WASHINGTON – The national Democratic Party has spent millions on raising money, consultants and building state parties, entering the weeks before Election Day with only about one-fifth as much as the Republicans for races that could decide control of Congress.
The Republican National Committee is prepared to spend $60 million over the next seven weeks on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts to protect the GOP's narrow majorities in the House and Senate.
The Democratic National Committee plans to use about $12 million, all devoted to getting voters to the polls. Even in that effort, though, it has set aside only an average of $60,000 in each of the 40 most competitive congressional races in the country.
DNC Chairman Howard Dean has delivered more resources toward building the party at the state level than any other DNC chairman. In doing so, the DNC as of July 31 had transferred nearly $17 million to state and local party committees across the country, with significantly more going to states with competitive races, according to party officials.
Between Jan. 1, 2005 and July 31 of this year, the party spent about $90.2 million, about a third of that on fundraising expenses, ranging from more than $8 million in direct mail to $10,500 for an event for donors at the five-star Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
The DNC has spent more than $8 million updating national lists of Democratic voters, the party says. About $2.9 million has gone toward general consulting and services, and nearly $1 million to legal consulting, according to data compiled by Political Money Line, a database for political spending. The political consulting figure includes money spent on summer interns, party officials said.
Both parties will rely heavily on their congressional campaign committees for advertising and voter outreach. But while the GOP is operating at a political disadvantage this election, its financial edge could be crucial for Republicans to retain political power.
Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman has developed a highly touted voter outreach operation that party operatives say he will blend with targeted television advertising. It is an operation that helped with a Republican victory in a special congressional election in California and with securing Sen. Lincoln Chafee's Republican primary win in Rhode Island.
"Republicans have unlimited resources," said Steve Rosenthal, a Democratic strategist and expert on voter mobilization. He predicted Republicans will "bloody the waters enough with negative ads and come in below that with a campaign that is mailings, phone calls, personal contact with voters they know they need to get out to win."
To be sure, Republicans have long been able to raise more money than Democrats. Between Jan. 1, 2005, and July 31 of this year, the RNC raised $176.2 million. At the end of that period, it had $43.6 million in the bank. The DNC raised $95.5 million during that period and had $11.3 million in the bank at the end of July.
Dean, a prolific fundraiser, has been successful at bringing in more money by Democratic standards. But his decision to spend more on states has angered Washington-based party operatives who want to place the party's focus on winning control of Congress and set the stage to regain the White House in 2008.
One Democratic strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to inflame tensions with Dean, pointed out that the chairman has raised and spent a significant amount of money, arguing that winning this year is crucial to the party winning in 2008.
But Dean's strategy has vast support from state party officials who have been pleading for years for help from the Democratic national committee. State party officials say the money, in turn, will help Democrats in races up and down the ballot, from gubernatorial to congressional to state legislative contests.
"The investment in the state parties has made them stronger," said Mark Brewer, the chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party and president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs. "There are more door-to-door canvassers and they're working for the whole ticket. It's a different way of spending the same resources."
Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said field operatives hired by the state party with help from the DNC will work together with staffers from the House and Senate campaign committees in mobilizing voters to help all candidates on the Ohio ballot. Ohio is one of the mot competitive states in the country, with close races for governor, Senate, and several House races.
Dean defenders said the party's two campaign committees — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — are focused exclusively on the upcoming race, while Dean needs to have a longer view that builds the party for the future.
"If you want to win the presidency you have to win Ohio," Redfern said.
But the DNC's money has been directed to all states, many of them solidly Republican where Democratic candidates for national office stand little or no chance. Still, DNC officials said the $12 million devoted to a national get-out-the-vote effort is greater than the DNC's commitment in past elections.
The party's campaign committees have taken the lead in supporting Democratic House and Senate candidates in competitive races. The congressional campaign committee is running its own voter mobilization effort with the help of Michael Whouley, a highly regarded party strategist.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the DCCC chairman who has quarreled with Dean over DNC spending, last week obtained a $2.4 million pledge from the DNC's get-out-the-vote money to specifically mobilize voters in 40 competitive House seats. Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and chairman of the senatorial campaign committee, is still negotiating with the DNC for a sum to help Senate candidates.
Meanwhile, the RNC has already spent more than $300,000 in advertising against Rep. Harold Ford, the Democratic Senate candidate in Tennessee, and more than $1 million against Rep. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senate candidate in Ohio. The DNC plans to spend no money advertising, leaving that task to the party's campaign committees.
Still, some Democratic strategists say their candidates have indeed benefited from Dean's decision to send much of the party's money to the states. Others say the party's decision to overhaul outdated voters files has provided an invaluable service.
"Our campaign would have had to spent our manpower and our resources if we had to build it from scratch," said Michael Malaise, the campaign manager for Nick Lampson, the Democrat seeking to fill the seat formerly held by House Republican Leader Tom DeLay.