With Eye On Fundraising, Parties Prep For Midterms

New financial reports for the Democratic and Republican national party committees are in, showing the party committees girding for a high-dollar battle in the midterm elections this fall.

The new reports cover the month of March, when the two parties were fighting over health care. Democrats managed to pass the bill — and to do better with donors than in the public opinion polls.

Paul Herrnson, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, says this party money matters to candidates.

"The parties use this money to set the campaign agenda, to target individual races, which not only helps the races directly but indirectly in terms of their fundraising," Herrnson said. "And in the last election cycle, the Republicans came up short in terms of cash and had to move money out of one close race into another close race on a number of occasions, and that clearly hurt them."

The latest data show that though the Democratic National Committee is being outraised by the Republican National Committee $114 million to $121 million, it finished March with just as much cash on hand: about $11 million.

An analysis by NPR News shows that the RNC raised $22.8 million from small donors, compared with $19 million for the DNC. But the Republican organization has spent $11 million, twice as much as the DNC, on the mail and telemarketing needed to find and solicit those donors.

On the House side of Capitol Hill, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has raised 38 percent more than the National Republican Congressional Committee. The DCCC has a cash reserve that's nearly three times what the Republicans have.

It's on the Senate side where the battle for dollars is the most hard-fought.

The campaign committees duke it out in Web video messages. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, tells potential donors that "everything is at stake."

"Everything we fought for is at risk," he says in the message. "We must work together to fight for Democratic values."

In its message, the National Republican Senatorial Committee takes more sardonic approach, with an actor and an actress saying in union, "Barack Obama keeps spending our money which raises the national debt ceiling to the point that Americans may soon bow down to their Chinese overlords!" Then they sigh in a cheery dismay.

The NRSC is upbeat about its chances of whacking away the Democrats' 18-seat Senate majority. Its fundraising reflects that: It's up 25 percent from last election cycle. Democrats see that, too.

"We all know there's a fierce wind blowing in our face, not at our backs, in this election," says Eric Schulz, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Committee.

But Schulz says the committee got a fundraising boost after the health care bill passed, and he is willing to predict more good news for Democrats.

"I think you're seeing as we sort of get into the election season an acceleration, more engagement, more attention paid," he said.

Of course, it's not just Democrats who are paying attention. Fundraising is up across the board, not like the flood of money in the 2008 presidential campaign, but nothing like the old days either.

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