Menendez to expand DSCC donor reach

WASHINGTON – Newly-installed Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-Union City) is eyeing a fund-raising strategy that targets a geographically broader donor base than the one employed by his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Like Schumer, Menendez is planning to use his connections to Wall Street and well-moneyed Democratic donors in New York and New Jersey to stuff the DSCC’s purse. But the New Jersey senator, who during his career in the U.S. House served as chairman of the Democratic Caucus, is looking to broaden the committee’s fund-raising reach, and has indicated that he wants to make heavy use of relationships he has established with donors in around 20 cities around the country, sources familiar with Menendez’s planning said.

These sources predicted that Menendez will make overtures to Democratic givers in Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. Menendez, who is Cuban-American, will also target donors in South Florida. The effort will be geared at taking advantage of a nationwide network that is already in place.

“He’s got a lot of levers to pull,” said one person who is close to Menendez. “He knows a lot of people in a lot of these states.”

Menendez, named to the DSCC post just prior to Thanksgiving, is taking over for Schumer, a torrid fund-raiser who helped the committee far out-raise its Republican counterpart in his two cycles at the helm. While Menendez may not share Schumer’s reputed love for making fund-raising calls, the New Jersey senator, who served as Schumer’s vice chair at the DSCC during the 2008 election cycle, has earned a reputation as a strong fund-raiser, taking in over $14 million for his campaign account in the last six years.

In a weekend appearance on the C-SPAN “Newsmakers” program, Menendez said he was in the beginning stages of his planning for the DSCC, which over the past two cycles has helped Senate Democrats grow their majority to at least eight seats. In interviews, sources said Menendez was trying to figure out how to reconfigure Schumer’s DSCC so that it could best meet the party’s challenges in the current cycle. While the playing field favors Democrats, with Republicans having to defend more seats in 2010, Menendez has fewer pickup opportunities and will likely be defending more seats than Schumer did in 2006 and 2008.

Although Menendez is planning on altering the committee’s fund-raising approach, he will adopt Schumer’s strategy of intervening in Democratic primaries in an effort to avoid divisive and damaging intra-party fights.

We will look for the best candidate. It’s not that we’re going to sit back and accept allowing primaries to take place where there is a universe of candidates and not make a decision where in fact which of those candidates is the best candidate,” Menendez said on C-SPAN.

Menendez went on to say the committee would “pursue that candidate so they are the general election candidate, and try to ensure that, as many times as possible, that there isn’t a primary where Democrats go at each other and spend large numbers of resources and hamper their ability in the general election.”

Menendez is also examining key staffing decisions. With J.B. Porsche, who served as the committee’s executive director the past two cycles, likely to depart, sources said, Menendez will need to find a replacement. Danny O’Brien, the senator’s chief of staff, has been mentioned as a possibility, though he may choose to remain in the Senate office. Menendez is also said to be considering a new finance chief for the committee.

The 2010 elections are nearly two years away though vacancies are already beginning to take hold for Democrats, with the seats of President-elect Barack Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, and incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now up for grabs in two years time. Menendez has signaled to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and New York Gov. David Paterson his preference for candidates wanting to run for re-election in 2010 to be selected to fill the respective seats, he said on C-SPAN. In Delaware, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner has already selected Ted Kaufman, a longtime Biden aide, to fill the seat, though Kaufman has said he has no intention of running to hold the seat.

Aside from the newly vacant seats, Menendez has placed early priority on retaining incumbent-held seats in Oregon, Nevada, Wisconsin, Colorado, and California, where Barbara Boxer is expected to run for re-election, sources said. Byron Dorgan could also face a fight to defend his North Dakota seat.

With Democrats in charge of the White House and both houses of Congress, Menendez sees the electoral landscape set before him as markedly different from the ones facing Schumer in 2006 and 2008, sources familiar with the New Jersey senator’s thinking said.

“He sees this as potentially a tougher climb,” said one source. “It’s a different dynamic than being on the outside.”

Since 1999, three DSCC chairs have been from New Jersey. Tom Shea, an advisor to Gov. Jon Corzine, who chaired the DSCC during the 2004 cycle, said that was no accident. Like Corzine and former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, another holder of the post, Menendez is regarded as a 24/7 workaholic and political warrior – helpful traits for serving as the Democratic Senate campaign chief.

“It’s a tough, pain in the ass job,” said Shea.

Menendez to expand DSCC donor reach