Democrats Fuel Fundraising With Focus on Unemployment Benefits

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WILMINGTON, DE - NOVEMBER 02: U.S. Senator-elect Chris Coons (D-DE) (R) stands next to his wife Annie Coons (L) while speaking at his victory party on November 2, 2010 in Wilmington, Delaware. Chris Coons beat out Republican challenger Christine O'Donnell to win Vice President Joe Biden's old Senate seat. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
Jan. 27, 2014, 3:09 p.m.

On the day the Sen­ate took a pro­ced­ur­al vote on ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, Sen. Chris­toph­er Coons of Delaware, a Demo­crat, wrote to his cam­paign sup­port­ers, ur­ging them to tell con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans to sup­port the meas­ure.

The ap­peal also in­vited the sen­at­or’s back­ers to donate to either him, a group of oth­er Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors, or both.

“We de­pend on the help of grass­roots sup­port­ers like you to be able to con­tin­ue work­ing for com­mon sense solu­tions,” a mes­sage on the fun­drais­ing site said.

The fun­drais­ing ef­fort comes as Sen­ate Demo­crats and the White House, which is pre­par­ing for its fifth State of the Uni­on ad­dress, are un­der­tak­ing a le­gis­lat­ive push on in­come in­equal­ity, fo­cus­ing on the real-world plight of voters ad­versely af­fected by the ex­pir­a­tion of the be­ne­fits.

But the ef­fort also un­der­scores that aside from the le­gis­lat­ive com­pon­ent, Sen­ate Demo­crats are pur­su­ing a polit­ic­al ap­proach, ask­ing voters to back their ef­fort, not just by shar­ing their stor­ies, but also by of­fer­ing their fin­an­cial sup­port.

It’s an is­sue, say some Demo­crats, that hits a fig­ur­at­ive sweet spot — solv­ing a policy is­sue that Demo­crats feel strongly about, but also buoy­ing the party polit­ic­ally.

“I think the pres­id­ent sees it as a win-win,” said former Demo­crat­ic Rep. Vic Fazio. “Either you get what you ask for or you have an is­sue that will prove help­ful.”

The bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion, sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., also has the sup­port of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but the meas­ure foundered be­fore Con­gress went on re­cess, with Re­pub­lic­ans, angry that Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id barred their amend­ments, block­ing the meas­ure.

Re­id plans to bring the is­sue up again soon, with bi­par­tis­an talks go­ing on be­hind the scenes, law­makers say.

While Demo­crats are seek­ing cam­paign cash on the is­sue, Re­pub­lic­ans work­ing with Reed to ad­vance the le­gis­la­tion say Demo­crats are still work­ing in good faith to find a way to pay for the nearly $6.5 bil­lion le­gis­la­tion.

“I was con­cerned that per­haps this was go­ing to turn in­to one of these polit­ic­al is­sues, where each side uses it against the oth­er, and that’s not what I’m see­ing,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has been work­ing to forge a bill that can pass the Sen­ate. “I’m see­ing real­ist­ic, genu­ine dis­cus­sions to try to find a solu­tion.”

The fun­drais­ing ef­fort had the back­ing of a hand­ful of Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors, some up for reelec­tion this year like Coons, Mark Warner of Vir­gin­ia, and Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas, who is seen as one of the most vul­ner­able Demo­crats up this cycle. Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes, who Demo­crats hope can de­feat Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell in Ken­tucky, has also signed on to the cam­paign.

But it also has the sup­port of Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Robert Men­en­dez of New Jer­sey.

Demo­crats bristle at the no­tion that, as some Re­pub­lic­ans have ar­gued, ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits is purely a polit­ic­al play.

“Fight­ing for Amer­ic­an work­ers is part of who we are as a party, so it stands to reas­on that the is­sues on which Demo­crats cam­paign would re­flect that,” Coons spokes­man Ian Koski said.

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