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ALASKA: Group Wants Voters to Fill Senate Vacancies

While the way Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) was elevated to the Senate is sure to become an issue during her campaign for a full term in 2004, a group calling itself Trust the People is working to ensure that a Senate vacancy is never filled by a governor again.

But it may have to take its case to court to get the measure on the ballot.

Lt. Gov. Loren Leman (R) ruled Tuesday that a proposed ballot initiative to change the way a U.S. Senate vacancy is filled in Alaska is illegal. Under state law, it is up to the lieutenant governor to decide whether a petition drive for a ballot measure can proceed.

Trust the People, a group consisting of several Democratic state legislators, is aiming to take the job of filling a Senatorial vacancy away from the governor and placing it with the voters. The group’s measure would require special elections to fill all Senate vacancies.

Organizers hope to put the question to voters on the November 2004 ballot and may now appeal Leman’s decision in a court case already scheduled for next Monday.

Murkowski, after four years in the state House of Representatives, was appointed to the Senate last December by her father, newly elected Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), who had previously held the Senate seat.

Loren ruled against the initiative on the advice of the state attorney general, who was also appointed by Frank Murkowski.

But while supporters of Lisa Murkowski’s 2004 opponent, former Gov. Tony Knowles (D), are sure to unearth the charges of nepotism during the Senate campaign, organizers of the ballot initiative privately say it is a future Senate vacancy they are more concerned about.

According to an article in the Anchorage Daily News, Democrats are bracing themselves for the possible retirement one day of 79-year-old Sen. Ted Stevens (R) — before his term ends in 2008. Alaska political observers envision a scenario in which state Senate Majority Leader Ben Stevens (R), the Senator’s son, is appointed Senator by a GOP governor. Ben Stevens was among the 20 people Frank Murkowski considered appointing to the Senate before naming his daughter.

Small wonder that Trust the People supporters carried signs that said “Democracy, not dynasty” at a rally in favor of the initiative last week.
— Josh Kurtz

Conservative Wants Feingold for President

A conservative supporter of President Bush has launched a campaign to draft Sen. Russ Feingold (D) to run for president in 2004, the Wausau Daily Herald reported.

Neillsville resident Jim Ratsch said he intends to start circulating the petition this week to draft Feingold, whose name is most closely associated with the overhaul of the campaign finance system signed into law last year.

Ratsch said his campaign to woo the two-term Senator into the White House race has more to do with his belief that he is less of a politician than most elected officials and nothing to do with dissatisfaction with the incumbent.

“I like George Bush. I think he’s a good guy and an honorable guy,” he said, according to the paper.

A spokesman for Feingold, who is up for re-election in 2004, did not return a call seeking comment on the petition drive.
— Lauren W. Whittington

Peeler Won’t Run for Open Hollings Seat

Former Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler (R) took his name out of consideration for the open seat of retiring Sen. Fritz Hollings (D) on Tuesday.

“I have a full life,” Peeler said when asked about his decision. After serving as lieutenant governor for eight years, Peeler lost a runoff election to former Rep. Mark Sanford (R) in 2002 for the right to face Gov. Jim Hodges (D). Sanford went on to defeat Hodges 53 percent to 47 percent.

Peeler’s decision leaves four GOPers seeking the nomination: Rep. Jim DeMint, former state Attorney General Charlie Condon, wealthy Charleston businessman Thomas Ravenel and Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride. His departure is seen as a major boost for DeMint, as they both share the same Up Country base.

The lone serious Democrat in the race is state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum. Columbia Mayor Bob Coble (D) dropped his candidacy Monday after just three months of active campaigning.

The open Palmetto State seat is one of Republicans’ best pickup opportunities of the 2004 cycle; the state continues to trend toward the GOP, as evidenced by Sanford’s win and the election of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) in 2002.
— Chris Cillizza

Chamber to Host Event For DeMint in D.C.

Rep. Jim DeMint’s (R) Senate campaign will get a major boost Oct. 29 when he is the guest of honor at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce fundraiser in Washington, D.C.

The $1,000-per-plate event will be held at the Chamber’s headquarters, and proceeds will benefit DeMint’s campaign for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Fritz Hollings.

DeMint led the four-person Republican field with $1.1 million in the bank at the end of September. Former state Attorney General Charlie Condon ended the quarter with $824,000 in the bank, and wealthy developer Thomas Ravenel had $649,000.

State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum, the lone Democrat in the field, showed $317,000 remaining at the end of last month.
— C.C.

Republicans Jumping in, Out of Open-Seat Race

The early jockeying in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Scott McInnis (R) in 2004 has proven to be as volatile as anticipated.

