Donors flooded the Senate Democrats' campaign accounts with a record January sum, giving hope to party leaders that their financial backers are ready for a midterm election rumble despite a playing field that appears to be tilting sharply toward Republicans.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $5.1 million during the month, giving the group a nearly $13 million war chest to fend off the Republican challenge to its Senate majority this fall, according to figures released Thursday.
"With these resources, we will make sure that in November voters face a choice between Republicans standing with Washington's special interests and Democrats who are standing up for them," DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz said. "Our supporters are driven to get involved when they see the other party standing with the corporate interests on any given issue."
The numbers provided a ray of hope to Democrats, who face grim prospects of keeping their large majorities in Congress, but the Republicans nearly matched the Democratic totals for the period.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $5.01 million in January - its best month of the election cycle. The group now has $10.7 million to bankroll what it hopes to be a push to flip control of the Senate back to Republicans.
Thirty-six Senate seats will be up for grabs this fall. Democrats hold 59 seats after Republican Scott Brown's surprise Senate win in Massachusetts last month robbed Democrats of their filibuster-proof supermajority.
With the Democrats' comfortable 77-seat cushion in the House, the Senate is expected to be the focus this year even more so than in previous midterm elections.
"There's a greater potential for losing a majority in the Senate than there is in the House," said Democratic strategist Bud Jackson, president of Jackson Group Media in Alexandria, Va. "At this point, with every other seat you lose it makes it more difficult for Democrats to pass things in the Senate. Each seat has even more importance. You lose one or two in the House, you can almost live with it."
But he stressed that policy is going to be more important than money in the midterm elections, which could profoundly affect the course of the final two years of President Obama's term.
"The Democrats and the Republicans can keep on raising boatloads of money, but one of the biggest determining factors of the upcoming election is going to be on the shoulders of the Obama administration and Senate Democrats and if they've been able to deliver, as well as, of course, the state of the economy," he said.
Republicans say their $5 million haul in January is a sign that voters want control of the Senate to change this fall.
"The fact that we have been able to remain competitive with our Democrat counterparts, despite entering this cycle vastly outnumbered in the Senate and facing a record fundraising gap from 2008, speaks to the growing energy among Republicans and independents across the country," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of NRSC.
Until the Senate Democrats made their impressive January haul, Republicans had been on the rebound. The NRSC outraised Democrats during the last three months of 2009. Republicans raised $41.2 million in 2009 - less than the $43.6 million that Democrats brought in but far ahead of the amount they raised in all of 2007 - the first year of the previous two-year election cycle.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which raises money for House races, brought in $4.5 million during January. The Democrats' House committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has not released its January figures. At the end of 2009, Democrats had a significant advantage - $16.7 million in cash on hand with $2 million in debt, compared with Republicans' $2.7 million with no debt.
Democrats point out that many of their candidates' campaigns are ahead in the money chase. In all but one Senate race where Republicans have a primary, the Democrat has more cash on hand. But in many of those cases, the Democrat is the incumbent, who typically has a fundraising advantage anyway.
For instance, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas has $5 million on hand, compared with Republican state Sen. Gilbert Baker, who has $639,000. Three other Republicans in the field have raised even less money.
Despite her financing edge, Mrs. Lincoln, a moderate in a state that favors Republicans, is considered one of the Democrats' most endangered senators.
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