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MARYLAND: He’s $112,000 Richer, But Still Looking Ahead

Just days into his new job as Maryland’s assistant secretary of Transportation, former state Del. James Ports (R) is deflecting questions about whether he’ll challenge freshman Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) next year.

“There’s a lot of people asking me to do that,” Ports told The Baltimore Sun this week. “I’m not ruling anything out at this point. But right now, I’m not really focused on that.”

Ports, who is being paid $112,000 a year to oversee engineering, procurement, human resources, facilities, international relations and real estate at the state government’s largest agency, considered running for Congress in 2002. But he deferred to former Rep. Helen Bentley (R), who attempted a political comeback at age 78 with the blessing of most national and state GOP leaders.

Instead, Ports ran for a Baltimore County Council seat, and lost.

In what was considered a toss-up race in the Democratic-leaning 2nd district, Ruppersberger, a former Baltimore County executive, beat Bentley 55 percent to 45 percent.

Some political observers believe Ports, a formidable debater, would have had a better shot at Ruppersberger.

In 2000, the two debated a controversial Ruppersberger proposal to redevelop an industrial, working-class neighborhood several times across Baltimore County. The plan was defeated at the polls — thanks in part to Ports’ spirited opposition.

Although Ports is politically ambitious, some state Republican leaders privately believe he does not have the capacity to raise enough money to be competitive in a Congressional race, even though they believe that the right candidate could run strong there.

In addition, Ports was redistricted last year into the 1st district, which is held by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R).

— Josh Kurtz


Democrats Look to Kill December Runoff Vote

Rep. Chris John (D) recently met with his fellow Congressional Democrats in an effort to turn last cycle’s December runoff into the first and last of its kind.

“It is just not helpful for Louisiana to have an election a month after the national election is over,” John told The Baton Rouge Advocate.

A 1997 Supreme Court ruling created the current electoral calendar. It forced Louisiana voters to head to the polls Dec. 7, 2002, to choose their Senator and Representative in the 5th district — Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and now-Rep. Rodney Alexander (D) won their respective races.

John cited the significant spending by outside interests in both the Senate and House contests as evidence that the December runoff puts the interests of Louisiana voters behind the interests of the national parties.

“I really believe people were angry at the amount of money and the level of the campaigning in the Senate runoff,” John said.

Landrieu raised more than $8.5 million for the race; her opponent, former state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell (R), spent about $2.8 million.

John, who has not introduced any specific legislation to change the law, denied that his push for a change in the law was related to his interest in a Senate bid in the event that Sen. John Breaux (D) decides against running for re-election in 2004.

— Chris Cillizza


Everything’s Up to Date In Kansas City for Bond

A group of Kansas City Democrats held a fundraiser for Sen. Kit Bond (R) last week, highlighting the difficulty the Democrats have recruiting a top-tier candidate to take on the three-term Senator next year.

The attendees included Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes and several state Representatives and city councilmen, among others.

Bond, who is from Mexico, Mo., has regularly performed strongly in Jackson County, and won the county, which encompasses Kansas City, in his 1998 re-election race.

Recently, in an unusual public attempt to recruit a candidate into the race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a poll that purported to show that Bond is in a weak position.

Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell seems the most interested Democrat at this point, though state Auditor Claire McCaskill’s name remains in the mix. There is also a rumor of a wealthy self-funder waiting in the wings to run, sources said.

— C.C.


Beauprez Race Inspires Provisional Voting Bill

Both houses of the state Legislature have passed a bill designed to clear up confusion over the use of provisional ballots, which are given to voters as a last resort if they are inadvertently knocked off the voter rolls.

Thousands of provisional ballots were used in the airtight 7th district House race last year, which now-Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) won over then-state Sen. Mike Feeley (D) by just 123 votes.

But county clerks did not use them — or count them — uniformly, casting their results in doubt.

The bill prevents anyone from getting a provisional ballot at their polling place if they have also applied to receive an absentee ballot by mail. In an attempt to reduce voter fraud, it also requires voters to sign an affidavit when they are filling out a provisional ballot.

According to The Rocky Mountain News, Gov. Bill Owens (R) has not yet indicated whether he will sign the measure.

— J.K.

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