,” said Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the lead House fundraiser for tonight’s gathering.

The new limits on individual donors also add an extra layer of competition between the House and Senate committees for both political parties. Under the old laws, wealthy individuals could cut large, unlimited checks to Congressional campaign committees and the national party committees.

Now, however, individual donors can give just $95,000 over the two-year election cycle, with $37,500 of that money going to candidates for the House, Senate and White House. Out of the remaining $57,500, donors can give to national party committees, state parties, and other political action committees.

On top of those biannual limits, individuals can give just $25,000 per year to Congressional campaign committees, prompting some wealthy donors to say they plan to choose a single party committee to which they will give their money.

While top party officials declined to say what they thought the final totals for the split between the two committees would be, a number of them expressed amazement at how much so-called hard money they’ve been able to raise for the event.

“I’m not griping, we’ve done well,” Hatch said.

“It’s a great success,” Allen added.

Senators from both parties have traditionally been far more reluctant to make the necessary phone calls to raise money for their party committees. And for Republicans, the two chambers operate in distinctly differing fashions in terms of handing out key perks such as committee assignments and chairmanships.

For House Republicans, fundraising and party loyalty are a requirement for getting key assignments. For Senate Republicans, seniority in the chamber always has the final say in terms of who gets which assignment and which gavel.

One top House Republican, speaking on the condition of anonymity, jokingly equated the old system, with its 50-50 split between the NRSC and NRCC, with “socialism. It’s a whole new world now.”

Tonight’s event is expected to have a very serious tone, with a strong emphasis on Bush’s stewardship of the nation since Sept. 11, 2001. In addition to Bush, Allen and NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) will get to speak, as will Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

After dinner, the tone will turn much peppier, as Hatch and Camp are expected announce the final haul of the night.

Hatch or Camp will then introduce the commander in chief’s favorite self-proclaimed party band: “Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes,” a five-piece band from Austin, Texas, featuring three sequin-clad female singers playing tunes from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.