Washington Prowler

Running on Empty

House Democrats are having trouble raising a plug nickel. Who gets blamed? Plus: Hillary's mad Daschle to the finish.

By 6.27.03

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DEMOCRATIC BLAME GAME
With both parties ready to file quarterly fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission for the quarter ending June 30, the grumbling has already begun among Democrats in the House. According to sources in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, new chairman Robert Matsui, who was given this job basically because of his friendship with fellow Californian minority leader Nancy Pelosi, has been a failure.

"We're probably only going to bring in about $1.7 or $1.8 million," said a DCCC staffer. "Those numbers are going to send some of our caucus screaming for Matsui's head."

More likely, they'll be screaming when they see what their opposite numbers on the House Republican side pulled in for the quarter. The GOP is crowing that it may have raised as much as $8.5 million, a huge advantage that ensures Republicans will more readily be able to defend their 30 or so contestable seats in 2004.

Matsui's situation is only one facet of what is surely going to be a hot, contentious summer for Democrats. Beyond Matsui's failing to raise money for his caucus, his boss Pelosi is being criticized by almost every segment of her caucus for her failure to get Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe on the same page with her. Democrats in the House are already complaining that they were better treated by their party when McAuliffe's friend Dick Gephardt was their leader. But in reality, neither House nor Senate Democrats have ever been able to depend on large financial windfalls from the DNC. And Gephardt may have had only marginally better dealings with it than, say, Jim Wright or Tip O'Neill.

Based on Matsui's poor performance, Pelosi may feel pressure to bring in additional leadership support for the next fundraising push. But thus far, she has indicated that she will stick by her longtime political ally.

MAD DASCHLE
Hillary Clinton and her staff are angering some of her Senate Democratic colleagues for the floating of her name as a possible replacement for Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle should he decide to retire.

It isn't so much that under normal conditions a fourth year senator would never have an opportunity to move through the leadership ranks so quickly; it's that Democrats are desperate for Daschle to make one more run in 2004 given their precarious electoral position. With questions about the retirement or early exit by such Democratic war horses as Sens. Bob Graham and Fritz Hollings, as well as Zell Miller in Georgia, Democrats would prefer that Daschle run again in an attempt to protect his South Dakota seat, which otherwise would seem to be a lock for Republicans. There it's expected that former Rep. John Thune will try for the Senate again next year after his controversial loss to Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson in 2002.

"Hillary doesn't need to be pushing our best people out the door or trying to dictate terms," said a Democratic leadership staffer. "She isn't looking at the situation on the electoral map as some of us are."

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