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Capitol Home to Rangers

The Bush-Cheney re-election team has found some of its top money men and women at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, with at least a half-dozen Members of Congress already earning top fundraising status.

Three GOP Senators and three House Members have so far earned the campaign’s so-called “Ranger” status, having raised at least $200,000 for President Bush’s re-election effort, according to Members, aides and sources close to the campaign.

Along with Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.), Reps. Jennifer Dunn (Wash.) and Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Gordon Smith (Ore.) have all hit the Ranger mark, which was created this year to be the top-flight level for the campaign’s money brokers. In the 2000 campaign — when donations were limited to $1,000, half as much as today’s financing laws — the Bush campaign awarded “Pioneer” status to anyone who could bundle together $100,000 in donations, a status that only two Congressional Republicans achieved that cycle, including Dunn.

“I like raising money. I like to call my friends and talk to them,” said Dunn, who said she has raised $500,000 so far this year for Bush-Cheney ’04 Inc.

And more high-dollar donor work is under way from Congressional Republicans on behalf of Bush and Vice President Cheney, and not necessarily from the expected sources of veteran fundraisers in the House and Senate.

Take Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), 42, who was just elected to her fourth term and has no chairmanships at the committee or subcommittee level. Wilson and her husband, Jay Hone, were scheduled to host a fundraiser among her supporters Saturday in Albuquerque. Without any special speakers from Bush’s inner circle or guests from the administration, the couple set a goal of raising $70,000 for the president’s campaign.

That’s only the first down payment in the couple’s fundraising work for Bush, as they expect to soon cross the $100,000 barrier to become Pioneers and have an outside shot at achieving Ranger status. “They’re working their way to becoming Pioneers, and I think they’ll be successful,” said Jane Altwies, Wilson’s top fundraiser.

Early next month, after the quarterly Sept. 30 filing deadline, the Bush-Cheney campaign will publish the official list of Rangers and Pioneers, at which point the total number of Members who have earned those fundraising levels will be revealed.

Members kicked into a higher gear for Bush-Cheney in the third quarter, as the president and vice president began to seriously travel the nation in search of dollars for a campaign that is expected to shatter every conceivable fundraising and spending record.

As of June 30, just one Member — Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee — had achieved even Pioneer status, along with 44 other Pioneers, according to the campaign. At that point 23 people, including just one politician, New York Gov. George Pataki (R), had become Rangers.

Reynolds became a Ranger this quarter, as did the handful of other Members. Coleman, for instance, was a key fundraiser for a Bush-Cheney event in St. Paul on Aug. 26 that brought in about $1.4 million for the re-election effort.

Coleman declined to say how much of that haul was credited to him but said it was more than $200,000 and less than $500,000. “It’s bigger than a bread box,” he joked.

Dunn said the first $100,000 she raised came through a letter to her supporters and then some follow-up calls. The next $400,000 came at an event in Washington when Bush visited, an easier sell to donors who actually saw the president rather than just cutting a check.

Hastert has been a driving force in raising dollars for Bush-Cheney, instructing his GOP Conference earlier this summer to give to the presidential re-election committee. “A lot of people feel very strongly about our connection to the president and his success,” said Rep. David Dreier (Calif.), whom Hastert deputized as the point man for rounding up checks from GOP Members. “We understand how important his success is to us.”

The Speaker has also raised money in Illinois and is co-chairing a multimillion-dollar event for Bush-Cheney in Chicago on Sept. 30.

It’s unclear how much money Hastert has raised for Bush-Cheney ’04, but Members and aides said he is well past the Ranger mark and is working harder than almost any other Member.

Getting precise credit for all the money a Member brings in is sometimes a not-so-fine art. For big events out on the hustings, a home-state Senator or House Member usually guarantees that he or she will sell a certain number of tickets, and all the dollars from those tables get credited to who sold the tickets, according to one GOP source.

Chambliss, for example, said he knew he had crossed the Ranger barrier after all the checks had been cashed and credited from a $2.4 million event in late June in Georgia, but he wasn’t sure exactly how much he had raised. “I don’t even know the exact figure,” he said.

Some lawmakers aren’t concerned about the moniker that they achieve but are just as busy hitting up donors on behalf of the president. Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) said he had no idea whether he would become a Ranger or a Pioneer but is instead focused on trying to help raise at least $1 million for a Bush-Cheney event in Las Vegas sometime next month.

Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), a powerful member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, was one of the first Pioneers for Bush in 1999.

This time around Barton has demurred, pleading too many other responsibilities in terms of leading the fundraising effort for the NRCC portion of the President’s Dinner in May and playing a key role in the Texas redistricting battle. Nonetheless, Barton said most of the contributors he rounded up in 1999 are already into the Bush team’s donor base and have given to the presidential campaign without Barton’s request — and some of them are on their way to becoming Pioneers and Rangers themselves.

“Where I actually was able to help them find new people [in 1999], they’ve already got those people plugged in,” he said.

Motivations for raising the money may vary, but some aides privately suggest hauling in big dollars for Bush-Cheney is another way for Members to demonstrate to their peers their fundraising prowess as they consider potential jumps into leadership.

And some of the lawmakers have clearly benefited from the White House’s campaign efforts themselves, particularly Coleman and Chambliss, who received several presidential visits for fundraisers and campaign rallies during their successful Senate races last year.

But Chambliss said his motivation was out of loyalty to Bush, not payback. “Whether I had run last time or not, I’m going to do everything I can to help re-elect the president,” he said.

And for most of these Members, just because they’ve already become Rangers, their work is far from finished.

“I’m going to do everything I’m asked to do,” Chambliss said.

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