Washington Prowler

Money Does Matter

Key GOP Senate campaigns count on superior funding. Also: One last Bush push for Simon?

By 10.17.02

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IT'S IN THE BANK
If fund-raising alone got you elected, Republicans would probably hold a 15-seat majority in the Senate. But it doesn't, so they don't. That said, several key Republican Senate candidates are poised to help their party at the very least hold their current seating in the Senate, in part due to their ability to fundraise.

One of the most worrisome states three months ago was Texas, where state attorney general John Cornyn was struggling with his message against Democrat Ron Kirk. The Democratic National Committee had made Kirk a poster boy for their 2002 run to expand their majority in the Senate. But now it appears that Cornyn is poised to pull out the seat currently held by Sen. Phil Gramm.

That's because Cornyn has more than $5 million banked and ready to spend on media across the state. This, compared to the $800,000 in Kirk's bank account. While polls indicate that the race remains a tight one, Republicans are feeling better about the race now that final Federal Election Commission filings indicate their man has the kind of wad to push home his message.

"There are a lot of people who worked hard to get him that money," says an RNC staffer. "The President has devoted a lot of time back home to give Cornyn the shot he has now."

As the Prowler has been reporting during this election cycle, Kirk didn't have many people working for him down in Texas. That's why he spent the majority of his time fundraising in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. And now that it appears his campaign is faltering, don't look for much help form the DNC. "If we have a decision to make, say between Kirk and [Erskine] Bowles in North Carolina, we'll go with Bowles. He's more electable," says a DNC staffer.

While that particular staffer may think so, higher-ups inside the party don't appear to agree, at least not yet. According to a North Carolina Democratic Party source, Bowles campaign staffers sought financial support from the DNC earlier in October, only to be told that before the party would pony up, the candidate would have to do so himself. So in the past three weeks, Bowles has contributed more than $3 million of his own money (some in the form of loans that the campaign will pay back).

The national party seems to be playing the same game with Tennessee Senate candidate Bob Clement, who trails Republican Lamar Alexander by double digits. A few months ago, Democrats thought they had a shot here. Now they aren't so sure. And while the DNC isn't planning on putting good money on the barrel there, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has promised Clement cash for media buys in the next few days.

"It's telling that the Democrats seem to be backing away a bit from the seats they thought they had a shot at," says the RNC source. "Obviously they have other concerns: the Senate race in New Jersey, trying to put money into the Florida governor's race. But that just gives Republicans a better shot in states like Minnesota and South Dakota. All we need is one of those to make life in the Senate a bit more bearable."

CALIFORNIA HERE I COME
While the national media continue to push the idea that Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon is toast, the White House isn't so sure. According to one Bush Administration source, some tracking polls in the California -- even one apparently paid for by Gov. Gray Davis's campaign -- show Simon within five points of the Democrat.

"If those numbers can be borne out, and they hold, you'll see Bush in there at least once or twice before the election," says the White House source. "We aren't just going to give up on that. But the numbers have to be there."

Such a swing through California would probably focus on the southern part of the state, where Simon could have more swing votes. Bush would also use the left-coast trip to return by way of New Mexico, Texas and Florida, all states where critical election fights are being waged.

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