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Rogers to Lead ‘Battleground’

Post Seen as Stepping Stone to Leadership Role

Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers will be named today to head Battleground 2004, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s program to raise millions of dollars from GOP Members which will be spent on races around the country.

“This is the most important thing we will do this year in our effort to grow the majority,” Rogers said of the drive, which will attempt to wring $16 million from the 228 Republicans in the House.

Rogers will technically serve as co-chairman of Battleground 2004, with Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) as chairman. But the Michigan Republican will handle the day-to-day operations.

The fundraising effort will be formally kicked off today at the weekly meeting of the Republican Conference.

Rogers will show a video to motivate Members depicting a “doomsday scenario” of Democrats retaking the House and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) ascending to the Speakership. He will also assign specific dollar donation amounts to each of his colleagues.

Rogers, a second-term Member, follows in the footsteps of NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), who led the effort in 2000 and 2002, respectively.

“I am glad to see Mike is going to undertake it with the Speaker,” said Reynolds, who hand-picked Rogers for the job after naming him finance chairman at the NRCC earlier in the cycle. “It is going to be as important this year as it has ever been in the past.”

Rogers’ appointment further stokes speculation regarding his interest in a future position within Republican leadership, as both Reynolds and Blunt catapulted into those ranks following their stint running the program.

This cycle’s Battleground effort is the first since the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which banned national party committees from raising soft money.

As a result, hard money, which can be gathered only in $2,000 increments, has become a precious commodity with both sides leaning heavily on Members to donate and raise funds.

Rogers said that because of changes in the law, Battleground has been transformed from an “important” element of the party’s election effort to a “crucial” one.

“Anything short of our [fundraising] goals comes out of ability to play in races,” said Rogers. “Anything over our goal allows us to fund another race.”

House Democrats have made an increasing push throughout the cycle for Member contributions, estimating they will need $25 million in Caucus contributions to reach their target budget of $75 million before November.

To date, Members have donated $12.6 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, double what the organization raised from its Caucus in the 2002 cycle.

In a late June leader’s luncheon sponsored by Pelosi, the DCCC collected $400,000 in Member contributions after pointing out that Democratic incumbents sitting in safe seats had roughly $87 million in their collective campaign accounts.

“We have made a concerted effort to step up our Member fundraising and we are going to have to keep that pressure on,” said DCCC Communications Director Kori Bernards.

Bernards argued that Democratic Members now believe a majority is within reach; “Our Members smell blood. … [T]hey stand to be chairmen of committees and subcommittees.”

While Democratic chances of picking up the 12 seats necessary to retake control remain remote, Rogers did admit that one of his main tasks is to ensure his colleagues do not grow complacent.

“Complacency is the disease of every majority,” he said. Battleground “is just what the doctor ordered.”

Rogers said his own personal experience taught him the importance of programs like Battleground and was the main reason he decided to take the helm this cycle.

In 2000, Rogers, then a state Senator, won the closest race in the country, defeating fellow state Sen. Dianne Byrum (D) by 111 votes after more than six weeks of recounting.

Rogers pointed out that for several hours on election night he thought he had lost the race, an experience he has never forgotten.

“I understand how important it is,” he said. “When I lost for four and a half hours it made me more committed to do the things we need [to do] to stay in the majority.”

Following a Republican-led redistricting in Michigan that strengthened the GOP vote in the 8th, Rogers won re-election with 68 percent in 2002. He is not seriously opposed this cycle.

Rogers was seen as one of the leading candidates to be selected Chief Deputy Whip following the 2002 election, but Blunt instead tapped Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor.

Not dissuaded, Rogers has been extremely active on behalf of candidates this cycle, donating more than $300,000 to various campaigns from his leadership PAC — Majority Initiative to Keep Electing Republicans.

He has also traveled to competitive districts to raise additional funds appearing in Dallas on behalf of Rep. Pete Sessions last Friday and in Philadelphia on Monday to benefit freshman Rep. Jim Gerlach.

Rogers resisted the idea that his willingness to head Battleground had anything to do with any potential leadership aspirations.

“I don’t look at it that way,” he said.

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