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DSCC Touting Its ‘Dream Team’

Senate Democrats will send out an e-mail fundraising appeal today to more than 90,000 donors aimed at capitalizing on the growing diversity of their 2004 recruiting class.

“The dream team is here,” Donna Brazile, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Voting Rights Institute, writes in the missive. “The emergence of Barack Obama, Ken Salazar and Congressman Brad Carson … makes ours the most diverse class of U.S. Senate candidates in history.”

Obama, a black state Senator, cruised to the Democratic nomination in Illinois last Tuesday, while Salazar, the Hispanic state attorney general, has emerged as the establishment’s choice in the race to replace Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.). Carson is a member of the Cherokee Nation and is essentially unopposed for the Democratic nomination in Oklahoma.

Obama would be only the third black Senator since Reconstruction; no Hispanic has served in the Senate in the last 27 years. Carson is one of the eight American Indians to serve in Congress.

“The historic opportunity to increase diversity in the U.S. Senate, and thus the diversity of views, background and cultures … is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss,” writes Brazile, who is also a contributing writer to Roll Call.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee officials hinted that the fundraising appeal is the first in a series of events aimed at creating a “national story” around their candidates.

“We are going to have a class that I would like to sell as a group because of the strength of their credentials,” said DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.). “We can take this crew on the road to help us on the financial side.”

On Wednesday, the DSCC expects to raise more than $3 million at its “Majority in the Making” spring reception, an event at Union Station that will be attended by 35 Democratic Senators.

The committee has also brought in more money through the Internet so far this month than in any of the previous 14 months of the 2004 cycle, committee officials said.

Republicans were skeptical about the Democrats’ plans to package Carson, Obama and Salazar into a financial bonanza.

“Judging by their lack of fundraising prowess, maybe anything could help them,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen.

Through January, the DSCC had $2.6 million on hand and $2.6 million in debt, leaving it with a zero cash balance.

Committee officials estimated that the DSCC will show $2.5 million on hand in its February report and show that it has paid off its $1.9 million bank loan.

At the end of January, the NRSC had $10 million in the bank.

Even some Democrats warned of the impact of grouping candidates like Obama, Salazar and Carson, pointing out that much the same pitch was made on behalf of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (D) in the 2002 Texas Senate race — to no avail.

Kirk, who is black, was part of the so-called Texas dream team comprised of himself and Hispanic businessman Tony Sanchez, the Democratic candidate for governor.

The former Dallas mayor became a staple on the Democratic fundraising circuit, raising and spending more than $9 million. Sanchez spent freely from his own pocket, eventually donating $67 million to the campaign.

On Election Day 2002, however, neither candidate came close to winning or turning out the record black and Hispanic vote that was predicted.

Kirk lost to then-state Attorney General John Cornyn (R) 55 percent to 43 percent; Sanchez was defeated by Gov. Rick Perry (R) 58 percent to 40 percent.

In a recent interview, Kirk said Texas turned into “much more of a national race than a local race,” adding that the best advice he could give Obama is to find “a message that resonates much broader than the African-American community.”

“He’s got to make the issue about Illinois,” Kirk said.

Democrats are pledging that this time the appeal to diversity will result in success at the ballot box because it is not based on a single candidate but rather a larger national picture.

“Donors are excited at the opportunity to help candidates who reflect a little more of America than the Senate does right now,” said Democratic media consultant Anita Dunn, who has close ties to the DSCC.

Dunn added that as important as the racial and ethnic diversity of the class is their perceived ability to win.

“It is an opportunity not just to support candidates who would bring diversity but also candidates that are extremely competitive,” she said.

Obama enters the general election race against wealthy former investment banker Jack Ryan (R) with a slight edge after a taking a stunning 53 percent in the seven-way Democratic primary race. He won by appealing not just to black voters but also to Chicago liberals and suburbanites — a potent combination for the general election in a Democratic state.

In Republican-leaning Colorado, Salazar faces a tossup contest with former 4th district Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) after a bevy of other candidates on both sides of the aisle decided not to run.

Aside from the open seats in Illinois and Colorado, Republicans are also defending a vacancy in Oklahoma, where Sen. Don Nickles (R) will not seek re-election.

While Carson appears to have a clear path to the Democratic nomination, Republicans have a three-way primary fight on their hands. Still, Republicans are comforted knowing that President Bush is expected to win big in Oklahoma in November.

Democrats have open seats of their own in Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Only two Senate incumbents — one from each party — are viewed as seriously endangered at this point.

Appointed Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) faces a stiff challenge from former Gov. Tony Knowles (D); in South Dakota, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) is being challenged by former three-term Rep. John Thune (R).

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