When Harry Reid announced in March that he would not seek reelection next year, he did more than just help Democrats retain his battleground seat in Nevada.
Freed from the commitments of a reelection race, Reid is embarking upon an aggressive schedule of fundraisers designed to fill the bank accounts of allied candidates, political committees, and super PACs—money that will be used to help Democratic candidates in as many as a dozen races in 2016.
Reid already has committed to at least a dozen events through the end of July for Senate Majority PAC, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and his leadership PAC, according to an aide. Last week, he held a fundraiser in Las Vegas for Jason Kander, the likely Democratic Senate nominee in Missouri, and will attend another event this week in Washington for his designed successor in Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto.
The upcoming schedule is just the beginning of a money-raising blitz that will last through next November, aides say. And it's one that, faced with the reality of a grueling reelection race, would have been difficult for Reid to undertake should he have tried to return to the Senate. Now, instead of fighting for his own political survival, the senator is focused on trying to make sure that as he leaves office, his party is coming back in to the Senate majority.
"While we already expected Leader Reid to be helpful in our efforts to win the majority, the fact that he doesn't have to focus on his own race should provide us with a significant boost in resources," DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky said.
Democrats need to win five seats to guarantee that they'll retake the Senate majority next year—four if the party wins the presidency and gets to cast the tiebreaking vote for Senate control. The party is optimistic it can do so, confident that a plethora of Republican incumbents in blue states are ripe for defeat.
Republicans counter that Democrats have a thin bench of potential recruits and will have to knock off a host of well-prepared Republican incumbents. And any help they receive from Reid, a figure of national unpopularity, the GOP surely will try to use against them when its candidates make their case to the voters.
"Harry Reid's national brand of dysfunction continues to help our Republican fundraising," said Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "We look forward to watching Harry Reid drag down other Democrat candidates in his desperate attempt to stay relevant."
Reid has scheduled eight fundraisers for Searchlight PAC over the next six weeks. Reid's leadership PAC doled out more than $670,000 last cycle to Democratic PACs, state parties, and candidate committees.
He will attend a four-city fundraising tour for Senate Majority PAC and the DSCC in June and July, with stops in Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and New York (a fourth city has yet to be determined). In addition, a DSCC official says Reid will put in additional "call time" for the committee and Democratic candidates—a process in which the senator will call donors asking them to give to the political group or the individual candidate's committee.
"Senator Reid will do everything he can so that Democrats regain their Senate majority—and that includes ensuring the DSCC and Senate campaigns have the resources they need to compete," said Kristen Orthman, Reid spokeswoman.
The aggressive schedule is nothing new for Reid, who aides say attended 81 SMP events last election cycle and 21 DSCC fundraisers. But it comes at a time when the senator who will replace him as leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, has increased his own presence inside the DSCC. Schumer has reportedly called potential candidates in several key Senate races, including Pennsylvania, where many party leaders are wary of the front-runner, former Rep. Joe Sestak.
The future of SMP, the super PAC behemoth that spent tens of millions of dollars on behalf of Senate Democratic candidates, is less clear. It is helmed by Reid allies, including his former Chief of Staff Susan McCue, who is the group's co-chair, and is widely seen as an extension of the Senate leader's political operation. (Reid and the super PAC are legally barred from coordinating strategy directly on races, but he is allowed to raise money for the group.)
Officials in the group say that, for now, they don't know if Schumer will want to restock the group with his own lieutenants during this election cycle or if he will wait until the next. One Democratic operative who has worked with the group, J.B. Poersch, served as the DSCC's executive director while Schumer was the group's chairman.
"For now, nothing has changed," said one official at SMP, granted anonymity to speak candidly. "We have the same team same goals. We're raising money and doing everything we can to build an operation as we've done the previous two cycles."
Aides to Reid say his efforts will help not only Senate Democrats but the Nevada state party, which could play a key role for likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as she tries to repeat Barack Obama's back-to-back victories there in 2016.
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