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ILLINOIS: Rush Coy When Asked About Backing Obama

As voters across the Land of Lincoln went to the polls Tuesday to select their Senate nominees, the one-time rival of state Sen. Barack Obama (D) stopped short of pledging his endorsement if Obama is the party’s nominee.

Obama, who entered Tuesday’s balloting with a double-digit lead in the race for the Democratic nomination, unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Bobby Rush (D) for his House seat in a 2000 primary. Although he has denied it publicly, Rush’s decision to back millionaire securities investor Blair Hull in the Senate race was viewed as an indication of residual ill will toward Obama.

But with Hull’s poll numbers tanking and the likelihood of Obama’s nomination soaring, Rush indicated his support would be conditional when asked last week whether he planned to endorse Obama if he wins the primary.

“I’m sure that Mr. Obama and I will have some conversations, private conversations,” Rush said, after declaring first and foremost that he is a Democrat. “We’ll have the kind of discussions we need to have.”

When pressed on whether he planned to endorse after that, Rush reiterated his party preference but stopped short of assuring he would back his former opponent.

“I’m a Democrat,” he said. “That’s all I have to say.”
— Lauren W. Whittington

Former President Will Raise Money for McCaul

Former President George H.W. Bush will appear at a campaign fundraiser at the end of the month for former federal prosecutor Mike McCaul (R) in his 10th district runoff against wealthy businessman Ben Streusand (R).

The 41st president will raise money for McCaul at a private home in Houston on March 31, according to a knowledgeable Republican source.

In the March 9 primary race, Streusand led the 10-way Republican primary with 28 percent followed by McCaul with 24 percent.

Both candidates spent heavily from their own pockets with Streusand dumping in $2.4 million and McCaul $650,000.

The barbell-like 10th district stretches from Houston to Austin — two of the priciest media markets in the state.

Streusand’s home is in Houston, while McCaul’s is in Austin.

Aside from the 10th district, the 1st and 17th will also play host to April 13 Republican runoffs.
— Chris Cillizza

Toomey Getting Closer in Club for Growth Poll

A new poll released this week found Rep. Pat Toomey (R) narrowing the gap in his uphill primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (R), with just less than six weeks to go before voters head to the polls.

The poll, done by the Polling Co. for the Club for Growth, showed Specter at 47 percent and Toomey at 37 percent, with 15 percent of likely GOP primary voters undecided. The poll, conducted March 9-10, surveyed 500 likely primary voters and had a 5 percent margin of error.

The polling also showed Specter running strongest in his eastern Pennsylvania base and revealed that 48 percent of voters now recognize Toomey as Specter’s opponent, as opposed to the 38 percent who did in January.

The Club for Growth is backing Toomey in the race and has helped steer funds toward his campaign war chest. Toomey is challenging the moderate four-term Senator from the ideological right, painting him as too liberal for the party.

This week, Toomey received the endorsements of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste PAC and the National Taxpayers Union. Officials from both groups praised Toomey for advocating fiscal restraint, while calling Specter’s claims of fiscal conservatism bogus.

Later this week, former presidential candidate and flat-tax advocate Steve Forbes will headline a fundraiser for Toomey in Pittsburgh.
— L.W.W.

Santorum Hosts Philly Fundraiser for Martinez

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez’s (R) Senate campaign got a financial boost with the help of Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.), who hosted a recent event in Philadelphia for the former HUD secretary.

Santorum held a fundraising breakfast for Martinez at the Union League in Philadelphia on March 8, raising $70,000.

Martinez, who entered the Senate race at the urging of national Republicans and with the implicit support of the White House, faces a crowded primary in his effort to win the Sunshine State’s GOP nomination. His campaign kickoff fundraiser in Washington last month was hosted by all of the Senate Republican leadership, including Santorum.

Among the other top Republican contenders in the race are former Rep. Bill McCollum (Fla.), state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and state Sen. Daniel Webster.

A recent independent poll found McCollum and Martinez virtually tied in the race for the nomination, which will be decided by an Aug. 31 primary.
— L.W.W.

Nethercutt Plays the White House Card

Rep. George Nethercutt (R) continues to get help from the Bush administration on the fundraising front.

Already, Vice President Cheney, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and White House adviser Karl Rove have trekked to the Evergreen State on behalf of Nethercutt’s Senate campaign.

Rove was just in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue over the weekend, though money raised there went to the Washington state GOP.

Next up was Chief of Staff Andy Card.

He was the featured guest Tuesday afternoon at a Nethercutt for Senate event held at the Washington, D.C., restaurant Ceiba.

The going rate was $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for political action committees.

A Nethercutt spokesman said the parade of administration officials raising money for Nethercutt will continue.

