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lLLINOIS: Poll: Only 27 Percent Would Re-elect Senator

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald’s (R) status as the chamber’s most vulnerable Republican seeking re-election next year was reinforced last week, with the release of a new statewide poll showing his re-elect numbers below 30 percent.

According to a survey conducted by the political science department at Wesleyan University, only 27 percent of the 462 respondents said Fitzgerald should be re-elected. Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed said someone else should be elected. The poll was conducted Feb. 25-26 and had a margin of error of 4.7 percent.

Although seven Democrats have indicated they will enter the race to face Fitzgerald, the Wesleyan poll tested only one in a head-to-head matchup against the Senator.

The poll showed state Comptroller Dan Hynes with 34 percent and Fitzgerald with 31 percent in a hypothetical matchup, with 35 percent undecided.

Hynes has formed an exploratory committee and is raising money for a bid, but has not formally announced his candidacy.

Other leading Democrats in the race include multimillionaire businessman Blair Hull, state Sen. Barack Obama and former Chicago school board President Gery Chico.

Fitzgerald garnered unwanted national attention last week, after telling a local newspaper that President Bush had told him he would likely order the assassination of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein “if we had a clear shot.” The White House later disputed Fitzgerald’s characterization of the conversation.

At least one of the Democratic Senate hopefuls released a statement criticizing the Senator’s “poor judgment.”

“At a time when Americans are praying for a peaceful solution to this international crisis, Peter Fitzgerald’s comments demonstrate the height of irresponsibility, and are unbecoming of a United States Senator,” Hull said in the statement.

— Lauren W. Whittington

Kansas

Moore Is Less, as He Forgoes Senate Race

After a brief flirtation, Rep. Dennis Moore (D) has decided against challenging Sen. Sam Brownback (R) next year, sources familiar with his decision said Friday.

Moore was expected to make a public announcement over the weekend officially taking himself out of the contest. He is likely to seek a fourth term in his Republican-leaning 3rd district, which he captured by beating Rep. Vince Snowbarger (R) in 1998.

Moore has since defeated several serious challengers but won with just 50 percent in 2002, making him a likely Republican target this cycle.

Moore was seen as Democrats’ best chance to knock off Brownback, who won a 1996 special election to replace Sen. Bob Dole (R), who resigned to run for president, and then won a 1996 general election for the remaining two years of Dole’s term. He won a full six-year term with 65 percent in 1998.

Aside from Moore, former Rep. Dan Glickman is mentioned as a potential Democratic challenger to Brownback. Glickman, Agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, pondered making the race against Sen. Pat Roberts (R) in 2002 but decided against it. Roberts won a second term with 83 percent and no Democratic opposition.

— Chris Cillizza

California

Rice Nixes Boxer Fight, Weighs Statehouse Run

There may never have been a serious chance of it happening, but National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (R) has apparently told leading Republicans that she has no interest in challenging Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) next year.

But Rice, a former provost at Stanford University, apparently did say she was “very much open” to the possibility running for governor in 2006, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A Republican insider said Rice sees herself as better suited to an executive job than a legislative environment.

Rice is not the only Republican star eyeing a gubernatorial race in 2006, when Gov. Gray Davis (D) is term-limited. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger has also openly talked about running.

The plans of several California Republicans could be scrambled, however, if a drive to recall Davis is successful.

Meanwhile, the list of potential GOP challengers to Boxer is considerably less celestial. It includes Rep. Darrell Issa, U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, former state insurance commissioner candidate Gary Mendoza, Rep. Doug Ose, Rep. George Radanovich and businessman Bill Simon, last year’s unsuccessful nominee for governor. Ose has created an exploratory committee and has begun to raise money for the race.

Radio talk-show host Dennis Prager, whose name had been mentioned, is now considered far less likely to run.

— Josh Kurtz

Calvert to Run Again Despite 1992 Pledge

Add Rep. Ken Calvert (R) to the list of Members who have decided to run for re-election despite making term-limit pledges earlier in their political careers.

Calvert told Roll Call last week that he will be a candidate for a seventh term in the Inland Empire’s 44th district east of Los Angeles.

When he was elected in 1992, Calvert, a restaurateur, said he would limit himself to six terms.

“I’m not saying I’m indispensible,” he said. “But I feel pretty good about the job I’ve done for my district.”

Calvert said he is not expecting any political fallout from his decision to run again. He appears to have stabilized his position after enduring personal controversy earlier in his Congressional career and almost losing his seat.

As for his long-term political plans, Calvert, who is 49, said: “I’m not saying I’ll run until I’m 85, but certainly I’ll run for another term.”

— J.K.

Florida

Graham Silent on Senate As W.H. Bid Opens

As Sen. Bob Graham (D) made his long-expected presidential bid official last week, one question still remained up in the air: Will he run for re-election if he does not get the Democratic nomination?

Graham has maintained that he is running for president with the expectation that he will be the nominee, a decision that should become clear by spring of next year. But prolonged ambiguity over whether he would jump back into the Senate race before the May 7, 2004, filing deadline may weaken Democrats’ general election chances.

“He has not specifically said that he will not run for re-election,” Graham spokesman Paul Anderson told the Orlando Sentinel last week. “He has not specifically said what he will do if he falls short” in the presidential race.

Among the Democrats expected to run for Senate if Graham does not are Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and Rep. Peter Deutsch. The Orlando newspaper also reported that aides to potential Democratic candidates are privately expressing frustration that Graham is not giving them an indication of his plans.

Several Republicans are continuing to gear up for the race regardless of what Graham does. Rep. Mark Foley (R) and former Rep. Bill McCollum (R), who lost a 2000 Senate bid, are both expected to run.

— L.W.W.

New York

First GOP Challenger To Schumer Will File

As New York Republicans frantically search for a credible challenger to Sen. Charles Schumer (D), a 33-year-old civic activist is putting his name forward.

Michael Benjamin, who was the Republican nominee against Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D) in 1996, will file candidacy papers this week to run for Senate.

“I think the people of New York are ready for a change,” he said Friday.

Benjamin — who got just 16 percent of the vote against Nadler in a heavily Democratic district — is chairman of a New York-based organization known as the Society for Republican Citizens, which organizes fundraisers and policy forums. He has worked in the financial services industry and also runs a non-profit, the New York Benevolence Council.

Meanwhile, the Web site PoliticsNY.com says that Gov. George Pataki (R) plans to get involved in the search for a challenger to Schumer.

“Pataki is said to be looking for a fresh-faced candidate who is moderate enough to appeal to a general election audience, but conservative enough to win the Conservative Party line,” PoliticsNY.com. wrote.

Pataki isn’t likely to support the one “name” Republican who is publicly considering the race, Rep. Peter King, according to the site.

King, the six-term Long Island Congressman, hasn’t shown many signs of being a vigorous candidate yet. He appears to be in the process of creating a campaign Web site — www.peterking2004.com — but as of Friday, it linked directly to his official House Web site.

— J.K.

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