Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s trip to Wisconsin earlier this week demonstrated why Congressional leaders are top campaigners in October. The Illinois Senator’s visit prompted a Green Bay television station to air a segment on Democratic politics the Monday after a Packers game.
At a Democratic office in Appleton, Durbin told volunteers and reporters that electing Senate candidate Rep. Tammy Baldwin is crucial to maintaining the party’s Senate majority. The local NBC affiliate dubbed its leading news story “Another Big-Name Politician Comes to Wisconsin.”
Durbin spent two days in the Badger State, one of more than a half-dozen states he plans to visit in the coming weeks.
The No. 2 Senate Democrat is not alone in his efforts. House and Senate leaders are among the most versatile and tenacious campaigners in both parties, planning to log hundreds of hours and thousands of miles this fall to help their colleagues and bolster the strength of their caucuses. They are utility infielders – players who can come into the game at any position to help the team – and power sluggers whose political value soars above that of rank-and-file Members.
A Roll Call survey of leadership offices reveals busy campaign schedules for every top-ranking Member, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)and Speaker John Boehner.
Boehner has already been to Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida, with an East Coast swing through New York up next. The Ohio Republican’s focus has been on “orphan races” in states that lack a high-profile contest at the top of the ticket, or in which those ballot-topping races are less competitive for Republicans. On his last barnstorming tour, Boehner raised $4 million during the 23 days leading up to August’s Republican National Convention.
Reid has space on his schedule for a few out-of-state fundraisers but plans to spend plenty of time in Nevada, where he has been trying to help Rep. Shelley Berkley unseat GOP Sen. Dean Heller. With early voting starting Oct. 20, Reid plans to attend get-out-the-vote rallies.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) – one of the party’s most successful campaigners – has 65 fundraising and campaign events planned in eight states and in Washington, D.C., during the next five weeks. In September, she attended 77 events in five states after an August in which she helped raise $6.8 million of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s $11.6 million in contributions. September fundraising totals are not yet available for any of the leaders.
Pelosi was in Denver on Wednesday night for the presidential debate, and today she will headline a fundraiser for House Democrats in New York City with former Vice President Al Gore. Today’s event is expected to showcase a number of New York races where Democrats hope to pick up seats.
A Pelosi aide said her priorities have been competitive Democratic challengers who are part of the DCCC’s Red to Blue program.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has hosted or been the featured speaker at 82 breakfasts, lunches, receptions and dinners this year, “raising millions of dollars in the process,” according to the Kentucky Republican’s office. Though McConnell’s office did not offer specific states where the leader will travel, an aide characterized his schedule as “hectic” and noted that McConnell will be traveling across the country. He’s raised $3 million so far for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Another of Congress’ top fundraisers, Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer, plans to travel to California and Massachusetts for DSCC events as well as to New York City and Washington to raise cash for individual challengers and incumbents. An aide to the New York Democrat said the Obama campaign has asked Schumer to do surrogate events later this month in Florida, a natural move for the Senate Democrats’ messaging lieutenant. Schumer spent much of last Congress championing middle-class issues and preserving Medicare while attacking Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget.
Schumer will also be in the spin room for the Oct. 16 presidential debate at Hofstra University. Durbin will be playing a similar role during the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate in Kentucky.
In the era of the super PAC, leaders’ campaign responsibilities have only grown. In addition to press calls, joint events with the presidential campaigns and fundraisers for the campaign committees, leaders have had to take a more active role in bringing money into friendly super PAC coffers, largely because many top donors have already maxed out to the official campaign organizations.
Those fundraising efforts, according to one Democratic operative, largely manifest themselves in private meetings or phone calls with donors, with Pelosi, Reid and Schumer being three of the most effective and active fundraisers for the House Majority PAC and the Majority PAC, the House and Senate super PACs.
While the top four Congressional leaders are in high demand, Members of the leadership team looking to move up the party rungs also have booked their schedules solid. Some of these Members are tried-and-true campaigners, and others are using 2012 to raise their profiles.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) was in Denver Wednesday night as a Romney surrogate. He traveled last week to Nebraska to campaign for Senate candidate Deb Fischer, who is facing former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey. And Thune will travel to campaign or fundraise for Senate candidates Rep. Denny Rehberg in Montana, Josh Mandel in Ohio, Ted Cruz in Texas, Rep. Rick Berg in North Dakota and George Allen in Virginia, according to his office. Other stops may be added.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has 10 states on his calendar between now and the elections to add to the nearly $4.5 million he’s raised or given to Democratic candidates this cycle, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) spent Wednesday campaigning in Oklahoma for Markwayne Mullin and in Texas for candidate Roger Williams and Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco.