Grooming cash cows

For more than a decade, White House hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has been a cash cow for the Republicans. Invoking her name in direct-mail appeals is standard in letters sent out by GOP House and Senate leaders.

But with trends running in the favor of rival Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) winning Iowa, positioning him to win the Democratic nomination — despite Clinton leading in national polls — the question I ask today is this: Can Obama do as good a job as Clinton in helping  the GOP raise campaign cash?

A Republican operative told me simply: Yes.

“We will use the personality and messages that are the most effective in raising cash. Whether that is Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton is kind of besides the point. If it excites the base and allows us to raise resources, what’s the difference?” the operative said.

No matter whether Obama or Clinton is the nominee, Republicans are optimistic that “either one, there is a decent way to raise money off their records.”

Obama’s record as a state senator, together with questionnaires he filled out in Illinois as a candidate pointing to his liberal roots, will all be fodder for GOP fundraisers. They won’t just  keep within the footprint of his Senate career. The Republican National Committee has been unabashed about circulating memos on Obama’s record, posting for all to see on their website.

And to illustrate, using Clinton as an example, let’s take a look at a pitch from Senate Republicans.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), under the signature of now-lame-duck Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.), the GOP whip, has been sending around what it is calling a “strategy ballot” to identify issues of concern to “grassroot voters.”

Here’s how Clinton is invoked:

“Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats who now control the U.S. Senate have launched an all-out attack on Republicans and out conservative agenda. … The NRSC is the Republican Party’s first line of defense against the Democrats and their liberal allies — from the Hollywood elites and Big Labor bosses to the radical environmentalists and ‘peace’ activists who loathe our military.”

And just in case Lott was too subtle, he adds a P.S. and a big dis to the Senate Democratic leader:

“The Democrats who control the Senate — from household names like Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy to little-known yet powerful Senators like Harry Reid — are on the attack … I need your help to stop them.”

Regarding that Hollywood angle; Republicans are salivating at that one. Clinton and Obama were in Los Angeles on Monday using stars to headline fundraising events for their presidential campaigns.

The Lott questionnaire is dressed up to look official—with a ballot number, a five-day deadline and a “respondent validation” (which most normal people would just call a signature).

The envelope is marked “registered materials” to make it look more important and comes with the instruction that if the person is not going to fill it out, “sign below and return unopened so we may select one of your neighbors to vote in your place.”

Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. E-mail: lsweet3022@aol.com