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Williams: Dems face struggle in cash wars

Greg Nash

“I guess we don’t think it’s sexy enough.”

That intriguing quote came from President Obama last week. It was his amusing expression of regret over a lack of passion among Democrats for the 2014 midterm elections.

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The president has a strong personal incentive to pull every fire alarm over the current absence of campaign donations among Democrats.

If Republicans gain control of the Senate in this year’s midterm elections, the last two years of his presidency will be very cold.

The White House will be reduced to a besieged bunker for a president under attack from the GOP majority on both sides of Capitol Hill.

The Democrats’ rising fear of a Republican takeover also came into view last week in the red-faced anger expressed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

He went to the Senate floor to condemn the dollars pouring out of billionaires Charles and David Koch, who are the primary backers of the advocacy group named Americans for Prosperity. The Koch brothers’ group has already spent $27 million on TV ads attacking Democrats seeking to hold Senate seats.

“I can’t say that every one of the Koch brothers’ ads are a lie,” Reid said. “But I will say this: The vast majority of them are.

“Just because you have huge amounts of money you should not be able to run these false, misleading ads by the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Reid added.

Reid’s finger-pointing at the Koch brothers and the president’s lament are both in line with a pleading Twitter message from Obama’s former top political advisor David Axelrod.

“With the Senate seriously at risk and the Koch Brothers spending prodigiously,” he asked, “shouldn’t Dem funders be focused on ’14 and not ’16 races?”

This outbreak of concern over the midterms stems in part from a report that Priorities USA, a leading liberal super-PAC, is staying out of the Democrats’ uphill efforts in the 2014 races, instead saving its money for a Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign.

The response was a scream so intense Priorities USA, which raised more than $60 million for the president’s 2012 campaign, had to issue an urgent denial.

“That’s not true … The next Democratic President will have a much easier time if she — or he — has a Democratic House and Senate,” Buffy Wicks, the executive director of Priorities USA said.

But the fact is the fundraising picture for Democrats looks bad.

The Democrats’ central problem when it comes to the midterms is that the party is seeking more of the same. The odds strongly favor the GOP holding its House majority, which means the best the Democrats can hope for is holding on to their Senate majority.

If that scenario comes to pass, it will mean more of the political stalemate and polarization that has poisoned Capitol Hill since a 2010 landslide gave Republicans a House majority.

Democrats are in a frenzied search for a message to energize their donors and their indifferent base. Is it a call for income equality that paints the GOP as the party of the rich? Is it a charge that the GOP is engaged in a “War on Women?” Is it about the super rich — the Koch brothers — and the influence of money on our political system?

In this winter of their discontent, the immediate problem for Democrats is that they do not have the money to counter the Koch brothers’ assault on the Democrats’ Senate candidates.

Small-dollar donations are flowing to Democrats to support House candidates. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee set a record for election year fundraising in January. It holds $32 million in cash on hand, giving it an edge over the National Republican Congressional Committee’s $24 million on hand.

But when it comes to money for Senate races, the Republicans and Democrats are about even. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign committee has $8 million on hand while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has $12 million on hand but also $3.7 million in debts. And the Republicans are being bolstered by outside spending, specifically money coming from the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

Also, The New York Times reported in early February that Tea Party groups “now have formidable amounts of cash to augment their grassroots muscle.” In addition, other outside groups supporting hard-right Republicans, including the Senate Conservatives Fund, are raising record amounts of money.

The disparity in money for the upcoming Senate campaigns is fueling a hunger for a “sexy” Democrat to take on the Kochs. One possible hero emerged last week.

Tom Steyer, a billionaire, pledged $100 million in campaign spending to elect candidates to fight climate change.

Steyer embraces his new role. “The Koch brothers are pushing ideas that directly benefit them,” he told NPR last week. “They are pushing [issues] where it is going to result in their pocketbooks being a lot fatter.”

At the moment, Steyer is the Democrats’ best hope to bring “sexy” back.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.

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