Washington Prowler

Still Carrying a Torch

Senate Democrats look to old friends for campaign currency. Plus: Jilting Howie Dean.

By 5.12.03

HUNTING FOR DOLLARS
Former Clinton Chief of staff Erskine Bowles, who lost to Elizabeth Dole in last year's Senate race in North Carolina, apparently wants a second go at a Senate run. In meetings with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Sen. Jon Corzine, Bowles has indicated his willingness to again pony up the dough to defend Democratic honors in 2004 should Sen. John Edwards continue to pursue his presidential aspirations and not seek a second Senate term.

Bowles is one of the few potential candidates Corzine has spoken to willing to put up his own cash to run. The self-financing M.O. is seen as critical for Democrats who are quickly lagging behind Republicans in the fundraising arena. Things have gotten so bad in the race for cash that in both the House and the Senate Democratic campaign committees have upped the base contributions each member of the caucus must ante up to fulfill his donation requirements.

"On paper, it looks like we're raising more, but really we're robbing Peter to pay Paul," says a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staffer. "We're banking on self-financing candidates, that's no secret. We're also counting on the various leadership PACs to bail us out of some tight spots around the country."

Leadership PACs, such as those set up by Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, are going to play increasingly larger roles in both House and Senate fundraising plans for Democrats. These PACs are bound by many of the same contribution restrictions that other donors must adhere to, but are not limited by how much they can share with other party organizations.

One overlooked pile of Democratic cash is the pot that former Sen. Robert Torricelli still controls in New Jersey. He is playing like the Godfather, waiting for his former friends in the Senate, who helped push him out, to come and ask for a favor or two. The Torch has millions to play with, and has thus far not doled much out to the party. He could use it himself for another run at some position, or to retire any remaining debts from campaigns past. But it has to be used for something.

"We'd like to think he'd share it with us to help us win back majority in the House and the Senate," says a Democratic National Committee fundraiser. "It's about all he can really use it for. Unless he wants to be bitter and hoard it."

Perhaps The Torch doesn't feel like backing a loser. In the past month, it has become increasingly clear that, barring a disaster of amazing political proportions, Democrats have no shot at gaining seats in either body. In fact, Republicans in the Senate are now openly talking about expanding their margin of majority enough to make it filibuster proof. That would require a pick up of about five seats. Targets now include Georgia, South Dakota, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina,. That assumes some retirements, as well as holding seats in Illinois and Alaska, which may not happen. While Corzine has failed to find dependable and electable deep pocket candidates in just about every state where he needs one, he has found a wealthy taker in Illinois, where businessman Blair Hull has expressed interest in a run for retiring Sen. Peter Fitzgerald's seat.

NOT ALL IS FAIR
While former Gov. Howie Dean continues to nibble around the fringes of the Democratic Party, the one constituency he has cultivated most assiduously appears to have turned its back on him.

In every city Dean visits, he makes sure to spend time with gay, lesbian and transgender groups. He has been met warmly in New York and San Francisco by those groups. The reason for his seeming appeal is that he rammed through in Vermont the nation's first de facto gay marriage legislation.

But when Dean's campaign attempted to have their man keynote the Human Rights Campaign national conference in Atlanta this past weekend, the prestigious and most influential gay and lesbian group took a pass. Instead it invited Sen. John Edwards.

Why decline a chance to repay Dean for his years of loyalty, and instead hang with the hot candidate? "We want to have a louder voice in who our national leaders are going to be," says a California-based HRC staffer. "Dean isn't going to win. Edwards is a stronger candidate. He's the kind of face we need to be associated if we're going to be taken seriously. We'll give Dean his due, I'm sure. He just isn't the guy we needed for a national event. "

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