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Seeking to build and in some cases cement relationships in key states, several Republican Senators eyeing the 2008 presidential race spent significant time raising money for candidates and parties across the country in the first three months of 2005.

The prospect of the first presidential cycle since 1928 without a sitting president or vice president seeking the nation’s highest office has prompted a scramble among aspiring politicians to claim the frontrunner mantle, through carefully planned visits, fundraisers and donations — three years before the first primary and caucus votes are cast.

This competition is heightened by the fact that on the Republican side, five current U.S. Senators are mulling potential bids for the White House even as they attempt to move the GOP agenda.

(A sixth, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R), must defeat state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) in one of the premier contest of the cycle before turning his attention more fully to 2008.)

And, while each of the potential contenders denies that his fundraising and speeches around the country are aimed at 2008, there is clearly a benefit to being seen as a team player who’s willing to help out candidates in need and to lavish attention on state parties.

“There is no U.S. Senator, or Congressman for that matter, that is going to spend time away from his home and away from his family to go out and raise money in another state where they have no immediate political interest without there being some sort of benefit for their interests in the short or the long term,” said one high-level Republican strategist.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) continues to lead the pack, although Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chuck Hagel were also active during the first quarter of the year. Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and George Allen (R-Va.) are also mentioned as 2008 potentials but did not campaign or fundraise for other candidates in the first quarter of the year.

Frist, who is not actively raising money for his own campaign committee, held Washington, D.C., events during the first three months of 2005 for Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Jim Talent (Mo.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Mike DeWine (Ohio). He attended an event in Arizona that benefited Sen. Jon Kyl (R).

Frist was also scheduled to host donors to his Volunteer political action committee this past weekend in Tennessee. In order to attend the event, Frist suggested that contributors write checks to Chafee, Kyl and Talent and Santorum as well as to Sen. Conrad Burns (Mont.).

Frist, through VOLPAC, has already donated the maximum $10,000 to all 14 Republican Senators seeking re-election in 2006.

“As a leader of our Republican Party, he has a responsibility to help build and strengthen grass-roots efforts around the country,” said Frist’s chief fundraiser, Linus Catignani. “He is also actively involved in recruiting Republican challengers and will give each of them his full support.”

In addition to his fundraising on behalf of candidates, Frist has also stayed active on behalf of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which he chaired during the 2002 election cycle.

Frist heads the Leader’s Alliance at the NRSC, whose donors are asked to give the maximum $26,700 to the committee and then an additional $20,000 to Senate candidates of their choosing. No fundraising event to benefit the group was held in the first quarter, although events are in the works, Catignani said.

Frist did help raise money for the NRSC’s Senatorial Trust, its Senate Council and its Majority Makers group. Each of those fundraisers came in January and was scheduled around President Bush’s second inauguration.

In the first three months of the year, Frist has hit the campaign trail and delivered speeches in Florida, Ohio, Michigan and New Hampshire.

While none of the other four Republican Senators matched Frist’s pace, several made a point of campaigning outside of their home states.

McCain made a fundraising trip through Michigan in mid-March, appearing at fundraisers for Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R), state Attorney General Mike Cox and the state party.

In early April, McCain traveled to Texas for a fundraiser to benefit the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Next month, he will go to Florida to raise money for an event to benefit Rep. Tom Feeney (R). McCain is also scheduled to attend a fundraiser for the New Jersey Republican Party in the coming weeks.

McCain’s office had no comment about his travels.

Hagel, who has been perhaps the most public of the five about his presidential ambitions, doled out $67,000 from his Sandhills leadership political action committee in the first three months of 2005.

Those $5,000 contributions went to DeWine, Santorum, Talent, Burns and Chafee. Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R) also received $5,000 from Sandhills PAC.

Hagel also gave $15,000 to the NRSC and a total of $4,000 to three county parties in Nebraska.

Though he did not undertake any travel to raise money for other candidates from Jan. 1 to March 31, Hagel did appear at a fundraiser for Ohio Rep. Paul Gillmor (R) on April 9 in Archbold. It was Gillmor’s annual Lincoln-Hayes event.

He also met with a group from New Hampshire’s Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce when they visited Washington in February. McCain, Frist and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) also made time to meet with the chamber.

Mike Buttry, a spokesman for Hagel, insisted that the Senator’s donations and travel are nothing new.

“It is something he has always done,” Buttry said. “He tries to help when people ask.”

Neither Brownback nor Allen did any fundraising on behalf of other candidates or state parties in the first three months of the year.

Brownback allies say he did a considerable amount of outreach in key states leading up to the 2004 election, in which he won a second full term with 69 percent.

And, while he has not raised money for other candidates, Brownback has huddled with social conservatives in Iowa of late and was scheduled to address the Cornerstone Policy Research group in New Hampshire on Saturday.

Allen, the only one of the five would-be GOP presidents who is up for re-election in 2006, spent the first three months of the year raising dollars for his own re-election bid.

He brought in an impressive than $2 million from Jan. 1 to March 31, ending the period with $3 million in the bank.

Allen’s chief of staff, Dick Wadhams, said that “during the first quarter and for the foreseeable future, we have to focus on what’s in front of him.”

Allen has said publicly that he is gearing up for a challenge from Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) though Warner seems disinclined to run.

Should Warner pass, Allen will likely continue to raise large sums into his Senate account, since the entirety of his war chest can be transferred to a presidential committee.

Wadhams predicted that Allen will spend more time on the trail for candidates in the coming months.

“As the year goes on, he will be helping House of Delegates candidates in Virginia and helping other Republican candidates for the Senate as he can,” Wadhams said.

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