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NRCC Hopefuls Generous

It may not be an election year, but for the three lawmakers vying to chair the National Republican Congressional Committee during the next Congress, campaign season is already well under way.

Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.), Phil English (Pa.) and Pete Sessions (Texas) are all actively seeking their colleagues’ support in hopes of succeeding current NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.). And the latest round of Federal Election Commission reports shows that all three contestants have stepped up their contributions to GOP candidates in recent months.

“I think everyone is working hard,” Cole said. “I don’t think there’s any real pacing [ourselves]. It’s just a long sprint.”

All three NRCC hopefuls have used their leadership political action committees to boost their cash donations to their fellow Republicans.

Through June 30, Sessions’ PETE PAC led the way by handing out $115,000 to 23 Republican incumbents and candidates, with $90,000 of that total coming in June. In comparison, at the same point in 2003 Sessions had given out just $20,000.

English’s PHIL PAC has doled out $55,000 — $45,000 in June alone — to 26 Republican candidates this year. The Pennsylvanian has already contributed more than twice as much from his leadership committee this year as he did during the entire 2004 cycle.

Similarly, Cole has set a brisk pace by giving $21,500 this year — all but $4,000 of it in June — to 17 Republicans. His COLE PAC was created in summer 2004.

Of course, leadership PACs are not the only measure of a lawmaker’s monetary contributions. All three NRCC candidates have hosted fundraisers for other Members, raised money for the committee’s spring dinner and will likely hand out more cash from their personal re-election accounts.

Cole, for example, said that he was getting close to his goal of raising or contributing a total of $1 million for his fellow lawmakers over the last three years. Sessions has raised $235,000 this year at nine events for Republican incumbents, and English has also wrangled cash for plenty of candidates.

In that respect, a competitive three-way race for the NRCC post can be seen as good for the party.

Cole laughed as he recalled going to talk to Reynolds earlier this year to discuss his candidacy. Reynolds told him, “All three of you are going to work your rear ends off for me for 18 months. So if you can get a couple more guys into the race that would be great.”

At the same time, however, Members sometimes see leadership races as an unnecessary distraction, especially when the actual election is so far away. But none of the three NRCC hopefuls is willing to cede the early field to his adversaries.

“I haven’t been hit with concern about getting out too early because the other two candidates got out there before I did,” English said. “I think that some in the Conference think this race should have been put off until next year.”

“I’ve gotten an extraordinarily positive reception from a broad cross-section of the Conference,” English added, though he said that “in most cases [Members] haven’t committed yet.”

English said his pitch to fellow Members involved emphasizing continuity with the policies of Reynolds while at the same time adding his own “vision for recruiting more grass-roots candidates.”

Cole, meanwhile, is emphasizing his past experience as NRCC executive director and as a professional campaign consultant. He said he is often invited to meetings by other Members to discuss electoral strategy.

“I get called into these things a lot because I’ve run a lot of campaigns,” Cole said.

In addition to his fundraising efforts, Sessions said he was making his case for the NRCC post by being “engaged in doing the things directly related to keeping the majority.”

Sessions and Rep. Don Sherwood (Pa.) are in charge of Member retention for the committee this cycle. Sessions said the plan was for Sherwood to do the majority of the retention groundwork this year, and then Sessions would take over the bulk of the responsibilities in 2006.

“I’m real focused on making sure what I do, I do right,” Sessions said.

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