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Ensign Pleads for Cash

As Senate Democrats continue to dig deep into their own wallets to fuel their majority-building efforts this cycle, the financially stressed GOP minority is hoping to even the score by pushing its Senators to lean on big home-state donors to write checks.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) last week urged his colleagues to use their personal relationships in their individual states to solicit large contributions to the party. Ensign armed Senators with detailed analyses of their states and provided them specific names of Republican contributors who have given to other GOP candidates and party organizations but have not yet given to the NRSC.

“They’ve basically done the marketing homework for these Senators,” explained a senior Republican Senate staffer. “They’ve identified everyone who can write a check for $10,000, $15,000 or $25,000. It makes it easier for Senators because they know these people.”

The latest push by Ensign comes just as Republican Senators are set to meet off campus at NRSC headquarters for their weekly policy luncheon. The session undoubtedly will include talk of Senator giving as well as newly filed reports showing the NRSC having raised $7.4 million over the past three months, with $8.3 million in the bank and no debt.

Democrats, meanwhile, took in $10.8 million over the same period and have $22.9 million on hand. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is carrying a $3 million in debt.

Whether the latest tactic of pushing Members will work for the GOP is unclear. So far this year, the Republicans have failed to keep pace with the DSCC, which has relied successfully on individual Senators’ contributions to grow its war chest. In the past three months alone, the DSCC collected $1.2 million from Democratic Senators, more than the $740,000 the NRSC collected from its colleagues so far this year.

By contrast, Democrats have collected nearly $2.8 million in total from Senators since January, with nearly every Senator — including Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) — contributing some amount. Topping the charts is Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who has given $515,000 to the DSCC; and Rules and Administration Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), who has ponied up $278,500 to the committee so far this year.

Some of the other prolific Democratic contributors, who have given $100,000 apiece or more to the DSCC, include Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.), Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.), Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) and Sens. Tom Carper (Del.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.).

“Democratic Senators saw in the last cycle the impact the DSCC can have in winning tough campaigns,” DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller noted. “Last cycle our goal was to win the majority. This cycle it’s to increase the majority, and they play a big role in that.”

While Republican Senators continue to trail their Democratic counterparts in campaign committee giving, they have made some headway. In September, GOP Senators contributed some $337,500 — nearly half of the NRSC’s haul from Members this year.

Almost all of that money, however, came from just three Republicans: Minority Whip Trent Lott (Miss.), Ensign and Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah). Lott and Ensign contributed $100,000 apiece, while Hatch doled out $115,000 to the NRSC through his re-election and political action committee accounts.

In a brief interview last week, Ensign said while he’s not discounting direct contributions from Senators, he’s trying to use other vehicles to encourage his colleagues to help grow the NRSC’s bank account. Ensign said he will place a heavier emphasis on direct Member giving in 2008, when the election cycle is in full swing and the NRSC will be doling out money to challengers and incumbents across the board.

“We’re focusing this year on getting them to help — and there’s more than one way to do that,” Ensign said. “Some are helping, while others are not.”

The NRSC faces an increasingly challenging cycle in 2008, defending 22 incumbent-held seats to Democrats’ 12. Making matters worse, three key Republicans — Sens. John Warner (Va.), Pete Domenici (N.M.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.) — recently announced their retirements.

Several Republican Senate sources said Ensign’s plan includes his latest appeal to Senators to try to recapture and increase the number of “majority makers,” or those Republican donors who give the maximum of $28,500 to the NRSC. GOP Senators last week were also made aware of who in their individual states is giving large sums to the DSCC, sources said.

One GOP Senate leadership aide said Ensign is hoping to educate Republicans about “who is contributing and what the majority makers are contributing or not in their states.”

Ensign “has been very creative and it’s motivating to our guys in a difficult environment,” the leadership source said. “It’s motivation enough to show that there are more Democrat than Republican donors. Our Senators are competitive, especially if you show them in their home states that they are losing.”

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