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527 Aims for Six-Year Drumbeat on Senate GOP

A handful of Democratic operatives have formed a 527 group aimed at keeping steady pressure on Republican Senators throughout their six-year terms rather than focusing solely on the two years before they face re-election.

The Senate Majority Project is the brainchild of Jim Jordan, a former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and now a member of Westhill Partners, a Democratic consulting firm.

Joining Jordan in the venture are Diana Rogalle, a veteran party fundraiser, and Joe Hansen, a partner in the Democratic direct-mail firm Ambrosino, Muir and Hansen.

“My hope is to simply fill a fairly glaring hole in the party’s machinery,” said Jordan, adding: “It’s conceivable that our mission will morph and expand over the cycle.”

A fundraising prospectus for the group obtained by Roll Call notes that “with an eye to the long run, Republicans have done a much more effective job than have Democrats in erecting political barriers and affecting media coverage of Senators in the opposing party … to their credit.”

The Senate Majority Project aims to “close that gap by closely reviewing the public actions and positions of Republican Senators — votes, statements, fundraising, outside-of-Washington activities, gossip, etc.,” according to the prospectus.

Jordan would not discuss specific budgetary details for SMP, saying only the group would run on “several hundred thousand” dollars a year.

“Since this is primarily a research, free press and policy organization, the budget is relatively modest,” he added. “Diana and I have had initial conversations with generous Democratic donors and we have received a positive reception.”

Under tax law, 527s can accept unlimited contributions but they must report the identities of their donors on a quarterly basis.

The brief history of House- and Senate-focused 527s is — at best — mixed.

Following the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002, which banned national parties from raising and spending nonfederal, or soft, money, several Democratic 527s cropped up to serve as a conduit for the $246 million in soft dollars collected by the party in the 2002 cycle.

These groups were unable to make a real financial impact on races as they struggled to raise dollars from donors spooked by the legal ramifications for campaign finance violators laid out in BCRA.

Two such ventures, New House PAC and the Democratic Senate Majority Fund, ceased operations roughly six months before the 2004 elections.

While neither of these “official” 527s took off, a group — known as Citizens for a Strong Senate — provided a glimmer of hope for the future of these projects.

Formed in the summer of 2004 by three high-level staffers to then-North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D), CSS ran television ads and did a series of direct-mail hits in states with key Senate races, funded by more than $10 million in donations.

The news of Jordan’s newest venture was greeted with praise from Democrats and derision from Republicans.

Phil Singer, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called the organization “hugely important.”

“With any luck [it] will hopefully force some of these Republicans to be more responsible in the way they conduct themselves in office,” Singer said. He added he was not previously aware of the existence of the group prior to a reporter’s call.

Singer said that the DSCC was itself already doing some of the same kinds of longer-term work, noting releases sent out by the committee this year targeting Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — none of whom are up for re-election in 2006.

The SMP memo points out that while the DSCC does an “able job with opposition research and communications related to in-cycle races … it lacks the staff and the resources to challenge votes and public actions of Republican Senators who are not yet up for re-election.”

Democratic strategists widely acknowledge that the seats up in the 2008 cycle represent their best chance to regain the Senate majority.

Unlike the 2004 and 2006 cycles, Republicans will have more seats to defend (21) than Democrats (12) in 2008.

A quick look at the GOP incumbents, however, provides only a few obvious targets — Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Wayne Allard (Colo.). Should New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici (R) retire, his seat would also be hotly contested.

Brian Nick, Singer’s counterpart at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, dismissed Jordan’s new group as “another attack-dog 527.”

“It’s hard to believe Democrats could get any more political than they already have following the last election,” Nick added.

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