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Jeffords Steps Up Activity for DSCC

Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords (I) plans to increase his fundraising activity on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and individual candidates after focus groups conducted for the organization showed that he remains a popular figure among party donors.

“I’ll do everything I can to help the Democrats take back the Senate,” Jeffords said Monday. “John Kerry will need a Senate led by Tom Daschle and Harry Reid to help move our country in the right direction.”

While Jeffords was significantly less known and not as well received as former President Bill Clinton and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, he was also one of the most recognized Senators in the focus groups, according to informed sources.

One Democratic leadership aide familiar with the results of the focus groups, which were conducted in the last month, said that donors “know he is the guy who left the Republican Party on principle and gave us the majority.”

Jeffords’ decision to become an Independent in May 2001 handed control of the Senate to Democrats. The party subsequently lost the majority in the 2002 election.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen said the results of last cycle provide a telling commentary on Jeffords’ impact.

Democrats’ defeats in 2002 “attest to the lack of strength that he brings,” Allen said. “This cycle will be no different.”

Allen said that the NRSC used Jeffords’ party switch to raise money for the organization in 2002 but to his knowledge the committee has not done any fundraising using the Vermont Senator this cycle.

While the exact details of how the DSCC will utilize Jeffords remain unclear, he has told Daschle and DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) that he will sign either an e-mail or direct-mail fundraising solicitation in the near future.

“He has been enormously helpful and indicated a willingness to do more,” said DSCC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. “It is an offer we are going to take him up on.”

Last month Jeffords made fundraising appeals at the DSCC offices, placing tag-team phone calls with Daschle. He was a host for the DSCC’s “Majority in the Making” reception on March 24 that brought in better than $3 million and featured 35 Senators; he has also attended meetings with large-dollar donors to the DSCC in New York City.

All told, the DSCC brought in $11 million from Jan. 1 to March 31 including $7 million in the final month of the period.

That was topped by the NRSC’s $12.5 million in receipts.

The NRSC also held a nearly $10 million cash-on-hand advantage over its Democratic counterparts at the end of the past month.

Knowledgeable Democrats expect Jeffords to be more active this cycle on the campaign trail than he was in 2002.

“He gave us the majority once and he wants to help us get it again,” a Senate leadership aide said.

Last cycle Jeffords campaigned actively for a number of his Democratic colleagues, including then-Sen. Jean Carnahan (Mo.), Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.) and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (Minn.).

Jeffords pledged when he left the GOP that he would not campaign against Republican Senators.

That oath will be relatively easy to carry out this cycle as only one GOP incumbent — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — is seen as truly endangered at this point.

Daschle is the only Democratic incumbent in serious jeopardy.

Eight Senate seats will be open in the November election and are expected to be at the epicenter of the fight for control of the chamber.

Democrats must defend five open seats in the South while Republican Senators are departing in Colorado, Illinois and Oklahoma.

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