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Senator Denise Majette?

Latest Name Floated as Desperate Democrats Search

Rep. Denise Majette (D-Ga.) is quietly talking to some of her colleagues about the possibility of running for the Peach State’s open Senate seat in 2004, sources said Tuesday.

Democrats currently lack a top candidate in the race to replace retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), and Majette has mentioned the idea of running to several colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, two of whom confirmed that Majette has talked to them but asked not to be identified.

“I think she is sounding people out on it,” said one Democratic consultant who has worked in Georgia.

In a brief interview Tuesday, Majette acknowledged that she had been approached about the Senate race but downplayed her interest in running and instead insisted that all of her “energy and attention” was focused on getting legislation she had authored passed on the House floor yesterday.

“Right now I’m focused on getting my bill passed,” she said, including it as one of many things on her “full plate” of activities.

Majette will become Democratic freshman class president in January. She and Rep. Frank Ballance (D-N.C.) received the same number of votes for the honor when they came to Congress and agreed to split the job, with each serving a one-year term.

While Majette did not directly address her current level of interest in the contest, she would not deny that she has contemplated making the Senate race during the period in which the party has tried and failed to coax several top candidates into running.

“I certainly hope we will have a very strong Democratic candidate,” Majette said.

Majette ousted controversial Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) in one of the most closely-watched primaries of the 2002 cycle. Both women are black.

If she were to run for Senate, Majette is counting on the support of the same voters who helped her compile a 16-point margin of victory in that primary, according to one of the lawmakers who has spoken with her about the race.

“She believes that the same people will support her,” the lawmaker said.

One Democratic strategist active in state politics said Majette’s willingness to take on an incumbent in 2002 could aid her if she decided to run for Senate, even though she doesn’t have a lengthy legislative record.

“Her battle against Cynthia McKinney might actually help her with metro Atlanta white voters,” the source said, touting her “image as a moderate Democrat” who had the courage to take on McKinney.

Little-known state Sen. Mary Squires is the only Democrat currently in the Senate race after top candidates including Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, Secretary of State Cathy Cox and former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young passed on running next year.

The recruiting setbacks have left Democrats with no obvious candidate to turn to in the race to replace Miller, while Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) continues to build momentum as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Rep. Mac Collins, former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain and businessman Al Bartel are also seeking the GOP nod.

Rep. Jim Marshall (D) has entertained the idea of running, but little has been heard about his political plans since he underwent surgery for prostate cancer in mid-October.

Other Democratic names mentioned include state House Speaker Pro Tem DuBose Porter, state Senate Minority Leader Michael Myer Von Bremen, state Sen. Carol Jackson, who represents the rural, conservative district that includes Miller’s hometown, and wealthy trial attorney Jim Butler, who is from Columbus.

Among those, Butler is considered most likely to run and he has the means to self-fund a race. Porter has some personal wealth but is not wealthy enough to fund an entire campaign.

The Senate has been without a black Member since the defeat of then-Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) in 1998. The only other African American given a strong shot at winning a seat in the Senate this cycle is Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama (D), who faces a crowded Democratic primary.

Majette represents the overwhelmingly Democratic 4th district, which encompasses much of metro Atlanta’s DeKalb County.

Before being elected to Congress, Majette was a state court judge and was first appointed to the bench by Miller, who was then governor. Miller cut Majette a $1,000 check for her primary bid against McKinney.

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