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Conservative Takes On Kolbe in Ariz. GOP Primary

State Rep. Randy Graf (R) formally announced his primary challenge to Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) on Sunday, setting the stage for an ideological battle in the coming months.

Graf’s stated reason for making the race was Kolbe’s support of President Bush’s guest-worker immigration initiative.

“We need to close the borders completely before we even consider some sort of guest-worker program,” Graf said at his announcement.

Graf clearly hopes to run to Kolbe’s ideological right, and the gay marriage issue could be a big part of his strategy. Graf would support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Kolbe, who is gay, has come out in opposition to a constitutional amendment.

He has held the southeastern Arizona 8th district since 1984 and has rarely been seriously challenged in either a primary or general election. His closest race came in 1998 against former Tucson Mayor Tom Volgy, whom he defeated by just 7 points despite vastly outspending the challenger.

Graf is currently in his second state House term and is his party’s Majority Whip.

Kolbe had $214,000 in the bank at the end of 2003.
— Chris Cillizza

Independent Poll Shows Democratic Dead Heat

A new independent poll in the open-seat 13th district race shows Democrats Joe Torsella and Allyson Schwartz in a statistical dead heat as they battle to succeed Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D).

The Keystone Poll conducted for the Philadelphia Daily News/CN8 showed Torsella leading Schwartz among likely voters, 32 percent to 31 percent.

The poll also found that Torsella, the former president of the National Constitution Center, was less well-known than Schwartz, a four-term state Senator who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in 2000.

Torsella has been up with television ads for several weeks, while Schwartz began advertising just last week. She was also recently endorsed by the state AFL-CIO.

The new poll appears to reinforce the findings of a recent survey released by the Torsella campaign, which also found the race to be virtually tied. Polling for the Schwartz campaign has shown her with a considerable lead in the race.

The 13th district includes portions of Northeast Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs in Montgomery County.

On the Republican side, the poll found ophthalmologist Melissa Brown ahead of state Rep. Ellen Bard, 36 percent to 20 percent. Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce President Al Taubenberger got 10 percent. Brown was better known than Bard, the poll found, having run in the district twice before.

Still, more than a third of likely voters on both sides are uncommitted in the April 27 primary.

The Keystone Poll was conducted March 18-21 and surveyed 474 likely voters (226 Republicans and 248 Democrats). The survey had a 7 percent margin of error in the Republican primary and a 6 percent error margin in the Democratic primary.
— Lauren W. Whittington

McCollum, Castor Stay in Lead in Senate Race

A new poll released last week by the Florida Chamber Political Institute found that former state Education Commissioner Betty Castor (D) and former Rep. Bill McCollum (R) continue to lead their respective parties’ fields in the state’s open Senate race.

On the Democratic side, Castor leads Rep. Peter Deutsch 39 percent to 18 percent. Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas received 7 percent in the poll, which also found 34 percent of likely voters undecided.

On the Republican side, McCollum led his closest rival, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, 33 percent to 14 percent. The survey also found 36 percent still undecided with five months to go before the Aug. 31 primary. The poll of 750 frequent primary voters was conducted March 10-13 and had a 4 percent margin of error.

Meanwhile, Martinez is expected to report raising more than $1 million in his first quarter in the race when fundraising reports are filed next month. Martinez’s fundraising efforts were boosted by the GOP Senate leadership, which hosted a kickoff fundraiser for the former Cabinet official last month.

Among Democrats, Castor and Deutsch are expected to report raising more than $1 million in the first quarter of the year.
— L.W.W.

Fetal Tissue Issue Robs Bromm of Endorsement

Nebraska Speaker of the Legislature Curt Bromm was the only major Republican candidate in the state’s open 1st district seat not to receive the backing of Nebraska Right to Life. The group cited Bromm’s past opposition to a ban on fetal tissue research as the primary reason for not backing him.

“We have a set of criteria,” said NRTL director Julie Schmit-Albin. “How pro-life a person is in their personal life, while meritorious, doesn’t necessarily fit into that criteria.”

Bromm’s Republican primary opponents, former Lincoln City Councilman Jeff Fortenberry and Nebraska Cattlemen Executive Vice President Greg Ruehle, both received endorsements from the organization.

Ruehle has had his own problems in recent days as a series of past speeding tickets and a drunk driving conviction have come to light.

The eastern Nebraska seat is being vacated on Sept. 1 by Rep. Doug Bereuter (R), who is taking over as president of the Asia Foundation. Although he will leave office before the official end of his term, no special election will be held.

Bereuter has thrown his support behind Bromm and is actively helping the state Senator raise money and campaigning with him around the district.

Despite the district’s Republican tilt, Democrats believe that conservative state Sen. Matt Connealy (D) has a real chance in November. Both parties will hold their primary contests May 11.
— C.C.

Isakson Camp Says He’s Ahead in Senate Primary

Rep. Johnny Isakson’s Senate campaign released internal polling last week showing him with a commanding lead in his bid to win the GOP Senate nomination.

The poll found Isakson garnered 50 percent of the vote, while Rep. Mac Collins and pizza magnate Herman Cain were in a statistical tie for second place with 13 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

The poll, conducted March 8-10 by pollster Linda DiVall of American Viewpoint Inc., also found Isakson with 87 percent statewide name identification. Collins was known by 62 percent of the 600 likely primary voters surveyed and Cain, who has been running a series of television ads, was known by 46 percent.

