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PENNSYLVANIA: Specter Seeks Meeting With Club for Growth

As speculation intensifies over whether Rep. Pat Toomey (R) will challenge Sen. Arlen Specter (R) in a primary next year, the four-term Senator is pressing the foremost group fueling support for the Congressman’s run to stay out of in the race.

Club for Growth President Stephen Moore said this week that the conservative group, which he described as “unapologetically right wing,” is open to meeting with the moderate Specter.

“Specter is asking us to stay out of the race,” Moore said Monday. “We’ll meet with him and respectfully let him make his case.”

The Club for Growth has supported Toomey in the past, and Moore said the group gets involved in GOP primaries when they think they can elect someone who thinks like them in a race where the battle lines are clearly drawn.

“What we want to see is a clear ideological distinction between the candidates,” he said.

The organization is also trying to coax Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) into a primary against Sen. John McCain (R) next year. Flake, unlike Toomey, has not indicated that he is considering making the race.

Toomey has said he will honor a term-limits pledge and not run for re-election next year.

— Lauren W. Whittington

South Dakota

Thune Stays Put, Fueling Speculation

Former Rep. John Thune (R) has started a consulting firm in Sioux Falls, furthering speculation that he may run for the Senate in 2004.

The Thune Group will work in an advisory role for health care, agricultural and transportation concerns and will have a connection to a Washington, D.C., law firm, according to the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader.

Thune’s decision to remain in South Dakota following his 524-vote loss to Sen. Tim Johnson (D) last November fuels rumors that he is considering a run against Sen. Thomas Daschle (D) in 2004.

Thune would have the strong backing of the White House and the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the race, according to GOP sources, which could be crucial because first-term Rep. Bill Janklow (R) is also said to be interested in the Senate.

Daschle presents a much more formidable challenge than Johnson, however, as polling has regularly shown he is the most popular Democrat in the state.

Daschle won the seat by defeating Sen. Jim Abdnor (R) in 1986. He was re-elected in 1992 with 65 percent and in 1998 with 62 percent.

— Chris Cillizza

Florida

Foley Forges Ahead While Graham Recovers

Rep. Mark Foley (R) moved ever closer to announcing a Senate bid this week by indicating he is all but certain to run for Sen. Bob Graham’s (D) seat, even if the incumbent seeks re-election.

Foley, who has spent recent months traveling the state to build support for a run, also said he will definitely run if Graham does not.

The 66-year-old Graham, who is recuperating from heart surgery he underwent last week, had been expected to announce that he would run for president. He is now expected to make his future plans known early next month.

If at that time he enters the Democratic presidential fray or announces his retirement, Foley, 48, said his Senate candidacy is “a no-brainer.”

“I think you saddle up and rock ’n’ roll in that case,” Foley said, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

He also indicated that he thinks challenging Graham, arguably the state’s most popular politician, would not be as difficult as once thought. Foley’s year-end fundraising report showed he had $1.7 million in the bank. Graham, meanwhile, reported $243,000 in cash on hand.

— L.W.W.

Connecticut

Courtney Eyes Rematch, May Have Company

Former state Rep. Joe Courtney (D) is pondering a rematch against Rep. Rob Simmons (R) in 2004.

Courtney hosted a thank-you reception Tuesday for supporters of his 2002 campaign, in which he was defeated by Simmons 54 percent to 46 percent.

“I’m very interested and do intend to circulate through the district over the next several months,” Courtney told the Norwich Bulletin.

Prior to the Congressional race, Courtney had run as then-Rep. Barbara Kennelly’s (D-Conn.) lieutenant governor ticketmate in 1998 and served four terms in the state House.

He carried much of the institutional support of Connecticut Democrats in 2002 but had trouble offering a convincing argument on why voters should fire the freshman Simmons.

Courtney showed an ability to raise funds, however, a key asset in this sprawling district.

He brought in nearly $1.2 million but showed little more than $2,000 in his campaign coffers at the end of 2002.

The eastern Connecticut district, which includes numerous small towns such as Marlborough, tends to favor Democrats. Al Gore would have taken 54 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential election under the current lines.

Courtney may face a primary challenge from former state Rep. Shaun McNally, who briefly entered the 2002 contest before dropping out following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

— C.C.

Texas

Ex-White House Aide Delays Her Entrance

Victoria Sutton, a former assistant director of the White House Science Office, postponed the announcement of her candidacy for the 19th district special election in the wake of the loss of the Columbia space shuttle on Saturday.

Sutton delayed her entrance into the crowded race to replace Rep. Larry Combest (R), instead using the occasion to urge the continuation of space exploration.

Sutton served under President George H.W. Bush from 1990 to 1993. She is currently a law professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

She is considered a serious player in the special election scheduled for May 3. Other candidates in the top tier include: Midland businessman Mike Conaway, state Rep. Carl Isett, former Lubbock City Councilman Randy Neugebauer and former Midland Mayor Carroll Thomas.

Neugebauer led the field in fundraising at the end of 2002, showing $309,000 in the bank. Conaway had $47,000 on hand; Sutton held $18,000 and Isett $15,000 in their respective war chests.

Because of the packed field, a June 3 runoff is likely.

Democrats are not expected to seriously contest this seat, which would have given George W. Bush better than 70 percent in the 2000 presidential election.

— C.C.

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