- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008


On Valentine’s Day in 2002, when the House passed the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill, which prohibited national party committees from accepting unlimited, unregulated contributions from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals, the conventional wisdom held that the Democratic Party would be hindered the most in future elections. In the 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 cycles, for example, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) had relied upon huge soft-money advantages ($19 million and $29 million, respectively) to more than offset the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s (NRSC) hard-money advantages ($11 million in both 1999-2000 and 2001-2002).

During the first cycle following the soft-money ban, the conventional wisdom proved to be wrong for the parties’ Senate campaign committees. The DSCC increased its hard-money contributions, which are limited and regulated, from $48 million in 2001-02 to $89 million in 2003-04, while the NRSC increased its hard-money donations by only $20 million, from $59 million to $79 million. However, the DSCC’s $10 million advantage in 2004 could not stop Republicans from sweeping five Southern Senate seats vacated by retiring Democrats and increasing their majority from 51-49 to 55-45.

Smelling opportunity in late 2006, the DSCC borrowed $6 million after raising $78 million in hard money that year (compared to $53 million collected by the NRSC in 2006). For the 2005-06 cycle, the DSCC enjoyed a $33 million hard-money advantage. Combined with the $6 million in borrowed money, the DSCC’s overflowing hard-money coffers played a crucial role in helping to offset the incumbent Republican senators’ spending advantages in Missouri ($2.6 million), Montana ($2.9 million), Ohio ($3.4 million), Virginia ($7.5 million) and Pennsylvania ($8.6 million). In addition to defeating the Rhode Island Republican incumbent, Democratic candidates prevailed in each of these five races, ousting six Republican senators and reversing the Democratic 55-45 minority status into a narrow Democratic majority (51-49).

In 2007, the DSCC raised $55.4 million, about $12 million more than it had raised in 2005. Meanwhile, the NRSC raised only $31.8 million in 2007, a sum nearly $4 million below its 2005 take. After paying down $4.5 million of its $6 million debt from 2006, the DSCC had $29.4 million in cash on hand at the end of last year. That was more than $17 million above the NRSC’s $12.1 million cash position at year-end.

The DSCC’s cash advantage once again will likely play a pivotal role in several races. In 2008, Republicans will be defending 23 Senate seats, one of which (Virginia) election-handicapper Charlie Cook ranks as a “likely Democratic” pick-up. Three other Republican seats (Colorado, New Hampshire and New Mexico) are rated as “toss-ups.” Ten of the Democrats’ 12 seats are rated as “solid[ly] Democratic,” and none is in the “toss-up” category or worse.

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