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Senate GOP Panics Over Financial Woes

It's not uncommon, in the heat of a campaign season, for party leaders to challenge or even criticize their own members for their lack of commitment to helping the team. Usually, those exchanges stay private, but National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) took the highly unusual step this morning of calling out his GOP colleagues in public.

"I recently challenged my colleagues to step up to the plate and help me provide the resources our candidates need to compete in races across the country -- to match the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's] expenditures in targeted races," Ensign said in a statement blasted to the NRSC's press list. "It has become clear that my call has gone largely unanswered. I have no control over the timing or content of IE ads, but I have had no choice but to decrease the total budget of our IE Unit. It is still my hope that my Republican colleagues will engage in this election and help match what the Democrats are doing. If they do, I will adjust our budget accordingly."

To use The Fix's favorite phrase -- WOW.

That "challenge" Ensign referred to came on July 30, when he issued a statement saying: "While I am proud of the fact that the NRSC is in a better position than the past cycle - $5 million better - it is just not enough. ... It is my intention to give the NRSC's IE Unit the total budget to match the DSCC dollar for dollar in every state they run ads.

"While I am aware we do not currently have the funds to match the DSCC, I am giving our IE Unit this budget on faith - faith that my Republican colleagues will step up to the challenge and transfer the funds necessary to remain competitive with the Democrats. I have informed my colleagues that it is now up to them. I believe our Republican Senate candidates will ultimately be successful in November and my colleagues and I will do everything we can to give them that chance."

First, a brief explanation: Ensign is referring to the NRSC's "independent expenditure" program, which can spend money on ads, direct mail and other tools to help GOP candidates directly. Technically, these programs really are meant to be "independent" of the party committees themselves, so lawmakers can't dictate what ads will run or when they will appear. But, as Ensign says, he does have to sign off on the IE program's budget.

Through July 31, the NRSC had $25.4 million in the bank while the DSCC had $43 million in the bank. The amoung the NRSC has gotten from GOP Senators in the three weeks since Ensign issued his initial challenge is not publicly known, but obviously it has not been enough for the Nevadan's liking. DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already bought or reserved time for at least $45 million worth of ads around the country, and Ensign believes Republicans simply aren't in position to match that.

The GOP's cash deficit has prompted some Senators up for reelection to warn their donors that the national party committee won't be able to help them. Yesterday, the campaign manager for Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the vice chairman of the Republican Conference who is interested in taking over the NRSC next cycle, emailed supporters to warn that Democrats are fighting hard to reach a filibuster-proof 60-member majority.

"This puts Senator Cornyn right in their sights," read the email. "And there won't be any national Republican money coming into Texas to refute the lies and smears Democrats will tell about Senator Cornyn. It's us against all of them."

Will Ensign's latest plea do any good? There are 18 GOP Senators who have their own races to run and can't afford to send much cash to the NRSC (though Cornyn, for example, has managed to donate $280,000 to the committee). But that leaves 31 more who are either not up this cycle or are retiring, and Ensign wants their cash. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) for example, is not up for reelection this year and had $13 million in the bank as of June 30. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) had $8.7 million on hand on the same date.

"Ensign is accurate that not enough Senators have stepped up to the plate," said a senior Senate GOP aide. "You have senior Senators ... sitting on enormous war chests and won't step up. That's because there have never been any consequences -- these Senators keep inxplicably being rewarded with leadership positions and ranking member slots on key committees."

But the aide also pointed out that member giving is only part of the NRSC's budget, and the committee has not been able to keep up with its Democratic counterpart in traditional fundraising from individuals and political action committees, either.

Republicans all over the country are playing from behind on the financial front. Barack Obama has outraised John McCain in the presidential race, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is pummelling the National Republican Congressional Committee in cash for House races and, to Ensign's chagrin, GOP Senators are also trailing in the money chase.

The lone bright spot for the party is that the Republican National Committee is in much better shape than the Democratic National Committee, but the RNC can't afford to bail out every GOP candidate up and down the ballot. Which is why Ensign is begging his Senate colleagues to open up their checkbooks. If a look at the electoral map doesn't convince them to step up their giving to the party, maybe public embarassment will.

By Ben Pershing  |  August 22, 2008; 11:07 AM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , GOP Leaders  
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John Cornyn shouldn't worry about lies being told about him. He should be worried that the Democrats will tell the truth about him. Big Bad John believes he was elected to shield the president from all criticism, not to represent the people of the great state of Texas.

Posted by: Max Edison | August 22, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Texas this, Texas that. I am so fricken tired of that g-d state. Sell it to the Chinese for all I care and good riddance for all the problems it has caused us.

Posted by: Crempole Stalwart | August 22, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

he should be gone !!!!!!!

Posted by: ljhill | August 22, 2008 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Big Bad John is afraid of a National Guard Lt Colonel that served in Iraq, why? Is it because Lt Colonel Noriega is the real deal and the "chickenhawk doesn't know how to deal with truthiness?

Posted by: Mike | August 22, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Hutchinson and Shelby should pony up.

13 million for a cheap market red state like Alabama? Possible retirement and a fund to use for another race?

Hutchinson is going to use the $ for a run for Texas governor.

Posted by: Justin | August 22, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Actually, the senators who are not sending money to the NRSC are dispaying fiscal resposibility for the first time in the last eight years. Why waste money on a lost cause? It's a shame that they weren't as wise with the taxpayer's money as they are with their own.

Posted by: Dahagg | August 22, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Republicans wouldn't have to beg for money, if they came up with some new leaders, new ideas and a new message. I can't tell you how many Republicans across the country are pissed off with the party, particularly the arrogant southern wing- hey guys it's not 1988 anymore!, and who are either going to sit out the election or maybe vote for Obama.

Last night, my family at dinner discussed the election-we are all Republicans who never vote for democrats, and if not for John McCain's maverick tendencies there's really not a chance we would be voting at all.

If these "Republican" Senators don't want to support the party, maybe they should be primaried, by new people with new ideas and a new desire to lead the country and actually work to BEAT democrats.

Posted by: hello d.c. | August 22, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

what is IE?

Posted by: Unenlightened | August 22, 2008 9:58 PM | Report abuse

IE actually has two definitions. One is Independent Expenditure - a sleazy technique both major parties use to circumvent campaign finance reforms. The other common definition is Internet Explorer- an inefficient, bug riddled and security challenged internet browser from Microsoft.

Politically savvy Windows users would be well served by supporting candidates who support true campaign reform and alternative, much safer internet browsers such as Firefox or Opera.

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It may seem that the financial needs of the National Republican Senatorial Committee are a fallacy if the United States Senate and the Republican National Committee are as responsible as usual for the funding of both local and national campaigns. The Republican Party does not allow a candidate to have a campaign without at least thinking about that campaign's funding. The funding of the candidate's campaign is of upmost importance to the NRSC as well as the Senate itself and the RNC. The Republican Party is the Party of funding. The Republicans are the ones who traditionally hold the money bag of finance for candidate campaigns from the NRSC and the RNC. The above article makes it seem like the Republicans are poor. The evidence of past campaigns says otherwise. The NRSC and the RNC have sustained campaigns for candidates that have elected Republicans. The NRSC has a strong interest in Republican money and finance for campaigns and the Republican Party does not allow Republican candidates to fall down at the time of financial allotment.

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