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CALIFORNIA: House Members Pick Sides in Chairman Race

California’s 20 Republican House Members last week injected themselves into the contentious race for California state GOP chairman.

After meeting with the two candidates in Washington, D.C. — Palo Alto attorney George Sundheim and party Vice Chairman Bill Back — the members voted to endorse Sundheim.

The state chairman’s race is considered the first step in the California Republican Party’s attempts to rehabilitate itself after a string of bad electoral defeats.

But the process has plunged into controversy following the disclosure that Back had circulated an article in 1999 that was sympathetic to the South’s position in the Civil War. The article suggested that Reconstruction was more harmful to race relations in America than 250 years of slavery.

Back said he simply wanted to show the provocative article to friends and supporters and did not share the racist viewpoint. But in the wake of the recent controversy surrounding Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the Back disclosure has put him — and California Republicans — on the defensive.

Now Sundheim, who is considered the frontrunner in the state party race in the wake of the Back backlash, finds himself on the defensive after the San Francisco Chronicle quoted him calling San Francisco “dysfunctional.” In a 2002 cable television interview, Sundheim warned that the state government could wind up as dysfunctional as San Francisco’s if voters consciously chose their candidates based on the fact that they were “homosexual, black or Chinese.”

The latest disclosure has left California Republican leaders scrambling for an alternative candidate before the state party convention next month, the newspaper reported. Both Back and Sundheim are boasting connections to President Bush, but the White House is remaining neutral, by all accounts.

— Josh Kurtz

Missouri

Would-Be Successors to Gephardt Are Emerging

After waiting 26 years for Rep. Richard Gephardt (D) to vacate his suburban St. Louis seat, two would-be successors have quickly joined the contest, and more may follow.

State Sen. Steve Stoll (D) was the first, announcing his candidacy almost simultaneously as the news that Gephardt would not seek re-election was breaking.

Gephardt is pursuing his second bid for the Democratic presidential nomination after stepping down in January from his position as House Minority Leader.

Because of the coordination between his announcement and Gephardt’s, most observers believe Stoll is the preferred candidate of Gephardt’s Missouri political machine.

Even so, Stoll will not have the field to himself, as state Rep. Rick Johnson (D) will also run for the seat.

Johnson is a relative political neophyte, having won his state House seat in 2000. Prior to his political career, he served in the Navy during the Persian Gulf War.

Stoll has a more extensive legislative background, having served on the Crystal City Council as well as in the state House and state Senate. He won a second Senate term in 2002 with 58 percent of the vote.

National Republicans believe they have an opportunity in the district and are working to recruit candidates.

President Bush, however, would have taken only 43 percent in the 2000 contest under the current district lines.

— Chris Cillizza

Illinois

Schakowsky to Forgo Senate Race Next Year

In an announcement that came as a surprise to few, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) said last week that she will not enter the Democratic primary for the right to challenge Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R) in the 2004 general election.

Schakowsky had been mulling over a Senate run for some months, but few observers thought she would gamble her safe House seat and position as a Chief Deputy Whip to enter a crowded primary.

At least five Democrats have already made their intention to run known, including attorney and former Chicago school board President Gery Chico, state comptroller Dan Hynes, state Sen. Barack Obama and wealthy investment banker Blair Hull.

Former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) is also eyeing a comeback and has indicated that she may make an announcement by the end of the month.

— Lauren W. Whittington

Wisconsin

Ryan Says He’ll Stay Put; GOP Needs Feingold Foe

Rep. Paul Ryan (R) last week put to rest speculation that he’s weighing a challenge to Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in 2004.

Ryan’s name had been floated in recent media reports as one of the candidates being encouraged to run for Senate by the White House. The 32-year-old lawmaker insisted that the White House was not “twisting my arm” to run and that he decided not to run because he thought he could be more valuable in the House.

“I told the White House I’m not going to do it and to stop putting my name out there,” Ryan told the Wisconsin State Journal in an interview last week. “I’m not going to change my mind.”

With Ryan officially taking his name out of contention, former Wisconsin Gov. and current Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson tops the short list of potential top-tier challengers. Thompson has not indicated whether he will run against the two-term Senator.

— L.W.W.

New Hampshire

What About Bob? Smith Filing Allows 2008 Run

Even before former Sen. Bob Smith (R), who was defeated in a primary last year by now-Sen. John Sununu (R), exited office last week, he had already opened the door to speculation about a future run.

In October, Smith filed papers with the Federal Election Commission creating the “Smith Team Exploratory Committee” for the 2008 election cycle, the Manchester Union Leader reported last week.

A spokeswoman for Smith told the New Hampshire paper that the former Senator created the committee to abide by technicalities in FEC law.

By creating the fund, Smith is able to transfer money left over from the primary race that had been designated for the general election. Smith had slightly more than $100,000 in the bank after asking donors if they wanted refunds.

The spokeswoman maintained that Smith had no plans to challenge Sununu in 2008.

— L.W.W.

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