With former Rep. John Thune’s (R) decision not to run in the June 1 House special election, a number of other Republican candidates have either jumped in the race or are contemplating bids.
State Sen. Larry Diedrich, Rapid City Councilman Jeff Partridge and chiropractor Allen Unruh are in the race on the Republican side, with former Thune aide Larry Russell all but announced.
Other GOP names mentioned include: state Rep. Ron Williamson, former Sioux Falls Mayor Gary Hanson, former Sen. Larry Pressler and former state House Minority Leader Barb Everist.
Pressler ran for the seat when it was open in 2002, losing to Rep. Bill Janklow (R) in a primary. Diedrich was also in that race but dropped out when Janklow — a former four-term governor — entered.
Democrats have coalesced behind 2002 nominee Stephanie Herseth.
Each party will select its nominee for the special election at an executive committee meeting later this month.
The seat came open when Janklow announced on Dec. 8 that he would resign on Jan. 20 following a second-degree manslaughter conviction for his involvement in a fatal August car accident.
Even Republicans acknowledge that Herseth begins the race with a lead but believe that the state’s Republican tilt will aid their eventual nominee.
On the same day that voters will go to the ballot box to select a nominee to fill out the remaining months of Janklow’s term, both parties will also hold their primaries to select candidates for the November 2004 general election.
— Chris Cillizza
Democrats Suffer Yet Another Blow in 15th
In the latest blow to Democratic recruiting efforts in the open 15th district seat, Lehigh County Judge Thomas Wallitsch (D) announced late last month that he will not enter the race to succeed Rep. Pat Toomey (R). Toomey is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in a GOP primary.
Wallitsch told party leaders just before Christmas that he had decided for personal reasons he didn’t want to run, despite an intense lobbying campaign to get him in the race.
Democrats now have a month and a half before the Feb. 17 filing deadline to find a viable candidate, a prospect that at this juncture appears unlikely. No Democrat has filed to run for the seat and several top-tier prospects have passed on the race.
The swing district, which voted Democratic in the 2000 presidential election, is considered a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats in 2004 if a top candidate emerges.
Republicans in the 15th district, meanwhile, face a three-way primary. State Sen. Charlie Dent, Lehigh County Commissioner Joe Pascuzzo and local GOP Chairman Brian O’Neill are running for the Republican nomination in an April 27 primary. Dent, who has the backing of much of the state and national GOP establishment, is heavily favored to win the nod.
Meanwhile, in the Keystone State’s other open-seat House race, state Rep. Ellen Bard unexpectedly won the endorsement of the Montgomery County Republican Party last month in her 13th district bid. Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D) is vacating the seat to run for Senate, setting up a competitive race to replace him.
Bard won the party’s nod by six votes over ophthalmologist Melissa Brown, who is considered the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Brown, who lost narrowly to Hoeffel last cycle, had already won the backing of the Philadelphia GOP and several prominent Montgomery County Republicans. The district is made up of portions of northeast Philadelphia and the Montgomery County suburbs, although the bulk of the Republican votes come from Montgomery County.
Bard and Brown now appear likely to battle it out for the GOP nomination, after three-time Philadelphia mayoral candidate Sam Katz (R) announced last month he would not enter the race.
— Lauren W. Whittington
Kucinich Will Seek Two Offices Simultaneously
Despite his long-shot bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination, Rep. Dennis Kucinich has not forgotten to attend to local matters.
The four-term Congressman filed for re-election to his 10th district seat before Friday’s deadline in addition to filing paperwork for the Ohio presidential primary.
Ohio law does not forbid candidates from seeking more than one office in the same election.
The full slate of Ohio Congressional candidates was not available at press time Friday, although few if any competitive races are expected.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D) made his candidacy official last week, filing to take on formidable Sen. George Voinovich (R) in November.
While Fingerhut has been campaigning for almost a year, he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently that he would not achieve his 2003 goal of raising $1 million. End-of-the-year reports are due Jan. 15. He launched the Fingerhut 500 campaign, seeking to find 500 people who would donate $2,000 or more but fell short, the paper said. Nonetheless, Cleveland columnist Mark Naymik praised Fingerhut for organizing a statewide operation, developing a donor base and honing a message.
— Nicole Duran
Jones in the Hunt for Delahunt’s House Seat
Mike Jones, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist running for Congress, says he’s on track to raise $1 million in his attempt to unseat Rep. Bill Delahunt (D).
Jones’ campaign said recently that in his upcoming FEC filing he will report that he has raised $92,000 so far.
Delahunt’s previous Republican challenger, Luiz Gonzaga, only collected a total of $57,000, $23,000 of which came from the candidate himself.
Jones, the founder of Capitol Capital Group, which provides “Washington D.C. representation to companies that render cost-effective training to our air traffic controllers, integrate critical intelligence information to government agencies, protect nuclear facilities from terrorist threat, and promote U.S. business interests abroad” — according to his campaign Web site — says he has eight fundraisers planned already for this year. One will feature Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), according to his campaign.
Delahunt won a fourth term with 69 percent of the vote in 2002.
