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The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has moved early to exploit its steep cash advantage over the National Republican Senatorial Committee, investing more than $5 million so far this cycle to improve on the comprehensive field operation the DSCC credits for its success in 2006.

The DSCC has built its field operation — which has a presence in 17 states, 11 of which are being heavily targeted — by transferring funds to state party committees. The DSCC can afford this effort because it has a favorable map — only 12 Democratic seats up for election, while 23 Republican seats are up — and because it has maintained an almost 2-1 cash lead over the NRSC for the balance of the 2008 cycle.

The DSCC’s financial dominance continued in June, when it raised $10.8 million compared with the NRSC’s $6 million, to finish with $46.3 million in the bank, compared with $24.6 million for its GOP counterpart. Each committee spent roughly $3 million last month.

Some states on the DSCC’s target list have anywhere from 30 to 40 organizers who are on the state party’s payroll but are focused solely on the Senate race. Money also is being spent to build and update voter files, advertise in the mail and on television, and on get-out-the-vote activities that are geared toward individual voters’ habits, taking into account early and absentee voting schedules.

The DSCC would not say how much it plans to spend on its field operation overall this cycle. But last cycle, the DSCC transferred $29.5 million to state party committees for field operations compared with the NRSC’s $294,000. The DSCC credits that investment, which included expenditures on direct mail and will again this cycle, with helping it flip six seats in 2006 and win back the Senate.

“We have always felt field is crucial,” DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said Friday. “For the first time, we had a better operation than the Republicans in 2006, and it’s one of the reasons we won. We’re working hard this year to maintain that edge.”

Among the 17 targeted states included in the DSCC’s field operation, the 11 receiving the most attention are Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia. Louisiana, where the NRSC has its lone legitimate pickup opportunity, is also a top target of the DSCC, and the committee is spending heavily to register voters in the Creole State.

The DSCC’s field plan calls for both registered Democrats and sympathetic voters of all other political persuasions — as determined from recently updated voter files — to be contacted in a coordinated and systematic way, with phone banks, door-knocking, direct mail and television advertising all playing a role in delivering a vote for the Democratic Senate candidate.

Privately, Republicans acknowledge the effectiveness of Schumer’s field operation — and the necessity for it. DSCC field staff hit the ground this cycle beginning in January and February of this year.

But Republicans also say Schumer’s effort was born out of the fecklessness of the Democratic National Committee and its complete failure to compete with the Republican National Committee on the financial and organizational front in 2002 and 2004, with one highly placed GOP strategist referring to the DSCC as “the de facto DNC.”

Some Republican Senate strategists contend that the NRSC doesn’t have to duplicate what Schumer is doing because it can rely on the RNC, which as of June 30 led the DNC in cash on hand by nearly $50 million and is set this fall to run field operations to turn out voters for GOP candidates in several states, including the battlegrounds.

These Republican insiders argue that the DSCC has been forced into the role of field organizer not only because of the underfunded DNC’s failure to play that role, but because several Democratic Senate candidates this cycle are flawed and running in states where the Democratic Party’s infrastructure is not up to the task.

“Democrats have had to play catch-up to the RNC’s local organization for years, and this strategy is their response,” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said. “They had no choice but to spend this money to compete.”

The RNC’s turnout program is designed to benefit Republican candidates up and down the ticket, although Democrats are skeptical. It is multifaceted and involves the maintenance of voter files that track even what individual voters are most concerned about, so that the phone calls, personal visits and direct-mail pieces can be tailored to reflect that, as well as a concerted turnout operation during the final week of the campaign.

In many states where the Senate race is competitive or potentially competitive, like New Mexico, GOP officials are depending on the Victory program to turn out votes for all of its candidates, not to mention presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Republicans recognize the threats posed by the Democrats this cycle but believe they are surmountable.

“We’re going to fight all of those battles with one concerted effort,” said Scott Darnell, spokesman for the New Mexico GOP. “We’re going to have to work harder, and we’re prepared to do so.”

So far this cycle, the NRSC has reported $42,000 in transfers to state GOP committees. Federal law allows a national party committee to transfer money in unlimited amounts to state parties, as long as they are used for party-building activities.

The DSCC believes that its strong investment to develop an effective field operation during the 2006 cycle was the difference-maker in at least three states where it won close races: Missouri, Montana and Virginia.

Much of the focus on a national party’s financial performance is on cash-on-hand figures, as those numbers indicate a committee’s ability to wage a successful independent expenditure campaign in the heat of the fall campaign. Given the DSCC’s existing cash lead over the NRSC, the Democratic committee is sure to have the advantage on this front in September and October.

But the DSCC has been willing to sacrifice its cash on hand to, as one prominent Democratic strategist described it, “pay early” for victories.

The DSCC believes its field operation could be the equalizer that puts its candidates over the top in races where the Republican incumbent has a healthy cash lead over the challenger — and in the smaller states, where field operations can have a much greater influence on the outcome of a race than in the larger states.

In addition to the top 11 states the DSCC is targeting this cycle, it is also keeping its eye on Senate races in Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, and it is prepared to play defense — if necessary — in New Jersey and South Dakota.

This cycle, the DSCC is looking to boost its field operation by capitalizing on the strong campaign being run by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), and the rise in Democratic voter enrollment and overall uptick in enthusiasm his candidacy has generated.

“Obama is generating a lot of enthusiasm at the top of the ticket and is investing heavily in organizing, both of which will only help our field programs,” DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller said.

In states where Democrats selected their presidential nominee via a caucus, the DSCC had field staff on the ground to connect with caucus attendees. After the caucus was over and Obama and his Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), left town, the DSCC staff contacted all of the caucus-goers and invited them to volunteer on behalf of their state’s Democratic Senate candidate.

The DSCC is taking advantage of the improved voter file and demographic information being generated by the Obama campaign in several targeted states. The committee believes its voter files to be more accurate and therefore more effective than they were last cycle in finding Democratic votes.

The DSCC also expects Obama’s field operation and GOTV effort to be an additional boost to Democratic Senate candidates in those states where the two field operations will overlap, based on the states Obama is currently targeting.

In Mississippi, where two Senate seats are up but where the DSCC is focused on appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R), the Wicker campaign said it is prepared to rebuff the Democrats field operations. Wicker, then a House Member, was appointed to the Senate earlier this year after Trent Lott resigned his seat in late 2007.

Thus far, Wicker’s campaign has a field presence in every region of the state, including chairmen in 75 out of Mississippi’s 82 counties and 120 military veterans who have signed up to help the campaign via its Veterans for Wicker group, according to Wicker campaign spokesman Ryan Annison.

“We’re running this campaign 100 percent, as if we’re getting no help from anybody,” he said.

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