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ILLINOIS: Republican Senate Field Starting to Take Shape

After a series of highly publicized rejections from potential candidates, the Republican field in the open-seat Illinois Senate race finally began to take shape this week.

Wealthy Chicago-area businessman Andy McKenna filed papers Wednesday to run for the seat of retiring Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R), and former investment banker Jack Ryan also announced that he will run.

“As of today, I am officially a candidate in the race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate,” Ryan told The Illinois Leader on Wednesday. McKenna plans to officially kick off his campaign in a few weeks.

Millionaire dairy entrepreneur Jim Oberweis established an exploratory committee Tuesday and pledged to spend $1 million of his own money on the race if he runs. Oberweis was defeated in last year’s Republican Senate primary, and both of his opponents in that race — former state Sen. Jim Durkin and attorney John Cox — are among those considering running next year.

Also on Tuesday, former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan (no relation to Jack Ryan) announced that he was not interested in running to replace Fitzgerald. Jim Ryan was defeated in the 2002 gubernatorial contest by then-Rep. Rod Blagojevich (D).

In the past few days, former Gov. Jim Edgar and state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, who doubles as state GOP chairwoman — said they would not run.

— Lauren W. Whittington


Sheriff Rules Out a Challenge to Sanchez

Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona (R) makes no secret of his ambitions for higher office.

But while he has said he might like to run for Congress some day, he told The Orange County Register this week that he has no plans to challenge Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D), the lone Democrat in the giant suburban county’s Congressional delegation, in 2004. In fact, Carona said his only political goal for 2004 is re-electing President Bush.

“Then I can look at my life for 2006,” he told the Register.

Carona was testifying on Capitol Hill on Tuesday in favor of more funding for after-school programs. And the person he was testifying with — movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) — raised some eyebrows.

Schwarzenegger is thought to have political ambitions of his own, like possibly running for governor in 2006. Carona, some GOP strategists believe, would be perfect candidate for lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by Schwarzenegger.

“I love working with him,” Schwarzenegger told the Register.

— Josh Kurtz


GOP Touts New Poll on Race for Murray Seat

Republicans are heartened by a new poll that they believe shows Rep. George Nethercutt (R) within striking distance of Sen. Patty Murray (D) in a hypothetical 2004 matchup.

The poll of 504 likely voters, conducted May 5-6 for Nethercutt and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, showed Murray leading Nethercutt 52 percent to 37 percent in the initial head-to-head matchup. Conducted by the Tarrance Group, a GOP polling firm, it had a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

But only 41 percent of those queried said Murray flat-out deserves re-election, while 39 percent said Washington needs a new Senator. Twenty-one percent said their vote would depend on who Murray’s challenger is.

And after being asked a series of “push” questions that apparently shed negative light on Murray’s two terms in the Senate, Nethercutt was actually preferred 44 percent to 43 percent.

Republicans see the poll as indication that Murray’s level of support has hit a ceiling, while Nethercutt’s has potential for growth. Democrats, however, are dubious.

The GOP had been pushing Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R) to challenge Murray, but she announced recently that she would skip the Senate race. While Nethercutt is well-regarded in most Republican circles, he comes from sparsely populated Eastern Washington, and roughly 80 percent of the state vote comes from west of the Cascade Mountains.

Nethercutt has said he will announce whether he’s running sometime in the summer.

— J.K.


Two Out, One Possibly Entering ’04 Senate Race

As prospective candidates continue to come and go in the Sunshine State’s ever-evolving Senate field, two Democrats took themselves out of the running this week while another Republican name surfaced.

State Sen. Daniel Webster (R), formerly a state House Speaker, is being wooed by some GOP activists to enter the contest, The Associated Press reported. Webster, 54, is a staunch conservative and the longest continuously serving Member of the state Legislature.

The only two Republicans currently running are Rep. Mark Foley and former Rep. Bill McCollum. Rep. Dave Weldon (R) said last week that he considering the race. Some top Republicans, including those in the White House, are pushing Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez to run.

Sen. Bob Graham (D) has not said definitively whether he will seek a fourth term, but his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has forced prospective candidates to prepare for the possibility that he won’t.

Meanwhile, retired banking executive Alex Sink said state Sen. Walter “Skip” Campbell said they would not seek the Democratic nomination next year. Sink is the wife of 2002 gubernatorial nominee Bill McBride (D) and has personal resources that could have been used to self-finance a campaign.

Among the other Democrats mulling bids are Miami Mayor Alex Panelas, former University of South Florida President Betty Castor and Reps. Peter Deutsch and Allen Boyd.

— L.W.W.


Collins May Be GOP Candidate of the Right

Pegged as a conservative alternative in the race, Rep. Mac Collins (R) this week signaled his intent to enter next year’s Senate primary.

Collins told The Associated Press that he may file candidacy papers as soon as this week, with a formal announcement likely to come later.

If he runs, Collins will face Rep. Johnny Isakson (R) in a GOP primary. Isakson entered the race shortly after Sen. Zell Miller’s (D) January announcement that he would not run for re-election. A moderate who favors abortion rights, Isakson had been expected to face opposition from the right in the primary.

Isakson reported $2 million in the bank as of March 31, while Collins showed just $63,000 in reserves.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R) is the only other member of the Georgia delegation who has not ruled out a Senate bid.

Meanwhile, state House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland (R), who was being pushed by conservatives and had been considering running for Senate, could run for Collins’ 8th district seat instead.

A Democratic candidate has yet to surface for the Senate seat.

— L.W.W.


Runoff Contestants Pick Up Key Endorsements

While most of the Texas political world was focused on the redistricting saga taking place in the state Capitol in Austin — and at a Holiday Inn in Oklahoma — the special election to replace retiring Rep. Larry Combest (R) continued to percolate.

In the past several days, two of the also-rans in the 17-candidate May 3 primary have chosen sides, and key lawmakers have made endorsements in the June 7 runoff as well.

One of the two contenders, former Lubbock City Councilman Randy Neugebauer (R), picked up the endorsement of the third-place finisher in the primary, state Rep. Carl Isett (R). Isett was the early frontrunner in the West Texas special election, and his endorsement suggests that the once-fractured Lubbock-area political establishment is coalescing around Neugebauer. Another Lubbock-area legislator, state Rep. Delwin Jones (R), also endorsed Neugebauer.

Meanwhile, the other candidate in the runoff, Mike Conaway (R), has picked up the endorsement of John Bell, an oilman from Kerwin who picked up just 3.2 percent of the special election vote. Bell got into the race late, however, and does have several contacts in the oil and gas industry.

Combest’s resignation is effective May 31.

— J.K.


Young Businessman Explores Daschle Race

He isn’t the “name” challenger that the GOP is hoping for. But this week, Sioux Falls businessman Neal Tapio (R) set up an exploratory committee for a possible challenge to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in 2004.

Tapio is a 32-year-old former aide to various South Dakota Republican politicians, including then-Sen. Larry Pressler. He is the treasurer of the Minnehaha County Young Republicans, which began running anti-Daschle newspaper ads earlier this month.

National Republicans are hoping that former Rep. John Thune (R), who finished just 527 votes behind Sen. Tim Johnson (D) in 2002, gets into the Senate race next year. Rep. Bill Janklow (R), a former four-term governor, is also a possibility.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Elections Commission, arguing that recent anti-Daschle ads paid for by the Club For Growth violate campaign finance laws.

— J.K.

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