MD Who Lost Primary For Gov. Runs for House
The Republican primary contest to succeed retiring Rep. Nick Smith (R) has grown a little more crowded.
Former state Sen. Joe Schwarz officially entered the race last week, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Schwarz, a medical doctor, lost the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2002 to Dick Posthumus, who lost to now-Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D). Democrats, who have no strong candidate, had tried to convince Schwarz to switch parties.
More than half a dozen Republicans are competing in the race to succeed Smith, who is honoring a term-limit pledge. The candidates include the Congressman’s son, lawyer Brad Smith.
First Candidate Enters Race to Succeed Vitter
State Rep. Steve Scalise (R) indicated just before Christmas that he would run in the newly open 1st district.
“In keeping with the tradition of Bob Livingston and David Vitter, I will work tirelessly in Congress to bring good jobs to our area,” said Scalise in a news release.
Vitter is vacating the seat he has held since 1999 to pursue the open Senate race. Livingston held the district for more than two decades before resigning the seat in February 1999. He is now a lobbyist.
The district takes in much of the white areas of suburban New Orleans and heavily favors Republicans. President Bush would have received 66 percent in the 2000 presidential election in the 1st.
Although Scalise currently has the field to himself, 2003 gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal (R) is very interested in the race and would become the immediate frontrunner if he decided to join the contest.
Jindal started from relative political obscurity to capture the Republican nod in the governor’s race and came within 54,000 votes of taking the state’s highest elected office last November.
He is currently undecided on a bid but appears to be more likely than not to run.
Chairman ID’s Potential Campbell Opponents
Despite Rep. Mark Udall’s (D) pre-Christmas announcement that he would not run for the Senate this year, Colorado Democrats insist that they can field a top-notch challenger against two-term Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R).
Chris Gates, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, was quoted in the Jan. 2 edition of The Denver Post as saying that he believes former Sen. Gary Hart (D) could still wind up running for his old Senate seat. Gates mentioned state Sen. Dan Grossman, former Hart aide Tom Hoog and University of Colorado Regent Jim Martin, a wealthy former high-tech executive, as other potential candidates.
Martin has also been touted as a possible challenger to freshman Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) in the Denver-area 7th district, though he does not currently live in the district. Beauprez himself had to move into the newly drawn 7th to run there in 2002.
Gates also raised the possibility — as other Democrats have throughout the cycle — that Campbell, who recently underwent treatment for prostate cancer — could wind up not seeking re-election in the end.
“I don’t think the field is set on either side of the aisle,” Gates told the Post.
So far, school administrator Michael Miles and Denver lawyer Brad Freedberg are the only Democrats in the Senate race.
As for Udall, he is likely to think about running for Senate in 2008, assuming Sen. Wayne Allard (R) honors his two-term limit pledge then.
— Josh Kurtz
Vietnam Vet Launches Second Cubin Invasion
Vietnam veteran Ron Akin (D) has launched another bid to unseat Rep. Barbara Cubin (R), this time pledging to run a more professional campaign, The Associated Press reported last week.
Akin, who retired from the military after serving 29 years in the Air Force, hopes to raise $600,000 this time around and his hired the consulting firm Fletcher, Rowley and Chao of Nashville, Tenn., to help with fundraising and media relations.
“Even the people in the Democratic Party didn’t know who I was in Wyoming,” Akin told the AP, discussing his dismal name recognition in 2002.
He raised just under $20,000 then and lost to Cubin, now a five-term veteran, 61 percent to 36 percent.
Can Snowbird Smith Fly in GOP Senate Contest?
Former Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) said last month that he will seek the GOP nomination for Senate in Florida this year, eight months after he relocated to the Sunshine State.
Smith, 62, moved to Sarasota in May and was hired as a real estate specialist in June to sell high-end waterfront properties in Longboat Key. He expects to formally announce his candidacy this month.
Smith, who briefly left the Republican Party in 1999 to run for president as an Independent, was defeated by now-Sen. John Sununu (R) in New Hampshire’s 2002 GOP Senate primary. He represented the Granite State for two terms in the Senate.
If elected again, he would become the first person in more than 120 years to have represented more than one state in the Senate.
Smith joins a crowded primary field in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Bob Graham (D). Former Rep. Bill McCollum, state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and state Sen. Daniel Webster are considered the leading GOP contenders currently in the race.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, who left his post last month and joined a Florida law firm, is also expected to enter the Republican primary.
Three Republicans Vying To Take on Thompson
With less than a week to go before the state’s filing deadline, three Republicans so far have announced their intentions to challenge Rep. Bennie Thompson (D), although he is heavily favored to win a sixth term in the 2nd district this November.
The district voted 57 percent for then-Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential contest and national Republicans haven’t demonstrated a willingness to target Thompson in the majority-black Delta district in the past.
In 2002, little-known Republican Clinton LeSeur held Thompson to just 55 percent of the vote — his lowest percentage since 1994 — after spending just $100,000 on the race. LeSeur is running again in 2004, as are Jackson businesswoman Stephanie Summers-O’Neal and educator James Broadwater.
