Corzine Memo: 2003 Was Tough ‘Transition’

Posted January 30, 2004 at 6:17pm

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) called 2003 a year of “transition and change” at the committee — especially on the fundraising and staffing fronts — in a memo distributed to his Senate colleagues late last week.

But he expressed cautious optimism that Democrats can regain control of the Senate this November.

“This transition has not been easy, but on balance it has been successful in preparing us for the challenges we face in taking back the majority in 2004,” wrote Corzine.

Corzine’s missive comes on the eve of year-end financial figures being filed with the Federal Election Commission and just weeks after he replaced the committee’s executive director.

The major hurdle for the organization, Corzine acknowledged, has been adapting to the ban on soft-money contributions instituted by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

“Whereas in the past the DSCC could rely on a few hundred wealthy, high dollar donors to fund our operations and assist our campaigns, today we must develop a much broader set of high dollar donors and we must develop relationships with literally hundreds of thousands of small dollar donors — many of whom have never been solicited by the DSCC in the past,” Corzine said.

The committee showed roughly $23 million raised for the year with $2.5 million in the bank through Dec. 31.

By contrast, at the end of 2001 — prior to the soft-money prohibitions — the DSCC had raised $37 million and ended the year with $18.6 million on hand.

Of the $37 million raised by the DSCC then, $14 million was in hard, federal dollars while $23 million was in soft money. The $18.6 million on hand was composed of $4.2 million in hard money and $14.4 million in soft.

“The story on our fundraising is not as good as we would like it to be, but it is also not as bad as has been portrayed by the pundits,” according to Corzine.

He noted that the DSCC has paid off more than $4 million in debt from last cycle (although roughly $2 million remains) and that it has nearly matched the National Republican Senatorial Committee in overall fundraising.

The NRSC brought in $26 million in 2003 — $3 million more than the DSCC — but ended the year with $8.6 million in the bank, $6 million more than Senate Democrats. The NRSC has no debt.

Corzine explained that much of the $20 million the committee spent last year went to “expensive investments in our fundraising apparatus.”

He listed the DSCC’s revamped Web site, new targeting software and a widely expanded e-mail donor list as major projects the committee has embarked on over the past year.

“The first fundraising quarter of this year will be the first quarter we have operated with all of these new tools in place and with complete certainty over the fundraising environment following the Supreme Court’s BCRA decision [in December],” Corzine wrote.

The court largely upheld the tenets of BCRA in its ruling, setting the financial playing field for this election year.

“Also, the first quarter of this year will see the culling of the Democratic presidential field, which we have competed against for both fundraising dollars as well as campaign talent,” Corzine added.

Tuesday marks the next step in the Democratic presidential nominating process as voters in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina head to the polls.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) has said he plans to remain in the race all the way through the Super Tuesday primaries in early March, but most observers believe that if Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) wins a majority of states Tuesday he will be the de facto nominee.

On the organizational front, Corzine directly addressed the resignation last month of former DSCC Executive Director Andy Grossman and the hiring of David Rudd, a former chief of staff to Sen. Fritz Hollings (S.C.), to replace him. He more obliquely referred to the recent departure of DSCC Finance Director Linda Rotunno and the addition of Ann Lewis as deputy executive director.

“David and I are committed to making any additional changes necessary within the committee and in the way it conducts business to ensure that we are providing the support our candidates need to be successful and to properly serve our caucus and our donors,” Corzine wrote.

Knowledgeable Democratic sources have suggested that more changes are likely in the finance department in the coming weeks.

Turning to a race-by-race analysis, Corzine maintained that “retaking the majority will be a challenge, but it is a challenge we can meet.”

Corzine went as far to map out a scenario by which Democrats achieve parity in November.

First, they must win three of the five Democratic open seats in the South.

Democratic candidates are competitive in four of the five — with the notable exception of Georgia, where they have yet to convince a strong candidate to enter the race to replace Sen. Zell Miller (D). Democrats have until April 30 to find a candidate.

Republicans are currently embroiled in a three-way primary between Reps. Johnny Isakson and Mac Collins as well as pizza magnate Herman Cain.

Outside of the South, Democrats must win both Republican open seats in Oklahoma and Illinois and beat freshman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Democrats appear to be a slight favorite in Illinois due to the Democratic lean of the state. And, while they recruited their best possible candidates in both Oklahoma and Alaska, both races remain 50-50 propositions.

Under that scenario, the Senate would be evenly split as long as Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) continues to caucus with Democrats. The party in control would depend on who comes out on top in the presidential race.

Even if Republicans hold the White House, however, Democrats need to win only one of their three other targeted races in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Missouri, Corzine said.

In each case, the Democrats who are trying to topple Republican incumbents remain underdogs at this point.