The Senate Republicans’ top fundraiser Thursday said he is telling colleagues this is a bad year for members of his party to be up for election.
“I’m telling them if you have an ‘R’ in front of your name, you better run scared,” said Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
Nine out of 10 competitive Senate races this November are for seats now held by Republicans, he told members of the Washington press corps at a Christian Science Monitor luncheon at the St. Regis Hotel.
Mr. Ensign said he would consider it a “great night” if, after the polls closed on Nov. 4, Republican losses had been held to three or four seats.
Democrats now enjoy a slim 51-49 majority, though two members of their caucus are actually independents - Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
Mr. Ensign dismissed reports that contributions to the Republicans by disgruntled small donors are down this year. He maintained the party’s contributor base is intact. The Republican Party long has boasted that it is the party of small donors while the Democratic Party has had to rely far more on wealthy contributors to finance election campaigns.
He said the Republican Party never suffered a loss in small donors, only a shrinkage in the net amount of money raised - a decline that he said was not the result of small donors being disgusted with excessive Republican spending in Congress but of the party having been mailing “bad” lists that had driven up fundraising costs. That problem has been eliminated, he said.
Senate Republicans must defend 23 seats this year compared to 12 for Democrats.
Mr. Ensign said soaring gasoline prices offer a “huge opportunity” for Republicans who will argue that the Democrats have been blocking domestic production of oil from Alaska, from deep-water drilling off the U.S. continental shelf, and from gargantuan shale oil reserves.
He said his party must keep the Senate as a firewall to stop costly legislation that he predicted Democrats will try to enact if Sen. Barack Obama gains the White House and his party boosts its current 236-199 majority in the House.
Mr. Ensign said the 10 most competitive Senate races are in Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia - all but Louisiana now being Republican seats. He hinted that the NRSC will not spend large amounts of money in Virginia and New Mexico, which are widely expected to switch Democratic in November and may be written off as lost causes.