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Rep. Menendez to Head DCCC’s ‘Frontline’ Effort

Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) will head up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline Democrats” fundraising effort and has set a $1 million fundraising goal for the organization.

Formed earlier this year by DCCC Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.), Frontline will urge more Democratic Members to try to swell their ranks in the House by donating to their most vulnerable colleagues. The program is seen as an answer to Republicans’ Retain Our Majority Program, which was initiated by Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) in the 2000 cycle. The 2004 incarnation of ROMP has set a fundraising goal of $750,000 for its first event.

Menendez said the primary reason he took on the added responsibilities of chairing Frontline was that returning vulnerable incumbents to Congress is a “significant part of ensuring our march to the majority.”

Republicans currently hold a 12-seat majority in the House after picking up six seats in the 2002 election.

Nineteen House Democrats are slated to be beneficiaries of Frontline, according to a statement of organization filed with the Federal Election Commission on April 18.

Joint fundraising committees, which have come into vogue over the past several cycles, allow party organizations to collect checks into a single fund from which they then can parcel out contributions to any candidate affiliated with the organization.

“This is a big deal for us in terms of our incumbent retention,” Matsui said of Menendez’s decision. “We needed someone with stature outside of the Beltway, status within the Caucus and fundraising ability.”

Menendez, first elected to his northern New Jersey House seat in 1992, is clearly one of the most prolific fundraisers in the House, with a national network of Hispanic contributors, as well as close connections to the affluent donor community in New York City.

In the 2002 cycle, Menendez gave $260,500 to the DCCC from his campaign committee and an additional $675,500 from his leadership political action committee to Democratic candidates.

Menendez acknowledged that while he is willing to do “anything that is necessary” to help the Frontline Democrats, his fundraising prowess will be the “primary component” of his involvement.

“We want to give Members the financial wherewithal to help them run their campaigns,” Menendez said.

The New Jersey Congressman has already begun fundraising for the group, holding a May 22 coffee klatsch at the DCCC in which a handful of Members representing less competitive seats sat down with their vulnerable colleagues. The safer incumbents brought along $1,000 checks for the Frontline program, Menendez said.

Another coffee is scheduled for next week, and Menendez said he will almost certainly hold a third before the June 30 FEC filing deadline.

Menendez’s involvement was touted by the DCCC as a symbol of a newfound financial dedication to retaking the House from within the Democratic Caucus.

“Having Menendez shows the degree to which our Caucus’ membership is going to drive the success of this organization,” said a DCCC aide. “For it to be successful it needed to be something that the entire Caucus could get behind.”

In the first four months of 2003, more than 60 Members have given nearly $1.6 million to the DCCC, roughly 20 percent of the $8.9 million the committee has raised.

Despite the largess of the Members, House Democrats still trailed their Republican counterparts badly in overall funds raised.

The National Republican Congressional Committee ended April with $31 million raised.

The DCCC has been significantly more frugal, however, and finished April with $5.9 million on hand to the NRCC’s $1.7 million. The NRCC has erased its debt, while the DCCC is more than $5 million in arrears.

There are few surprises on the list of Members targeted for support.

The roster includes five freshmen — Reps. Rodney Alexander (La.), Tim Bishop (N.Y.), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.), Jim Marshall (Ga.) and Mike Michaud (Maine) — and three Democrats each from Texas (Reps. Charlie Stenholm, Chet Edwards and Max Sandlin) and Pennsylvania (Reps. Paul Kanjorski, Joe Hoeffel and Tim Holden).

The remaining names are a who’s who of past targets: Reps. Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Baron Hill (Ind.), Darlene Hooley (Ore.), Rick Larsen (Wash.), Ken Lucas (Ky.), Dennis Moore (Kan.) and Earl Pomeroy (N.D.).

With the exception of Sandlin and Kanjorski, every member of the Frontline program received 55 percent or less of the vote in 2002.

Sandlin took 56.5 percent against a lackluster opponent, but his East Texas 1st district gave George W. Bush better than 60 percent in the 2000 presidential election.

Kanjorski’s situation is quite different as questions surrounding his potential involvement in steering federal funds to businesses run by his family members led House Republicans to the brink of filing a complaint with the ethics committee in the past cycle.

Kanjorski still won his strongly Democratic northeastern Pennsylvania district with 56 percent, though that was his lowest vote total in his 10-term congressional career.

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