The state’s filing deadline is Friday.
FEC: Old Contribution to Harman Was Illegal
In documents just released by the Federal Election Commission, Rep. Jane Harman (D) was found to have benefited from an illegal $21,000 contribution during her 1994 re-election campaign, The Associated Press reported last week.
Harman was never fined or required to repay the money because a federal judge had determined that her campaign had not deliberately committed any violations and had acted in good faith.
The contribution came from the Hughes Aircraft Co. Because corporations are prohibited from contributing directly to candidates for federal office, the aerospace giant compelled several of its employees to write checks to Harman’s campaign.
The company paid a $40,000 violation to the FEC in 1996, the new documents revealed. Harman was excused from paying a fine because she apparently received faulty advice from a Hughes attorney.
The Hughes money became an issue in Harman’s 1994 race against former Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor Susan Brooks (R), who filed a complaint with the FEC. Harman won that election by just 812 votes.
In other campaign contribution news about powerful Democratic Members from the Los Angeles area, the Los Angeles Daily News reported last week that Rep. Henry Waxman (D) recently received a $1,000 contribution from the Halliburton Co. — despite being one of the top Congressional critics of the oil giant’s no-bid contracts in Iraq.
“What’s surprising is that Waxman would be willing to accept the contribution,” Tony Raymond, co-founder of Political Money Line, told the newspaper.
Democrats Think Policy Wonk Can Beat Gallegly
Although the Golden State has some of the least competitive Congressional districts in the nation, some Democrats believe they have a shot at unseating nine-term Rep. Elton Gallegly (R) in the 24th district northwest of Los Angeles.
Democrats are high on Brett Wagner, president of the Santa Barbara-based California Center for Strategic Studies, and a professor at the United States Naval War College.
“I’m not what you always expect to see in a Democrat running for Congress,” Wagner told the Ventura County Reporter recently. “My credentials are a little bit different.”
Democrats argue that Gallegly is too conservative for the 24th district, and too anonymous as well. Ventura County Democratic Party Chairwoman Sharon Hillbrandt called him “the Congressman who’s never there.”
Still, Gallegly has never taken less than 54 percent of the vote in the district, and captured 65 percent against token opposition in 2002.
Rogan May Try Political Comeback in Two Years
Although he is unlikely to seek his old House seat, former Rep. James Rogan (R) appears to be preparing for a political comeback, the Los Angeles Times recently reported.
Rogan will resign his post as head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C., on Friday and return to California. A former prosecutor and judge, Rogan is one of several Republicans who could run for state attorney general in 2006 when the post becomes vacant.
Rogan spent two terms in Congress representing the Pasadena area before being ousted by now-Rep. Adam Schiff (D) in a bitter and costly battle. Ironically, Rogan had defeated Schiff in a state Assembly race in 1994.
Candidates Line Up for 2006 Race for Owens Seat
Although 11-term Rep. Major Owens (D) doesn’t plan to retire until after the 2006 elections, that hasn’t stopped several potential candidates from beginning to mobilize for the race to succeed him, starting with his son, Chris Owens, a former member of Community School Board 13.
“I have some very good friends who are knocking on the door, as well as my son,” Owens recently told The New York Times.
While most observers expect the Brooklyn Congressman to anoint his son eventually, that hardly guarantees Chris Owens a victory in what is likely to be a very competitive primary.
Other potential Democratic candidates include state Sen. Carl Andrews, City Councilwoman Tracy Boyland, City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke, former City Councilman Steve DiBrienza, Assemblyman Nick Perry, and state Sen. John Sampson.
Each of the potential candidates brings something to the table.
Andrews is the former director of intergovernmental affairs for popular New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer (D). Boyland, a former legislative assistant to the Congressional Black Caucus, is the sister of state Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. (D). She may mount a primary challenge to Owens this year.
Clarke, a former official of the powerful Service Employees International Union Local 1199, is the daughter of former City Councilwoman Una Clarke (D) — who gave Major Owens a tough challenge in the 2000 primary.
DiBrienza, if he runs, could benefit from being the only major white candidate in a majority-black district. Perry would likely have the support of the county Democratic organization. Sampson is a former legal aid lawyer.
VP Cheney Headlines Nethercutt Fundraiser
Late last month, Rep. George Nethercutt (R) got a boost from the White House in his quest to unseat Sen. Patty Murray (D).
Vice President Cheney headlined a $500-a-plate fundraiser for the five-term House member in Bellevue that was attended by about 200 people, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The visit signifies the GOP’s strong desire to knock off Murray in what party leaders hope will be an upset to help them retain control of the Senate.
Legislator Passes on Challenge to Rehberg
Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) has escaped drawing a challenger so far, with state Rep. Dave Gallik (D) opting not to run, the Billings Gazette reported.
Fellow Democrats told him he was needed more in the state Legislature, the Helena Representative told the paper.
Gallik mulled the possibility of challenging Rehberg for more than two months before determining that “a run for Congress is the right thing to do, but the timing is wrong for me.”
So far, Gallik is the only Democrat to have expressed an interest in running for the state’s lone House seat in 2004.