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Collins Says He’s in Race to Stay

Discounts Rumors of Fundraising Shortfall

Shooting down speculation that he may drop his 2004 Senate bid after assessing his third-quarter fundraising performance, Rep. Mac Collins (R-Ga.) reaffirmed his commitment to the campaign this week.

“I am in the race, yes,” Collins said in a brief interview Tuesday. “There are no plans for reassessment. … I’m in the race to stay.”

When pressed further, Collins said his “intent” is to run for Senate.

“I’m running for the Senate,” Collins insisted. “I look forward to serving in it.”

The six-term Republican is holding a kickoff fundraiser Sept. 23 at La Colline on Capitol Hill, hosted by Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). The event is the culmination of what some observers characterize as a noticeable increase in Collins’ fundraising activity since the beginning of September.

Thomas has said he is not taking sides in the primary and has donated to both Collins, a Ways and Means member, and his chief Republican opponent, Rep. Johnny Isakson, who is currently considered the frontrunner in the Senate race.

Collins also said he was “sorry to disappoint those” who don’t want him in the Senate contest.

In recent weeks, Republicans from Washington, D.C., to Georgia have privately questioned whether Collins will stay in the open-seat Senate race. The talk of his exit has primarily focused on his ability to raise the needed funds to stay competitive in the July 20, 2004, primary.

“I think we’ve all heard that Mac is waffling a bit, but I think the September [fundraising] numbers are going to be the telltale sign,” said one Georgia Republican lobbyist who is supporting Isakson.

Collins, who announced he was running in May, reported raising $410,000 in the second quarter of the year and had $403,000 in the bank on June 30.

Isakson, meanwhile, raised $844,000 in the three-month period and showed $2.7 million in cash.

“Everybody will be paying attention to the end-of-the-quarter filings to see where Collins is at,” noted one GOP strategist.

Collins would only say, “I think we’ll be pleased” with what his Sept. 30 report will show.

Meanwhile, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain (R) kicked off his Senate bid Wednesday in Atlanta. Cain, who is black, has the ability to self-fund the race and is seen as more of an ideological threat to Collins. Both men have been dubbed more conservative than Isakson, who is fiscally conservative but viewed as a social moderate on the issue of abortion.

Businessman and unsuccessful 2002 lieutenant governor candidate Al Bartell is also seeking the party’s nomination, although he is not expected to have the resources to compete with the top-tier candidates.

Sen. Zell Miller (D) announced in January that he would not seek re-election next year, and Republicans have been given the early edge in the race to replace the conservative maverick.

Former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, 71, is expected to be the Democratic frontrunner for the Senate nomination, although he has not yet formally announced plans to run.

If Collins was to leave the Senate race and seek re-election to the House instead, it could create a dilemma for the candidates who are running to replace him, one or all of whom could choose to stay in the race.

State House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland and state Sen. Mike Crotts are currently running in the 8th district GOP primary, which will ultimately determine who will represent the heavily Republican district. Dylan Glenn, a former Bush administration official and aide to Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), is also expected to join the contest.

“If he did back out of it and run for the House again, I think there would be a lot of ill will,” noted one Republican operative who has previously worked in Georgia.

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