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NRSC Flexes Its Muscles

Even as Senate Democrats sought this week to show that their chances of winning the majority remained strong, the National Republican Senatorial Committee began to flex its financial muscle in a handful of key contests.

The NRSC has begun funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in so-called 441a(d) — or “coordinated” — funds to pay for television advertising on behalf of their candidates in Oklahoma and Alaska.

By the end of next week, the committee expects to have moved coordinated dollars into Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado, Washington and South Dakota for the same purpose.

This move is seen as the leading edge of Senate Republicans’ plans to use their financial superiority to retain their slim two-seat majority come November.

Democrats insist that they have been spending 441a(d) money throughout the cycle and will spend the maximum coordinated amount allowable in all of their competitive races.

Under rules drawn up by the Federal Election Commission, 441a(d) money can be spent to pay bills, including the cost of television time. The party committee is also allowed to coordinate the spending of the money with the candidate.

This makes such funds different from the party committees’ independent expenditures. Independent expenditures cannot be coordinated with the candidates.

Both the ads currently running in Oklahoma and the spots that began in Alaska Wednesday are authorized by the candidates but are paid for by the NRSC.

If both parties fund the remaining 10 races that are generally considered competitive — six open seats and four challenger races — up to the maximum amount allowed for 441a(d) spending, the bill will total $7.2 million for each committee.

The NRSC ended August with a more than 2-to-1 cash-on-hand edge over the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — $22 million to $10.5 million.

At that time, the NRSC had spent $530,000 on coordinated expenditures this year. The vast majority was disbursed in support of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (R) in his April primary against Rep. Pat Toomey (R).

The DSCC had spent $561,000 worth of coordinated dollars in 2004 at the end of August — $351,000 of that total in the past month alone.

NRSC Communications Director Dan Allen insisted that his organization’s cash-on-hand edge will ensure that Republicans are better funded than Democrats in the final weeks of the campaign.

“The cash-on-hand advantage that we currently have over Senate Democrats means that we will be able to impact our races at higher levels,” Allen asserted.

Not so, says DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.). “We have outrecruited and outmaneuvered Republicans and proven to be formidable in our fundraising,” he said.

Cara Morris, a spokeswoman for the DSCC, added that the committee made a strategic decision to fund television campaigns for their candidates through independent expenditures and not solely through the use of 441(a)d dollars.

“The DSCC has been spending its 441(a)d money strategically in our battleground states this entire cycle on everything from [get-out-the-vote efforts] to persuasion mail to campaign ads,” said Morris. “We’re glad the NRSC has decided to get in the game.”

The DSCC is currently airing independent-expenditure television spots in Oklahoma, Alaska and South Carolina.

The committee spent $928,000 on independent expenditures during August alone — an amount that dwarfed the $153,000 the NRSC shelled out.

This summer, the NRSC began running commercials in South Dakota and Alaska that had been crafted by their independent expenditure outfit.

Neither the NRSC nor the DSCC is expected to spend 441a(d) money on open-seat races in Georgia and Illinois, since neither is expected to be competitive.

Although a recent Democratic poll showed Rep. Denise Majette (D) within striking distance of Rep. Johnny Isakson (R), party strategists admit privately that she is not likely to win much more than 45 percent of the vote.

The situation is even more extreme in Illinois where recent public polling has shown state Sen. Barack Obama (D) with a 40-point lead over two-time presidential candidate Alan Keyes (R).

Corzine held a conference call Tuesday to articulate his view that pessimistic reports about the Democrats’ chances of taking back the Senate are greatly exaggerated.

The New Jersey Senator said that both he and NRSC Chairman George Allen (Va.) will be “sitting on the edges of [our] chairs on Nov. 2. Anybody that says this is anything but a tossup for the majority is overstating the case.”

Corzine pointed out that Republicans had long touted that they would receive a major boost once the primary season concluded. That momentum, he contended, has not been realized.

“The best situation Republicans find themselves in is a dead heat in a handful of situations,” Corzine said.

Perhaps the biggest divergence of opinions between the two parties concerns South Carolina — one of five Southern states in which a Democratic Senator is retiring.

State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum (D) has watched her early lead over Rep. Jim DeMint (R) turn into a deficit since the Republican Congressman won a June 22 runoff against former Gov. David Beasley (R).

Corzine argued that DeMint’s support for a 23 percent national sales tax is the silver bullet in the race. Tenenbaum and the DSCC are currently running ads slamming DeMint on the issue, and he is attempting to answer back through the paid media.

“It has closed this race and made it very competitive,” said Corzine. “We are not ahead at this point, but we are in no way giving up on this.”

Republicans insist that Corzine is simply giving lip service, and that Democrats know, deep down, that they cannot win in the Palmetto State.

“South Carolina is once again a case of Democrats being all talk and no action,” said Allen. “This is a state DeMint is going to win.”

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