Republicans are hopeful that Nethercutt, who defeated then-House Speaker Tom Foley (D) for his seat in 1994, will do it again and take down Sen. Patty Murray (D) in November.
— Nicole Duran

House Members Raising the Green for B. Smith

They probably won’t be drinking green beer, but several Congressmen hope to rake in greenbacks on behalf of attorney Brad Smith this St. Patrick’s Day.

Brad Smith, son of retiring Rep. Nick Smith (R), is getting a little help from dad’s friends as he attempts to succeed his father in the 7th district.

Republican Reps. Frank Lucas (Okla.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Bill Jenkins (Tenn.) and Gil Gutknecht (Minn.) will be on hand for an “agriculture event” today at the Capitol Hill Club.

The price of admission is relatively low — $250 for individuals and $1,000 for political action committees.

The younger Smith hopes to succeed the elder, who touched off a firestorm after he alleged — then recanted — that Members promised financial support for Brad Smith’s candidacy during the late-night Medicare vote last year if Smith would vote for the legislation.

Likewise, they supposedly promised retribution if the Congressman did not vote with the party.

He ultimately voted against the measure to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, much to the GOP’s chagrin.

Brad Smith is in a six-way contest for the GOP nomination.
— N.D.

Cheney Barnstorming Tour Stops for Renzi

Vice President Cheney continued his whirlwind fundraising tour for House and Senate candidates Monday in Arizona, as he raised $100,000 for endangered freshman Rep. Rick Renzi (R).

“He’s fought hard for the ranchers, miners and small-business owners in his district,” said Cheney of Renzi. “He’s a perfect fit for his constituents.”

After winning the 1st district in 2002, Renzi immediately became one of Democrats’ top targets.

Drawn to be a tossup between the two parties, the district takes in half of the state’s total area and is larger than Pennsylvania.

Although President Bush won a 5-point victory there in 2000, Democrats have a hefty registration advantage.

Attempting to avoid the mistakes they made in 2002, when a little-known businessman won a contested September primary, Democrats have cleared the field for former Flagstaff Mayor Paul Babbitt, the brother of former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt (D).

Due to his targeted status, Renzi has been the beneficiary of significant largess from House Republican leaders; he banked $405,000 at the end of 2003. Babbitt has not yet filed a financial report with the Federal Election Commission.

Cheney also raised money for New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce on Monday and was scheduled to travel to Denver for a fundraiser for Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.) on Tuesday after helping Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) raise money over the weekend.
— C.C.

McInnis Won’t Force a Special if He Resigns

Rep. Scott McInnis (R) is likely to resign before the official close of the 108th Congress but has pledged not to force a special election with his departure.

McInnis took himself out of contention for the open Senate seat over the weekend, announcing that he would instead accept a position in the Denver office of Hogan & Hartson, a Washington, D.C.-based powerhouse law firm.

Under Colorado law, McInnis could vacate his 3rd district seat as soon as May 22 without setting off a special election.

There is already a spirited race under way to replace him.

The leading Democratic candidate in the Western Slope seat is state Rep. John Salazar, the brother of state Attorney General Ken Salazar, who is the party’s odds-on nominee for the Senate seat.

Republicans face a much more crowded primary field, with seven candidates hoping to follow McInnis into the House.

Former state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Greg Walcher (R) is the early frontrunner in the Aug. 10 primary.

Although McInnis held the seat easily, registration is equally divided between the parties and Democrats see an opening.
— C.C.

Primaries a Formality in Two House Districts

Maine’s two House Members and their principal general election opponents will proceed directly to November. With Monday’s filing deadline passed, none of the major-party Congressional candidates will face a challenger in the Pine State’s June 8 primary.

In the Portland-based southern 1st district, a former aide to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) — Scarborough resident Charles Summers, who served for eight years as Snowe’s state director — will face off against four-term Rep. Tom Allen (D) in November.

Allen, who has held the seat with at least 60 percent of the vote in the past three elections, is heavily favored, though the 2003 redistricting did shift some Democratic-leaning towns to the 2nd. The most recent campaign finance reports showed the Congressman with $172,000 on hand.

Summers is the second ex-Snowe aide to run for the House in the past two cycles. Her former chief of staff, Kevin Raye, was the unsuccessful Republican nominee in the sprawling, northern 2nd district in 2002.

In the 2nd, first-term Rep. Mike Michaud (D) will confront Aroostook County Republican Brian Hamel, an economic development official, in the general election. Michaud, who has $306,000 on hand, is expected to face a tougher challenge in the swing district. A third candidate, Bangor City Councilor David Nealley, had considered the race as a Republican, but has subsequently left the party and is now mulling a bid as an Independent. Third-party candidates other than the Maine Green Independent Party have until June 1 to file.
— Bree Hocking

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