Last week, Collins was honored for his service to the state in a resolution introduced by six Republicans in the Georgia state House. One of the legislators, state Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, is vying to replace Collins in the 8th district.

The resolution, which reads much like a Collins campaign press release, lists the six-term Congressman’s accomplishments and touts his “proven record of supporting conservative Georgia values.”

“WHEREAS, Mac Collins will continue to work to reduce government waste and bring responsibility and accountability to the taxpayers of Georgia,” the resolution states. “NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES that the members of this body commend Georgia Congressman Mac Collins for his service to the citizens of this state.”

A spokesman for Isakson’s campaign touted the support of 13 state Senators and 35 state Representatives as proof of Isakson’s respect and leadership in the state.

“I think that speaks volumes about the service that Johnny has given to the state of Georgia,” campaign manager Chris Carr said.
— L.W.W.

Murray, Nethercutt Agree to Disagree Soon

Sen. Patty Murray (D) has accepted her GOP challenger’s acceptance of her campaign’s challenge to debate, sort of.

Confused yet?

Murray’s campaign manager unintentionally threw down the gauntlet in a recent Roll Call story.

Almost immediately, Rep. George Nethercutt’s (R) campaign issued a news release saying that the Spokane lawmaker accepted. Then Murray’s people issued their own release saying they were very pleased.

“Rep. George Nethercutt appeared eager to discuss his positions on health care issues; which is good, because Nethercutt has a lot to explain,” Murray campaign manager Carol Albert stated. “When faced with a choice between the people of Washington state and special interests, Nethercutt has sided with special interests.”

Albert then used a litany of House votes to bolster her argument. Later, she told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that she did not envision an actual debate.

“The rhetorical type of debate that candidates go through, in the news media, during a campaign,” that’s the kind of debate she welcomed, she told the paper.

For his part, Nethercutt told reporters last week that he is excited to debate Murray, and then accused her of single-handedly trying to stop a measure that would make it a federal crime to harm a pregnant woman’s fetus.

“Sen. Murray is the last obstacle to protecting unborn victims of violence,” Nethercutt said of her amendment, which would, among other things, expand benefits for domestic violence victims.

Nethercutt said that while he supports victims of domestic violence, Murray’s amendment was “being used to undermine the overall measure.”

The legislation is a hot potato as supporters of abortion rights believe the real intent is to undermine legal abortions by establishing separate legal status for fetuses.

“This isn’t an abortion issue,” Nethercutt insisted.

The bill cleared the Senate last week without Murray’s amendment.
— Nicole Duran

Houghton to Reveal Plans Week From Today

Rep. Amo Houghton (R) has set April 6 as the day he will announce whether he intends to seek a 10th term.

Houghton has said he will make a morning announcement at Donna’s Restaurant in his hometown of Corning — the place where he has kicked off all of his previous campaigns. He then plans to tour the 29th district along the Empire State’s Southern Tier to elaborate.

While the 77-year-old Congressman is still telling local reporters that he has yet to make up his mind, it sure sounds like the beginning of a re-election campaign. But in a column published Sunday, Corning Leader columnist Joe Dunning predicted: “Amo has run his last race … I don’t see the incentive [for running again].”

Several Republicans are waiting to jump into the race if Houghton steps aside: state Assemblyman Brian Kolb, state Sen. John “Randy” Kuhl, Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority Chairman Bill Nojay, and businessman Geoff Rosenberger. Monroe County legislator Mark Assini is seeking the GOP nomination regardless of what Houghton does.

Samara Berend (D), a former aide to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), would consider running if Houghton does not.
— Josh Kurtz

Republican Drops Out After 10 Days in Race

Former state Rep. Mike Schatz (R) dropped his bid for the Republican nomination to take on Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) only 10 days after entering the race.

“I feel that it would be too much of a life-altering situation for my family and me,” he told The Associated Press last week. “The amount of time that it would take to run an effective campaign is quite a bit more than I had figured it was going to be.”

Schatz’s decision leaves only attorney Michael Liffrig in the Senate race on the Republican side.

The GOP nominee will be picked at the Republican state convention April 1-4 in Bismarck. The GOP standard bearer faces a daunting task in trying to unseat Dorgan.

First elected as tax commissioner in 1969, Dorgan has held office for 35 consecutive years, including the past 12 in the Senate. Republicans spent the better part of 2003 trying to entice former Gov. Ed Schafer (R) to run, but he never expressed any real interest.
— C.C.

Jones Happy to Ride Governator’s Coattails

As he made the rounds in Washington, D.C., last week for the first time since winning the March 2 primary, Republican Senate nominee Bill Jones was carrying with him a poll conducted for his campaign by the Tarrance Group that showed him almost even with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D).

The poll, completed a month ago, had Boxer at 49 percent and Jones at 45 percent. Independent polls taken about the same time showed Boxer with roughly a 10-point lead over the former California secretary of state.

Boxer’s favorable-to-unfavorable ratings were identical: 49 percent of those queried said they had a favorable impression of her, while 45 percent said unfavorable. Fully 54 percent of the voters surveyed said Boxer does not deserve a third term.

Jones is clearly going to try to milk his association with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) for all it’s worth. Jones noted that before Schwarzenegger endorsed him in the GOP primary, he had 28 percent of the vote in polls. He wound up taking 44 percent of the vote in the four-way primary.

“In all of my time in California, I’ve never seen anyone drive the numbers the way the governor can,” Jones said.

— J.K.

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