DSCC Turning Corner?

Posted January 16, 2004 at 5:58pm

New Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director David Rudd downplayed the circumstances surrounding his hiring last week while touting the strength of the 2004 Democratic recruiting class in an interview Friday.

“That is water under the bridge,” said Rudd when asked about last week’s surprise resignation by Andy Grossman, who had led the campaign committee for the past year. “I think it is a going-forward enterprise from here.”

Rudd, a South Carolina native, will start full time at the DSCC today after spending much of the past week divesting himself from his lobbying interests in The Palmetto Group, from which he will take a leave of absence.

“Nobody moves to Washington to be a lobbyist,” said Rudd. “You come because you have politics in your blood and you enjoy it.”

Grossman had worked at the committee since the 2000 cycle, when he was deputy executive director. He moved up to political director in the following cycle and was chosen to head the committee in December 2002.

But Grossman and DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) had a strained relationship that progressively worsened over the past several months, Democratic sources said.

Corzine called Grossman’s departure and Rudd’s hiring “bittersweet.”

Anita Dunn, a Democratic media consultant with close ties to the DSCC, called Grossman a “respected and well-liked leader.” She added: “There is a sense [at the DSCC] that it is 2004 and let’s go out and do this thing.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen scoffed that a change at the top of the DSCC will alter the campaign’s dynamic.

“What David Rudd is about to realize is the is a reason why the old executive director left,” Allen said. “Democrats are in sad shape with less than 300 days out, financially as well as having to defend open seats in areas that are good for us.”

For the moment, however, Rudd’s hiring has stoked a wave of optimism at the DSCC.

Prior to his lobbying post, Rudd spent eight years in the office of Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.). Rudd managed Hollings’ 1992 and 1998 successful re-election bids. Hollings is retiring in 2004.

Rudd also has a strong relationship with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Rudd’s wife, Cari, worked for the South Dakota Senator and more recently served as president of Daschle Democrats, an organization formed in the 2002 cycle to fight back against outside interest groups attacking the Senator.

Those familiar with Rudd’s selection point to his close Hill ties as well as his proven record of winning races in the South — the epicenter of the 2004 Senate battleground—as his main assets.

Rudd admitted that the Southern tinge of the Senate playing field “made me a little more comfortable about taking [the job].”

DSCC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse was more blunt concerning the importance of Rudd’s Southern roots to Democrats’ chances in November.

“It will be helpful at the DSCC and in this town because there is a threshold that we have to meet to show we can win in the South,” said Woodhouse. “[David’s] experience winning in the South will help us as much in D.C. as it does in our campaigns.”

Woodhouse’s comments obliquely refer to the conventional wisdom developed over the past year that although Senate Democrats are just two seats from achieving parity, the playing field makes a takeover an unlikely prospect.

Democrats must defend 19 of their own seats in 2004, while Republicans have 15 seats up for election.

In addition, Democrats must defend five open seats — Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina — while Republicans have only two open seats: Oklahoma and Illinois.

Rudd repeatedly asserted that the DSCC’s strong recruiting in 2003 will nullify its raw numbers disadvantage.

“I don’t think there is anyone — even on the other side — that would deny that Jon Corzine has been extremely effective at recruiting the very best people to run in the states we plan to win,” he said.

Senate Democrats were able to clear the field for their top recruits in Alaska, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Georgia remains a gaping recruiting hole for the DSCC as prospect after prospect has turned down the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D).

The NRSC had a lackluster recruiting year in 2003 but got two nice surprises in early 2004, when former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.) announced he would take on Daschle and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez (R) entered the Florida Senate race.

Rudd argued that the “quality of the candidate is overwhelmingly the most important factor in how people vote, and we have very high-quality candidates.”

The most pressing problem facing Rudd at the DSCC is the funding deficit the committee finds itself in when compared not only to the NRSC but also to its Democratic counterparts.

Long the crown jewel of fundraising among the Democratic Party committees, the DSCC ended November with just $731,000 on hand, less than one-tenth of the NRSC’s cash-on-hand total.

DSCC officials said they will show roughly $2.5 million in the bank in their year-end report and defended their November cash total as the result of significant investments in telemarketing and Internet projects.

Even so, the cash total led to significant grumbling in the D.C. community and insinuations that very few Senators outside of the leadership were at all engaged in harvesting dollars for the DSCC.

Rudd again sought to defuse such talk, saying he was unaware “that there is a tremendous amount of anxiety about” the money situation.

“The committee has done an enormous amount of work putting mechanisms in place that will allow us to substantially ramp up hard-dollar fundraising this year,” he said.

In an effort to involve as many Senators as possible, Rudd has already reached out to the majority of Democratic chiefs of staff, many of whom he has a personal relationship with from his time on Capitol Hill.

“These races are not just important to the candidates running in them, they are important to the whole Caucus,” said Rudd. “Nobody gets elected to the United States Senate without being a pretty good judge of what’s in his best interests, and having a larger Democratic Caucus is in all of their best interests.”