Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (Nev.) on Tuesday donated $1 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from his re-election account, a move Democrats hope will spark similar donations from colleagues who are likewise facing little opposition this fall.
Reid handed over the check to DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) at the party’s weekly luncheon, drawing a loud ovation from his Caucus for what, to date, is by far the largest donation any sitting Senator has given to his party’s campaign committee this cycle.
With a GOP opponent who had just $33,000 in his campaign account on June 30, Reid decided over the weekend that his campaign for a fourth term was in a strong enough position that he should turn over a seven-figure check to boost his party’s efforts at reclaiming the majority.
The action drew immediate praise from within the Caucus, which needs a one- or two-seat pickup to secure the majority in a field where six Democratic and four GOP-held seats are witnessing tight races.
“It just says what an incredible champion for the Caucus he continues to be,” said Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), who is facing the toughest re-election fight of any Democratic incumbent. Referring to Reid as a “hero” to the Caucus, Daschle added, “He sets the gold standard.”
Having legally raised campaign funds in increments of $2,000 from individuals and $5,000 from political action committees, candidates are allowed to declare any amount of their cash to be “excess funds” and turn that money over to national or state party committees.
Largely by necessity, Corzine has made taking in contributions from the campaign accounts of Senate Democrats a cornerstone of his fundraising efforts, particularly since new laws this cycle outlawed the large unlimited donations that the DSCC had been more reliant on than its GOP counterpart. Under the new laws, the only six- and seven-figure checks the party committees can rake in are excess funds from candidates.
After the Democratic National Convention, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) gave $3 million to both the DSCC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from leftover funds in his presidential primary campaign account.
Earlier this year, Senate Democrats had given $1 million more to the DSCC than Republicans had given to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a 2-1 edge in giving that the GOP has been racing to eliminate. Last week the Bush-Cheney ’04 Inc. campaign gave the NRSC $1 million, as well as $1 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee, in leftover funds from President Bush’s primary campaign, but the donations came with a caveat: The NRSC had to round up $1 million in matching donations from the campaign accounts of Senate Republicans.
NRSC Chairman George Allen (Va.) acknowledged Tuesday that he has had a difficult time prying loose donations from his fellow GOP incumbents’ campaign accounts, adding that the $1 million matching challenge won’t be easy. “It’ll be difficult,” Allen said. “It’s tough.”
Reid’s donation matches the Bush-Cheney donations as well as a pair of $1 million contributions to the DSCC and the DCCC from a now-defunct legal campaign account of former Vice President Al Gore. Along with the $3 million Kerry contributions, those checks are the only seven-figure donations given this year to the Congressional campaign committees.
Reid declined to elaborate on his actions, deferring comment to Daschle and Corzine. “I’m not going to be boasting about what I do or don’t do in that regard,” he said.
Corzine called Reid’s move “an extraordinarily gracious and important statement.”
As of June 30, Reid had $4.8 million in his campaign account, a sum, aides said, that is now closer to $4 million — meaning his donation Tuesday to the DSCC ate up roughly 25 percent of his campaign funds.
Reid, who won in 1998 by less than 500 votes, was a top GOP target in the early stages of this election cycle but, beginning with Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), every top-tier challenger took a pass on the race. Conservative activist Richard Ziser is the nominee, and he’s been given so little support by the Nevada GOP establishment that Reid’s campaign recently released a list of 1,000 Republicans supporting the Democratic Whip.
The list included Mike Ensign, a prominent Las Vegas casino executive and the father of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).
While no one in the Democratic Caucus is campaigning for Daschle’s job, steps like the one Reid took Tuesday could help build the case should he run to succeed Daschle as Democratic leader. With Daschle locked in such a tight battle against former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), no Democrat wants to be seen as doing anything that would even slightly suggest they were expecting Daschle to lose and that they were already campaigning for the opening.
Regardless of motives, aides and Senators suggested that Reid’s $1 million check would be the first of several similar checks from Democrats this fall. “It sets the standard,” Corzine said. “It would be very helpful, to the extent that people have the wherewithal to step forward.”
Many have been eyeing the eight-figure campaign account of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is facing token opposition in November. As of June 30, Schumer was sitting on $21.8 million, much of which could be given to the DSCC or state party committees to help boost Democratic chances. Schumer, who may run for governor in 2006 and could transfer much of his leftover funds into such a bid, has deferred questions about giving any large checks to the DSCC.
But Corzine expects Schumer, and others, to be very helpful down the stretch. “He’ll be a good friend,” he said of Schumer.
In addition, Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) was sitting on more than $7.4 million on June 30 with essentially token opposition, and Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) had $4.2 million and a rather weak opponent.
On the GOP side, Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.) had $11.6 million in his account on June 30 and was widely expected to sail to re-election, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) was holding $5.9 million without any substantial opponent.