Placing concerns about fundraising over any potential political backlash, Congressional Democrats plan to seek extensive assistance from the most recent former occupants of the White House in the 2004 campaign.
While they have yet to secure specific commitments from former President Bill Clinton and ex-Vice President Al Gore, Democratic leaders said their participation will help energize donors and voters in an election year in which presidential politics will dominate the political landscape.
A senior Senate Democratic aide with close ties to the leadership said Clinton’s involvement is viewed as essential to help compete with the GOP fundraising machine, especially in a new campaign finance environment in which soft money is banned.
“Every CEO, mogul, heiress, celebrity, athlete [and] rich person will take his call or return his call,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Just as important, the aide said, “He is not shy about making the ‘ask’ nor turning on the charm in advance to build up to it.”
“We will ask him to help individual candidates,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) said of Clinton. “He certainly came into New Jersey and helped [Sen.] Frank Lautenberg [D-N.J.]. He came into New Jersey and helped Jon Corzine.
“I hope he will do that for a number of our candidates both in our fundraising and politically stimulating the base,” Corzine added.
The New Jersey Democrat said he spoke to Clinton about playing a role in the 2004 elections about four months ago and the former president expressed a willingness to help. Corzine said he expects he will have “some conversations this summer” with Clinton to discuss the matter further.
House Democratic campaign officials have also contacted Clinton and upon his request forwarded him internal DCCC documents outlining their political strategy for 2004.
“We sent him a copy of the [Republican] districts we are targeting,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.). “We also sent him a copy of the Democratic Members of our ‘Frontline’ group.” (Frontline is a program aimed at boosting the prospects of vulnerable Democratic incumbents.)
“We intend to be talking with him, and there are things we are going to request that he be involved in, and we understand he is certainly willing to help in any way he can,” the California Democrat added.
In addition, Matsui said he spoke to Gore earlier this year and the former vice president pledged to be active on behalf of Democratic candidates.
“He said he would be very happy to help us,” Matsui said. “We will be calling on him later in the fall or 2004.”
A spokesperson for Gore confirmed the former vice president’s willingness to play a role in the upcoming elections. “He plans to be very active in helping Democrats next year,” the spokesperson said.
Jim Kennedy, Clinton’s spokesman, also said, “President Clinton looks forward to being helpful to the Democratic Party and its candidates in 2004.”
The presence of the former president on the campaign trail will give Congressional Democrats a one-two Clinton punch in 2004, capitalizing on the popularity of the first family of Democratic politics. Already, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) is intimately involved in helping the DSCC and individual Democratic candidates raise funds as she barnstorms across the U.S. on a tour to promote her new book, “Living History.”
The New York Senator said she could not speak to what role her husband might play in the upcoming elections.
Republicans think they too can benefit from the former president’s involvement in the upcoming Congressional races, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee has already begun to use Sen. Clinton’s name as a fundraising tool.
“Hillary and Bill, huh,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.). “That is fine. They certainly would be welcome by many Republican candidates in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and, for that matter, Florida South Dakota, Arkansas, Nevada.
“Since [Minority Leader Tom] Daschle is running TV ads already, ask him if he is going to bring in Bill Clinton into South Dakota,” Allen added. Daschle faces re-election in a state in which President Bush defeated Gore by 22 percentage points in 2000.
But Daschle dismissed Allen’s comments and said he would “absolutely” welcome a campaign visit by Clinton or Gore to South Dakota.
“We would welcome their involvement and participation all over the country,” Daschle said.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who could face a tough re-election battle next year if Gov. Mike Huckabee or former Rep. Asa Hutchinson decides to run, said she too would welcome a visit by favorite son Clinton.
“We are going to work to see if we can’t find a mutual date that might work out,” she said.
Still, other Democrats seeking re-election are unlikely to ask Clinton for direct help.
While describing Clinton as a “prodigious fundraiser,” Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) said he doesn’t “suspect” Clinton or, for that matter, Gore will be “assigned” to help him with his race.
“I assume he will be used to raise funds in areas where he has done better than North Dakota,” Dorgan said of Clinton.
Gore lost to Bush by 28 percentage points in 2000 and former Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (Kan.) carried the state by 7 percentage points in 1996 in the presidential contest won by Clinton.
The most recent fundraising reports submitted by the four Congressional fundraising committees show the GOP is winning the money raising battle. In the first six months of this year, the NRSC had raised $14 million compared to the $10 million raked in by the DSCC. Across the Capitol, the National Republican Congressional Committee took in $44 million, while the DCCC raised $14 million.
As of June 30, the NRSC had $5 million cash on hand compared to the $2 million the DSCC had in the bank. In the House, Democrats and Republicans both have more than $6 million cash on hand.
But the DCCC still owes more than $2.5 million from the 2002 campaign, while the DSCC’s debt from the past election cycle is $4.5 million.
With the exception of his comments last week on CNN’s “Larry King Live” about the flap over President Bush’s claim that Iraq tried to acquire uranium from Africa, Clinton has remained largely out of the limelight since he left office in January 2001. Instead, he has chosen to allow his wife to assume the role of chief politician of the family.
Since leaving office, Clinton has been raising money to help pay for his presidential library which is scheduled to open next year, as well as writing a book and engaging in philanthropy.
But despite his relatively low profile, the former president remains popular with Democratic voters, who dismiss his impeachment by the Republican-controlled House in December 1998 as partisan politics.
“Bill Clinton is still the most potent fundraising attraction in the Democratic Party, and his active participation in fundraising makes a real difference for organizations,” said one influential Democratic strategist, who asked not to be named. “There is no one who can light up a room of Democratic donors like the former president.”