Campaign 2010

Oct 17, 2008

Politico - Dems get a loan for the final push

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, seeing an irresistible opportunity to make big gains on Election Day, has secured a $15 million loan that it will use to splurge on tight races during the last three weeks of the campaign season.

The $15 million loan is nearly twice the $8 million that the National Republican Congressional Committee was able to borrow recently and adds to the huge financial advantage that Democrats already hold over the GOP.

When combined with the cash-on-hand advantage that the DCCC has over the National Republican Congressional Committee — $54 million to $14.4 million as of Aug. 31 — the loan leaves House Democratic leaders with $47 million more than their GOP counterparts to pour into contested districts.

Yet a loan of that size – the largest ever by any member committee in the House or Senate — represents a gamble by Democrats as well. They’re going into debt in order to grow their majority, betting that they may not see another opportunity like this one for years to come.

After playing down their chances for a large gain in seats for most of the cycle, Democrats are now privately predicting that they will add a net of more than 20 seats on Nov. 4, giving them a huge majority headed into the 111th Congress.

Such gains by Democrats would be historic. The party that wins a “wave” election, like Democrats did in 2005-06, almost always loses seats in the next cycle; after the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, for example, the GOP lost eight seats in 1996.

Yet Democrats are now seeing chances for picking up seats in district where they never thought they’d be competitive. Seats in once-safe Republican districts in Missouri, Nebraska and Indiana are in play. Even veteran Republican incumbents like Reps. John Shadegg (Ariz.) and Dan Lungren (Calif.) have suddenly found themselves in competitive contests, ending years of easy re-election campaigns.

“This is an unprecedented field of play out there right now,” DCCC Executive Director Brian Wolff said. “We could take a $20 million, $30 million loan out, and it would not be enough to seize on the opportunities we have out there.”

Wolff said there are 25 “toss-up races within the margin of error” – and that Democrats are currently leading in 21 of them.

"I think we have a responsibility, and [DCCC Chairman] Chris Van Hollen feels this way, to seize this opportunity,” Wolff said. “We had a responsibility now to take this loan … to win those seats so we have a better working majority so can Democrats can work with a Democratic president, a Democratic House and Senate, to make sure we can solve this economic crisis, get America back to work, and obviously, end this war in Iraq.”

Some of the Democratic financial edge will be offset by the money raised by vulnerable Republican incumbents, as well as by spending from the Republican National Committee and GOP-allied outside groups.

The DCCC “independent expenditure” campaign, technically a separate unit within the committee, has spent more than $33 million so far and is currently advertising in more than 50 districts, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission through Wednesday.

Democrats also said that their campaigns have made calls or knocked on the doors of more than 10 million voters nationwide, an unprecedented ground effort that resembles the one being waged by the Obama-Biden campaign. And Democratic allies in the labor movement and other outside groups have targeted millions more voters as they try to get Barack Obama into the White House.

It is normal practice for the campaign committees to take out loans like in a cycle to fund competitive races, and they are often in the red at the end of an election year. For instance, during the 2005-06 cycle, the DCCC took out a $11.5 million loan just three weeks before the mid-term elections – a loan that helped pay for a 29-seat swing that gave Democrats control of the House. At the start of the 2007-08 cycle, the DCCC was more than $10 million in debt.

But having a majority in the House or Senate – or control of the White House -- does wonders for a party’s fundraising, and the DCCC was able to erase that debt quickly as part of a record-breaking fundraising cycle.

House Democrats have been able to flex their fundraising muscle all cycle. Democrats outspent Republicans in three House special elections in 2007-08, allowing them to pick up GOP-held seats in Louisiana, Mississippi and Illinois, including the seat once held by former Speaker Dennis Hastert.

The NRCC, on the other hand, ended the 2005-06 cycle more than $14 million in debt, which limited Chairman Tom Cole’s room to maneuver throughout the last two years. The NRCC, faced with minority status and an unpopular president, wasn’t able to pay off its debt until this year.