Senate Democrats are increasingly concerned that President Barack Obama’s campaign money machine is sucking up so much cash that it will cut into the party’s aggressive campaign to hold on to the Senate next year, several Democratic sources say.
Democratic senators have already pressed Obama campaign officials — including campaign manager Jim Messina — not to lock up the richest Democratic donors, but the presidential campaign declined to make such a promise.
Majority Leader Harry Reid and other top Senate Democrats have also asked for at least $10 million in aid from the Democratic National Committee as well as the president’s reelection campaign to help underwrite expensive TV ad campaigns and on-the-ground efforts for crucial Senate races in 2012, according to Democratic sources.
In a recent meeting in Washington, Reid, along with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the third-highest ranking Democrat; and Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, made their pitch to Messina, according to Democratic sources.
Messina would not agree to the request not to max out big donors, and no decision was made on the amount of financial backing that Senate Democrats will get from the DNC and the Obama-Biden campaign.
Democrats believe Obama’s robust campaign infrastructure will benefit a number of their Senate candidates in pivotal presidential swing states, but it’s not clear how much emphasis the president’s team will place in a handful of other states where Senate races could determine the balance of power in the chamber next Congress.
“We have a huge number of incumbents who are up this cycle and a lot of them have taken tough votes to enact significant portions of this president’s agenda, and I think that there is a sense that there should be an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep the Senate in Democratic hands,” said one Democratic official familiar with the meeting.
The meeting between Messina and Democratic senators shows that fights over campaign cash are not always straight Republican-Democratic contests. As the 2012 campaign gets started in earnest, there is increased competition for donors across the board as Democrats in the House and Senate scramble to raise money while the Obama-Biden team is vacuuming up money from wealthy Democrats who may soon max out their contributions.
Adding more competition in the race for cash, Democratic operatives have formed a number of new third-party groups, known as super PACs, each of which have sometimes competing goals of electing more House Democrats, Senate Democrats or Obama himself. These operatives are often competing for the same list of wealthy donors.
All this comes at a time of growing concern among Democrats that Obama’s decreasing popularity may limit the amount donors are willing to give to Democratic campaigns.
While nowhere near as intense as the donor scramble going on among GOP presidential hopefuls, Democratic strategists and fundraisers are aware that donor dollars are especially precious in a struggling economy.
“The biggest problem of all is that people are frustrated and disillusioned,” said Peter Buttenwieser, a major Senate Democratic donor and 2008 and 2012 Obama bundler. But Buttenwieser, a philanthropist who is heir to the Lehman Brothers securities fortune, predicted that Democratic incumbents would be well-financed this cycle.
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