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Incumbents Work to Offset NRSC’s Deficit

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee continued its financial dominance over its Republican counterpart during the final three months of 2007, but several potentially vulnerable GOP Senators still entered this year well-armed for battle — on the money front, at least.

Four of the DSCC’s top targets — Republican Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and John Sununu (N.H.) — ended the year with substantially more cash on hand than their likely Democratic challengers, according to reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission late last week. Other GOP Senators whose seats the DSCC considers long-shot pickup opportunities also were sitting on boatloads of cash.

But Democratic Senate candidates have the decided financial advantage in the three most competitive open-seat races of the cycle — Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia. And the wide disparity between the DSCC’s cash on hand and the bank account of the National Republican Senatorial Committee could prove to be the great equalizer as the election grows nearer.

The Democratic committee closed 2007 with $29.4 million on hand, compared with a paltry $12.1 million for the NRSC. The DSCC handily outraised the NRSC, bringing in $55.4 million for the year, compared with $31.8 million for its GOP counterpart.

However, the NRSC did manage to remain debt-free for the year and even reported more cash on hand as of Dec. 31 than it did at the close of 2005 ($10.5 million), when the Republicans commanded a five-seat Senate majority. The DSCC reported $1.5 million in debt heading into January.

The DSCC is fond of noting that it closed 2005 — when it was still in the minority — with $25.2 million in cash on hand. That figure is more than double what the NRSC had in the bank at the end of last year.

“Every day there is more evidence that the American people are hungry for change and are looking to Democrats to provide it,” DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said in a statement last week.

Despite losing the battle for Congressional campaign cash, the Republicans continued to maintain a strong lead over the Democrats on the national committee front, and point to their cash and fundraising lead there as proof that the GOP is not as down and out as some political analysts suggest.

The Republican National Committee, long a cash cow for GOP Congressional and presidential campaigns, finished 2007 with $17.4 million on hand and no debt, while the Democratic National Committee reported $3 million on hand and $2.2 million in debt.

The RNC raised $83.1 million for the 12-month period ending Dec. 31, compared with $49.8 million brought in by the DNC. The RNC raised $8.7 million of that in the fourth quarter, with the DNC bringing in $4.3 million during the same period.

“As we prepare for the 2008 election, we are encouraged by the fact that millions of hard-working Americans continue to demonstrate incredible support for the Republican Party’s positive vision for the future,” RNC Chairman Mike Duncan said in a statement.

But with a hard-fought presidential election on tap, it remains to be seen how much the RNC will be able to help Republican Senate candidates. For now, the fundraising prowess of the four most vulnerable GOP Senate incumbents must hearten party leaders.

Yet even with the solid performance of these incumbents, the latest FEC reports gave Democrats cause for some optimism.

In Oregon, Smith had a wide cash-on-hand advantage over the two Democrats seeking to unseat him, state Speaker Jeff Merkley and attorney Steve Novick. At the end of the year, Smith, who is personally wealthy, was sitting on $4.4 million in his campaign account, while Merkley had $516,000 on hand and Novick had $293,000.

But in the final quarter of 2007, Novick and Merkley combined raised about $845,000 — a little more than $100,000 short of Smith’s take.

In Maine, though Collins widened her cash-on-hand gap over Rep. Tom Allen (D), $3.9 million to $2.5 million, the gap between what she raised in the fourth quarter and what Allen raised was slimmer than it had been in the previous reporting period. Collins raised $963,000 from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, while Allen’s haul was $813,000.

In Minnesota, Coleman actually raised less in the fourth quarter of 2007 than one of the leading Democrats vying to replace him, comedian and political commentator Al Franken (D). Coleman collected more than $1.7 million while Franken took in almost $2 million. But Coleman finished the year with more than $6 million in the bank, compared with almost $3.1 million on hand for Franken.

The other leading Democrat in Minnesota, wealthy trial attorney Mike Ciresi, raised $813,000 and banked $984,000.

In New Hampshire, Sununu ended 2007 with $3.4 million in cash on hand compared with $1.1 million for former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D). But Shaheen, who only entered the race last fall, outraised him in the final quarter, $1.1 million to $922,000.

Smith, Collins, Sununu and Coleman all represent states that Democrats have won in the past several presidential elections.

Leah Carliner, Torey Van Oot and Jessica DaSilva contributed to this report.

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