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ALASKA: Palin Offers No Clues on Murkowski Primary

With two potentially tough Republican primary challengers to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) out of the way — Alaska Teamsters official Jerry Hood and former state Sen. Johne Binkley — nervous GOP eyes have now turned to Sarah Palin, who has not ruled out a Senate run in 2004.

“I still haven’t decided one way or another,” said Palin, a former mayor of Wasilla, a town 45 miles north of Anchorage with a population of only 5,100.

Palin, who was runner-up in the 2002 GOP primary for lieutenant governor and was one of 20 Republican leaders passed over for the Senate seat when Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) appointed his daughter to be his successor, has been discouraged by members of her party from running in the 2004 primary.

“That discouragement is in terms of the party’s concern to conserve fiscal resources,” Palin said. “I think some people in the party are apprehensive about more than one candidate and their resources being spent through a primary.”

The GOP Senate nominee will square off against former Gov. Tony Knowles (D) in what is sure to be a costly, competitive general election.

But Palin argued that competition would be healthy for the party.

“I’m a true blue Republican in that I believe in competition and healthy debate and that facet of democracy that strives for competition,” she said.

“I think the last thing that Republicans need to do is disallow competition within our own primary.”

Some political observers have speculated that Frank Murkowski’s recent decision to appoint Palin as chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would keep her out of the Senate primary with his daughter. But Palin said the appointment “has not factored into my thought process … my job would not prohibit me from running.”

Meanwhile, Lisa Murkowski’s spokeswoman, Kristin Pugh, said her boss does not seem too concerned about a potential primary challenge.

“The Alaska primary isn’t until August, and we have until then to see if anyone will be in the running or not,” she said.

When will Palin make her decision? Not anytime soon.

“I’m comfortable about not making a decision at this point,” she said. “In Alaska, a year of politics is a lifetime, and there is still a year ahead until a decision has to be made legally. I’ve got time.”

But Palin does give fans of competition some hope: “Any discouragement I hear motivates me to consider seriously about running.”
— Carolyn Shuckerow

Ex-Chambliss Aides Get Behind Isakson’s Bid

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) has not endorsed any candidate in the 2004 GOP Senate primary, but it appears that a number of people with close ties to the freshman Senator are backing Rep. Johnny Isakson (R).

Included on the host committee of a Thursday night fundraiser for Isakson — which reads like a Who’s Who of current and former political operatives, Hill staffers and lobbyists with ties to the Peach State — are Chambliss’ son and a handful of former aides.

Among the hosts of the event, scheduled to be held at Shelly’s Backroom in downtown Washington, D.C., are Bo Chambliss, Rob Leebern, a one-time chief of staff to Chambliss when he served in the House, and Bo Harmon, who managed the then-Congressman’s Senate campaign last year.

Also listed as a host is Alex Albert, a former chief of staff to Sen. Zell Miller (D), whom Isakson is seeking to replace. Albert was once an aide to Miller’s predecessor, the late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R), and he left Miller’s office earlier this year.

Tickets to the “Late Night With Johnny” event are $50 per person.

In February, when Isakson was the only declared candidate, Chambliss urged a gathering of Cobb County business leaders to “write [Isakson] a check before you leave here today,” though aides insisted at the time that his remarks were not meant to be an endorsement.

Isakson faces Rep. Mac Collins, Godfather’s Pizza mogul Herman Cain and businessman Al Bartell in the 2004 GOP primary.

Collins formally kicked off his campaign this week with a two-day swing through the state. Speaking at an event Monday in Marietta, Isakson’s home, Collins addressed recent speculation that he might exit the race sometime this fall.

“We’re here to seal that rumor tight … put it in an envelope and bury it,” Collins told a crowd of about 60 supporters, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Former U.N. Ambassador and one-time Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young is expected to be the Democratic nominee.
— Lauren W. Whittington

Potential Challenger to Mikulski Passes on Race

Potomac developer Joshua Rales (R) announced this week that he would not challenge three-term Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) in 2004.

“Temporary personal considerations … make it very difficult for the stars to align this go-round,” Rales told The Baltimore Sun. “Now is not my time, unfortunately.”

Rales’ decision leaves state Sen. E.J. Pipkin as the Republicans’ best hope for at least a mildly competitive challenge to Mikulski, who remains the overwhelming favorite for re-election. Pipkin, who upset an entrenched committee chairman in 2002 to win his legislative seat, is a wealthy investor who spent more than $600,000 of his own money on that race.

The state Senate Minority Leader and Minority Whip have just written to Pipkin urging him to get into the Mikulski race. Pipkin promises a decision soon.
— Josh Kurtz

Lt. Gov.: Remap Compromise Imminent

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) said Tuesday that a state legislative conference committee had reached a deal on Congressional redistricting that would create a new Midland- centered seat.

But a deal is far from done in the ongoing effort by both state and national Republicans to redraw the state’s lines to elect more members of their party.

It remains unclear whether a new Midland district would mean that Reps. Charlie Stenholm (D) and Randy Neugebauer (R) would be forced to run against each other.

Under the map passed by the state House, the two would face off largely as a result of Speaker Tom Craddick’s (R) desire to have a seat for his hometown.

State Sen. Robert Duncan (R) has consistently opposed any plan pitting Stenholm and Neugebauer against each other, arguing that a race between the two would be detrimental to delegation strength.

The state Legislature is currently in its third special session dedicated to redistricting. In the first two, Democrats employed parliamentary maneuvers (including fleeing the state twice to rob the GOP of a quorum) to prevent a plan from passing.

Gov. Rick Perry (R) has set Oct. 8 as the last day for a compromise to emerge from the conference committee. The special session is set to end on Oct. 14.
— Chris Cillizza

Ex-Dooley Aide Tops $100G in Three Weeks

Rep. Cal Dooley (D) has traditionally lured political donors to his Northern Virginia home every fall for a wine-tasting fundraiser. Although he announced his plans to retire in 2004, he kept the tradition alive on Monday night — this time raising money for his former chief of staff, Lisa Quigley (D), who is seeking to succeed him in the 20th district.

“It exceeded our expectations,” Quigley said Tuesday of the $500 and $1,000 a ticket affair.

Although she could not say what the final take from the Dooley fundraiser would be, Quigley said she would report raising more than $100,000 for her three-week-old campaign. She is expected to square off against former state Sen. Jim Costa (D) for the Democratic nomination in the Central Valley district.

Costa told the Fresno Bee on Monday that he was putting a campaign operation in place, even though a formal announcement is still several weeks off. Costa said he has a “tentative outline” of fundraisers planned. Quigley has scheduled at least five more in the next few weeks.

Quigley, Costa insisted, “will not outraise me in fundraising, and she will not outwork me.”

The newspaper also reported that Rep. Mike Thompson (D) has endorsed Costa.
— J.K.

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