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With the Senate's future hanging in the balance, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, are using their PACs to help Senate colleagues. STEPHEN DUNN|sdunn@courant.com (File photo STEPHEN DUNN / Hartford Courant)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Richard Blumenthal reached out to his supporters this week asking them for campaign cash — not for his campaign, but for that of Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat.

Although Franken is a former Saturday Night Live funnyman, there's nothing funny about his bid for re-election this year. He's one of eight incumbent Democratic senators who are considered vulnerable; and control of the Senate hangs on races like the one between Franken and his Republican rival, Mike McFadden.

"This race is going to be a close one, with the other side pouring money into false attacks against Senator Franken," Blumenthal's fundraising letter said.

This is not the first time Blumenthal, D-Conn., has asked his donors to give to someone else. In other fundraising appeals, he's also encouraged them to donate to other vulnerable Democrats, including Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C.

Blumenthal, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., are busy helping other Democrats in tough fights this year for several reasons, but the biggest is that control of the U.S. Senate, now in Democratic hands by a margin of six seats, could very well flip this year to the GOP.

A handful of Democratic incumbents are defending Republican-leaning seats in places where President Obama is deeply unpopular, including Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina.

"We can't afford a future with a right wing-controlled Senate, where women's rights don't matter and money reigns supreme," Blumenthal said in his fundraising appeal. "I know what it's like to run against a millionaire self-funder — and that's why I'm doing whatever it takes to help Senator Franken get re-elected."

The House of Representatives is expected to remain in Republican hands.

In a March e-mail, Murphy urged supporters to donate to the campaign of Sen. John Walsh, who was trying to keep a Montana Senate seat in the Democrats' column.

"Nate Silver projected Republicans would take control of the Senate by just one seat, and recent polls in the state all show a close race with Senator Walsh slightly behind, but gaining steam as more people get to know about him and his Tea Party opponent," Murphy wrote. "And because elections in Montana cost a lot less money than most other states, your contribution will go further towards ensuring we retain our majority than almost any other race you can give to in 2014."

Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, Walsh dropped out of the race earlier this month after The New York Times reported he substantially plagiarized his master's thesis at the U.S. Army War College.

Both Blumenthal and Murphy have donated generously out of their leadership PACs this year to vulnerable Democratic incumbents — and to a couple of Democratic challengers who have a shot at unseating GOP senators.

Leadership PACs were created to help a member of Congress win influence over his or her colleagues.

"You build little fiefdoms with these leadership PACs," said Gary Rose, head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University.

A Democratic loss of the Senate would dramatically shrink the ability of Connecticut's senators to press their agendas. Blumenthal and Murphy are in their first term of office and just beginning to mount Congress' seniority ladder, a climb in which power and influence grows with each step.

"If the Republicans take the Senate, that's going to stall their legislative agenda," Rose said of Connecticut's senators.

According to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission, Blumenthal has donated $146,500 from his Nutmeg PAC. Among top recipients, who were given $10,000 each, were Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Mark Warner, D-Va.

Murphy has donated $105,500 from his MurphPAC to many of the same Democratic senators.

Connecticut's senators also have donated to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which already has spent more than $100 million on hot races.

Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report said that even when the Senate isn't up for grabs, members of Congress donate to colleagues in tough races.

"It is very common for senators to help their colleagues raise money. In fact, it is expected," she said. "Many of these senators have helped Murphy and Blumenthal in the past. This is just returning the favor."

Connecticut's U.S. senators are likely to donate more money to their colleagues as the Nov. 4 elections near. But their money is likely to be dwarfed by the huge amounts of independent expenditures — that is money raised by third-party groups that aim to influence the results of these hot Senate races.

In the race between Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis, alone, more than $20 million has been spent by outside parties on advertising.

But Rose said donations from colleagues "is nevertheless appreciated."

"It's an action that suggests good will and support," he said.

Ana Radelat is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror http://www.ctmirror.org. Copyright 2014 © The Connecticut Mirror.