In recent days, two Republicans have joined the 3rd district race: state Rep. Gregg Rippy of Glenwood Springs, the owner of a construction company, and state Rep. Matt Smith, a natural resources lawyer who happens to be McInnis’ brother-in-law.

They join state Sen. Ken Chlouber of Leadville as the only officially declared Republican candidates in the race, though a half-dozen other prominent GOP names are contemplating getting in.

Meanwhile, three Republican state legislators recently announced that they would not run: state Rep. Gayle Berry of Grand Junction, former state Sen. Gigi Dennis of Pueblo West and state Sen. Ron Teck of Grand Junction.

On the Democratic side, only Anthony Martinez, an unsuccessful candidate for Colorado secretary of state in 2002, has officially entered the race. But the party is hoping to lure either former state Sen. Bill Thiebault or state Rep. John Salazar into the primary.
— J.K.

GOP Gaming Execs Are Game for Harry Reid

The difficulties facing Republicans who would like to take out Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D) in 2004 are illuminated almost daily. First, there is the matter of Reid’s $3.7 million war chest and the fact that only conservative activist Richard Ziser (R) has entered the race.

Now, the Ralston Report, a political tip sheet in Nevada, is reporting that at least a half-dozen executives in the all-powerful gaming industry have decided to back Reid, even though they are registered Republicans. The list apparently includes former Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf.

With state Treasurer Brian Krolicki, Secretary of State Dean Heller and state Controller Kathy Augustine at least nominally contemplating entering the race, Ralston opined: “Wonder if those potential GOP candidates get the message. It’s not exactly, ‘Come in, the water’s fine.’ More like: ‘Dive in and see how much water has evaporated.’”

GOP Primary in Cardin District Under Way

A Republican primary race to take on 3rd district Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D) in 2004 is now officially under way.

Anne Arundel County Clerk of Courts Robert Duckworth jumped in Tuesday, appearing, symbolically, in the working-class suburb Arbutus, boyhood home of Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R). Duckworth hopes to exploit the Ehrlich connection in his primary race against state Del. David Boschert (R), who angered the governor in the 2003 General Assembly session by opposing his measure to bring slot machines to Maryland race tracks.

“Arbutus is a great place to jump-start my campaign,” Duckworth told The Baltimore Sun. “The other Bob, the one we love as guv, got his start right here too.”

Boschert wasn’t impressed by the venue for Duckworth’s announcement, according to the Sun.

“I’ve already been to Arbutus,” he said. “I just didn’t make a big deal of it. I don’t need to do theatrics to get votes.”

Duckworth has run for Congress before, losing a 1990 general election to then-Rep. Tom McMillen (D) in what was then the 4th district.

Even though the 3rd district would have given 56 percent of its vote to Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, Maryland Republicans believe they have a shot there, noting that Ehrlich took about 55 percent in the 2002 election for governor. Although Cardin has been in office since 1986, much of the territory in the 3rd is new for him.

— J.K.

Lawyer Hopes to Shoot Down Cannon in 3rd

Four-term Rep. Chris Cannon (R) could face a primary challenge in 2004.

Greg Hawkins, who took on Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) at the Republican state convention in 2000 but fell short of the support he needed to get himself on the primary ballot, said he’ll run for Cannon’s 3rd district seat.

“I’m 100 percent certain I’ll come out of the [2004 state GOP] convention and into a primary,” the 46-year-old attorney told the Deseret Morning News last week. “There’s even the chance I could beat him in the convention.”

Hawkins offered few specifics on why he is challenging Cannon, who is considered safe for re-election right now.

“People just want a change,” he said.
— J.K.

Indies Allowed to Vote in White House Primary

The California Democratic Party this week voted to allow political Independents to vote in the Democratic presidential primary on March 2, 2004. The California GOP has decided to proceed with a closed primary.

The decision comes with Golden State Democrats still reeling from the defeat of Gov. Gray Davis (D) in a recall election earlier this month.

“As part of our outreach and effort to defeat [President] Bush, we are putting out the welcome mat to California independents (Republicans decided to exclude them) by inviting them to ask for a Democratic presidential ballot on March 2 to help select the next Democratic President of the United States,” state Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said in a statement.

In 1996, California voters passed a proposition to hold a blanket primary, in which all the voters get the same ballot. California had blanket primaries in 1998 and 2000, but in the 2000 Democratic White House primary, only Democrats were allowed to vote, in keeping with Democratic National Committee rules.

But in July 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that California’s blanket primary was unconstitutional. The California Democratic Party amended its bylaws to give the party the option of allowing independents to vote in its primaries.
— J.K.

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