In a newletter e-mailed to its members earlier this week, the leadership of the North Jersey Political Action Committee noted that the goal of a recent fund-raiser for Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) was “raising money in an effort to be prepared when an open Senate seat becomes available.”
|Rep. Steve Rothman|
The e-mail indicated that the congressman has plans to advance to the Senate. New Jersey’s 84-year-old senior senator, Frank Lautenberg, is seeking re-election this November and Rothman had previously come out in support of his colleague during a primary challenge in June. Sen. Robert Menendez, also a Democrat, is not up for re-election this year.
Reached on Wednesday, Rothman said that he has no immediate designs on Lautenberg’s seat and still supports the octogenarian senator’s re-election bid.
“I’m in my 12th year in the House of Representatives and I love my job,” he said. “That being said, I’ve made no secret of the fact that if a Senate seat were to become available I would be interested.”
Rothman’s immediate focus, he said, is on the success of the entire Democratic ticket in November. That includes Lautenberg’s re-election, his own re-election, and Sen. Barack Obama’s election to the presidency. Rothman is a founding member of the Englewood-based pro-Israel NORPAC and the northeast co-chair of Obama’s campaign.
NORPAC frequently holds fund-raisers for politicians with positive voting records on Israel. Last month, it hosted a fund-raiser for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in Teaneck and its leadership has said the group is open to an event for Democratic challenger Sen. Barack Obama.
Dr. Ben Chouake, NORPAC’s president, called Rothman’s post “a safe seat” and re-affirmed that the fund-raiser for him was meant to show support for his re-election and aid a future Senate run.
Reached at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota on Tuesday, Chouake said that NORPAC supports Lautenberg and emphasized that the group does not consider his seat to be open. Because of Lautenberg’s age – he would be 90 at the end of his next term if he wins re-election – the PAC must plan for an open seat sooner rather than later, Chouake said.
“We are optimistic and hopeful that Rothman will be a substantial contender,” he said.
Rhetoric about a Rothman succession to the Senate is merely preparatory and not meant to imply that NORPAC does not support Lautenberg’s re-election, Chouake said.
“Lautenberg is a full-time warrior,” he said. “If he can do this, he’s going to do this. He’s not giving it up for vacation or retirement. For whatever reason, things open up. You have to be ready. Part of being ready is having a campaign war chest.”
Rothman noted that he has accumulated almost $2 million in a campaign war chest from various fund-raisers through his multiple terms. A successful Senate run requires at least $10 million, he said.
“So if one is ever interested in that position, it is prudent to begin saving their pennies for that possible endeavor whenever they can,” he said.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Rothman collected $645,766 from individual contributors and $403,819 from PACs and other lobbies during the 2007-08 election cycle.
NORPAC contributed $2,000 to Rothman’s campaign in 2007. According to election laws, lobbying groups can only give up to $5,000 to a political campaign. However, NORPAC and other lobbies are permitted to bundle contributions from individuals and present them in the lobby’s name. There is no contribution limit for bundled donations.
Lautenberg has accumulated $4,002,168 in individual contributions and $1,103,613 in contributions from PACs and other lobbies during the 2007-08 cycle. The senator received three contributions in NORPAC’s name in 2007 totaling $7,490 and one contribution of $2,510 in 2008.
“Clearly, [the Senate] is his life’s work,” Chouake said of Lautenberg.