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Dean to Aid Frontline Effort

In a shakeup of their two-year-old “Frontline” program, House Democratic leaders this cycle are for the first time requiring that their most threatened incumbents meet new fundraising goals to ensure party assistance.

In an effort to lessen the burden on their colleagues, who provided the vast majority of funds for the program in the past cycle, party leaders are also calling on their biggest donors to cut checks to the most vulnerable House Members and receiving assurances that new Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean will make the group a focus of his fundraising efforts.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has begun a major reshaping of the Frontline effort in hopes of tapping into new areas to raise more money for its most vulnerable Democrats. The committee has also cut the list of Member beneficiaries in half for the current cycle.

DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said while the program was successful in 2004, he felt it was important to reach out to more donors this cycle, and ensure those Members in the program will truly work to earn its benefits.

“We have a hardcore group,” Emanuel said. “We’re nationalizing it so we can really help our Members and be in the best position financially and politically for their re-elections. Sometimes the best strategy is not that complicated.”

Emanuel rolled out the list of the new Frontline targets at a private leader’s luncheon Tuesday, saying that in addition to cutting down the number of beneficiaries, the DCCC also wants to raise more money early to scare off challengers to the group of vulnerables. Emanuel told Members the DCCC wants to “reduce the defensive position and maximize offense,” according to one knowledgeable aide.

As part of the overhaul, the DCCC has required each of the 10 Frontline Democrats to sign a memorandum of understanding agreeing to raise a certain amount of money on their own. Each Member is being given their own fundraising target, based on their individual districts and fundraising abilities, that they must meet to receive Frontline support.

“This is a partnership,” Emanuel said. “They’ve got to do certain things, and we’ve got to do certain things.”

In the previous cycle, the DCCC named 19 Members to the Frontline effort, with nearly all of the money raised for the program coming from direct donations from other Members.

This cycle, the committee shortened the beneficiary list to 10 Members (which is subject to change) situated in the toughest districts and is asking the largest Democratic Party contributors, Members’ key donors and the DNC for help. Five of the 10 Members are freshmen, and the others were all part of the program last year.

The returning Frontline Members are Reps. Jim Matheson (Utah), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Stephanie Herseth (S.D.), Chet Edwards (Texas) and Dennis Moore (Kan.). The freshman Members are Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Melissa Bean (Ill.), Brian Higgins (N.Y.), John Salazar (Colo.) and Charlie Melancon (La.).

The first major event for Frontline Democrats this cycle will be held April 19 in Washington. Members and donors alike will be invited to the gala, for which a fundraising target has yet to be set.

Frontline was kicked off in the previous cycle as part of House Democrats’ attempts to secure the re-election of threatened Members.

The overhaul plan “recognizes first of all that several of our Members have done tremendous job securing marginal competitive districts,” said one Democratic leadership aide.

“What decreasing the membership, broadening the program and reaching out to the national donor base will allow us to do is put greater resources into each of Frontline incumbent districts,” the source added. “In turn, this has the effect of letting us play more on the offensive next year and put more Republican seats into play.”

The DCCC effort includes launching a new program targeting the most generous Democratic Party donors, modeled after its 2004 “R2B” program. That effort — named for trying to move House districts from conservative “red” states to liberal “blue” — raised $7 million last cycle for nearly 25 Democratic candidates.

The committee also is pressing lawmakers to ask the largest donors in their home districts to give to Frontline Members. It also is abandoning the use of the joint-fundraising committee set up last cycle for Frontline Members, which saw little activity.

Sources said Dean has made it clear he will make the vulnerable House Members one of his priorities. In a statement Wednesday, Dean said: “These House Democratic incumbents have succeeded in some of the ‘reddest’ regions of the country, and the Party will continue to support them in their efforts. These members prove that Democrats who stand up for the Party’s core values can and do win in every region of the country.”

“He’s going to put a greater emphasis on protecting these guys,” said a Democratic source. “This is a logical place to start.”

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