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ARIZONA: McCain Sounding Like A Candidate for Senate

Sen. John McCain (R) made his most definitive statement yet that he would run for a fourth term at a Phoenix fundraiser on Feb. 20.

“I do believe I can continue to serve and help the state and nation,” McCain said. He acknowledged that he had seriously contemplated leaving Congress after 2004 because “I didn’t want to be remembered as someone who had difficulty making it to the Senate floor.”

McCain’s decision makes his re-election a near certainty. He has served in the Senate since 1986 and regularly won by huge margins.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R) is still discussed as a potential primary challenger from McCain’s ideological right, but the second-term Congressman was one of the co-chairmen of the fundraising event.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding McCain’s political future, no Democrats have stepped forward as possible candidates. Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Jim Pederson is seen as the strongest candidate but is unlikely to challenge McCain.

— Chris Cillizza

South Carolina

May Day Plus One: 1st Presidential Debate Set

What is likely to be the first Democratic debate of the presidential primary season will be held May 2 in Columbia and will be moderated by 2002 Senate nominee Alex Sanders (D), outgoing Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said last week.

The majority of the ever-growing field has agreed to attend, and most if not all of the candidates are likely to be present given the Palmetto State’s significance in the nominating process.

The state’s presidential primary is slated for Feb. 3, the same day that Missouri and Arizona have their contests. The Iowa caucuses are tentatively set for Jan. 19, with the New Hampshire primary eight days later.

“I came in with a bang, I’m leaving with a bang,” Harpootlian told The Associated Press about his decision to leave his post after two terms and to organize the first debate among all of the Democratic presidential hopefuls.

The Washington, D.C., media consulting firm Geddings & Phillips, headed by South Carolina politico Kevin Geddings, will handle the logistics of the debate on a pro bono basis.

Harpootlian, known for his colorful quotes and no-holds-barred politics, took over as chairman at the start of the 1998 cycle, which saw a little-known state Senator named Jim Hodges (D) topple Gov. David Beasley (R).

Harpootlian leaves the party after a much less successful 2002 cycle, where Hodges lost his re-election bid and Democrats failed to capture the open seat of retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond (R).

— C.C.

DeMint Unveils Finance Team While Foe Enters

While Rep. Jim DeMint (R) last week unveiled a finance team for his Senate bid filled with veterans of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R) 2002 campaign and the 2000 presidential race of President Bush, former state Attorney General Charlie Condon (R) announced he is forming an exploratory committee of his own to look at the race.

DeMint’s move is an attempt to answer critics questioning his ability to fund a Senate race. The three-term Member ended 2002 with just $3,000 in the bank.

“These leaders are the gold standard when it comes to raising money,” DeMint told the State newspaper. “I’m delighted they are coming together to support my candidacy.”

The group includes real estate developer John Rainey, a major contributor to the 2002 campaign of Gov. Mark Sanford (R) and now chairman of the state’s Board of Economic Advisors. Rainey donated $1,000 each to Graham and DeMint in the last election.

DeMint is the current Republican frontrunner in the race against Sen. Fritz Hollings (D), but Condon’s interest could make for a contested GOP primary — something many state and national Republican leaders were hoping to avoid. Hollings has not said whether he will seek re-election.

Condon, who served as the state’s top law-enforcement official from 1994 to 2002, ran a distant third in last cycle’s gubernatorial primary. He raised roughly $1.3 million for that race.

Condon chose the son of former governor — and South Carolina Republican political godfather — Carroll Campbell to chair his exploratory committee.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride is the only other announced candidate on the Republican side.

— C.C.

Georgia

Game of Musical Chairs Continues With Bob Barr

Former Rep. Bob Barr (R), who was defeated by fellow Rep. John Linder (R) in a primary last year, officially announced his candidacy in the open 6th district last week.

The 6th district includes just 5 percent of the territory Barr once represented. The seat is being vacated by Rep. Johnny Isakson (R), who has announced he is running for Senate.

Barr represented the old 7th district from 1995 until January, and much of the territory he represented now lies in the redrawn 11th district. He and Linder both moved last year to run in the redrawn 7th district, a heavily Republican seat.

Barr said he is not planning to move in order to run in the 6th. Several other GOP candidates are also considering running in the safe Republican seat.

Meanwhile, Isakson remains the only announced candidate of either party for the seat of retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D) after two potential contenders took themselves out of the running last week. State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine (R) and former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson (D) both said they would forgo seeking the seat.

—Lauren W. Whittington

Pennsylvania

Toomey Ponders ABC’s Of Primary Challenge

The Pennsylvania chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors provided the latest boost to Rep. Pat Toomey (R) as he continues to seriously consider a primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (R) next year.

The trade association voted unanimously to endorse Toomey last week, should he decide to run against Specter. There are approximately 50,000 employees of ABC member companies in Pennsylvania.

“We are formally committed to help with financial and grassroots support, if he challenges Specter,” Lee Strickland, ABC Regional vice chairman, said in a statement. “We encourage others to persuade Toomey … to run for the U.S. Senate.”

Toomey told The Associated Press that the endorsement will weigh in his decision.

“Certainly the endorsement of a national group like the ABC, with an extensive membership in Pennsylvania, does become a factor in my decision,” he said.

—L.W.W.

Mississippi

Attorney General Eyes Future Senate Race

State Attorney General Michael Moore (D) announced last week that he would not seek re-election to a fourth term this year, and in the process left the door open to a future Senate bid.

“I’ve always been interested in the Senate,” Moore told the Biloxi Sun Herald. “I don’t think that’s any secret.”

Moore gained national attention for the prominent role he played in the fight against the tobacco industry.

While he did not specifically say when he might look toward the Senate, the first opportunity will likely come in 2006 when Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is up for re-election.

After being forced out of his position as Senate Majority Leader late last year, Lott dispelled speculation that he might resign and said that he would serve out the remainder of his term. He has not addressed what his plans might be beyond 2006.

— L.W.W.

Kentucky

There She Goes: Former Miss America Bows Out

At least one member of the Henry family won’t be seeking Kentucky political office in the 2004 cycle.

Heather French Henry (D), a former Miss America, took her name out of contention for the 4th district Congressional race against Rep. Ken Lucas (D).

She is married to current Lt. Gov. Steve Henry (D), who recently dropped out of contention for the 2003 governor’s race. He is still mentioned as a possible candidate against Sen. Jim Bunning (R) in 2004.

“Under no circumstances would I ever consider running against such a respected and effective representative of our state,” French Henry said in a statement. She went on to endorse Lucas for a fourth term.

Lucas announced last month that he would forgo the term-limit pledge he made when he won an open-seat race in 1998.

Already three Republicans have announced their candidacies for Lucas’ seat: Campbell County Judge Executive Steve Pendery, 2002 nominee Geoff Davis and attorney Kevin Murphy.

The northern Kentucky 4th district tilts strongly toward Republicans. George W. Bush would have carried 61 percent of the vote there in the 2000 presidential election.

— C.C.

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