A GOP strategist who usually works on State Senate and Assembly campaigns says that the “dire straights of his party’s coffers” will make it difficult for Republicans to recruit first-tier candidates for next year’s mid-term legislative elections. According to reports filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission, Senate Democrats have more than $2 million cash-on-hand, while the GOP has $335,000; Assembly Democrats have $580,000 in their warchest and the Republicans have just a little more than $90,000. Republicans need to pick up two Senate seats to share the Senate leadership with the Democrats and three to win control. Pundits from both sides seem to agree that there are few Senate seats in play — with freshman Democrat Ellen Karcher in the 12th district being the top GOP target. The seats of Democrats Frederick Madden in the 4th and Paul Sarlo in the 36th are the other two potentially competive seats (although some Republicans continue to argue that they can beat Stephen Sweeney in the District 3). The Republican strategist said that if Senate Republicans are unable to promise a fully-funded race, it might disaude Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck — widely viewed as the GOP’s strongest rival to Karcher — from running for the Senate. In addition to Senate President Richard Codey’s healthy treasurry, Madden and Sarlo have the added benefits of the Camden and Bergen County Democrats, respectively. Republicans might also need cash to defend some of their Senate seats, most specifically in the 11th district where Joseph Palaia is not seeking re-election. Two Republican Assemblymen — Steve Corodemus and Sean Kean — are interested in running. Democrats, who waged an expensive battle there in 2005, are expected to seriously contest the open seat. In Atlantic County, Democrats have promised to wage a stong campaign against Bill Gormley; some insiders expect that Assemblyman James Whelan, a former Mayor of Atlantic City, might run. Gormley is the best fundraiser on the Senate GOP side, and he’ll be less likely to help his colleagues raise money if he finds himself fighting for his own seat. Assembly Republicans think they can win one or two seats in the first district, where Democrats Jefferson Van Drew and Nelson Albano are expected to seek re-election — and where they have GOP Senator Nicholas Asselta heading their ticket. Democrat Michael Panter, who won re-election in the 12th last year by just 65 votes, and Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein in the 14th, will also be on the Republican target list. They are also eyeing seats in the third and fourth districts, and possibly in the 7th and 36th. But with less than six figures in the bank, it will be hard for Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce to convince cream-of-the-crop candidates to enter the race. Lower house Republicans will also need to defend a possible open seat (or two) in the 11th, Beck’s seat in the 12th, and Assemblyman Bill Baroni in the 14th. As the Republican strategist also noted, DeCroce may need to spend some money on his own re-election in the heavily Republican 26th district. Two candidates are already actively competing for the seat of Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio, who is running for the Senate, and DeCroce is slightly concerned that campaigns by Jay Webber and Lawrence Casha could overshadow him. During the recent state budget debate, DeCroce used Assembly Republican campaign funds to send out mailers in his own district.