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At the Races

Club for Growth Backs Smith for Dad’s Seat

Attorney Brad Smith, who hopes to succeed his retiring father Rep. Nick Smith (R) in the Great Lake State’s 7th district, was endorsed by the Club for Growth Tuesday.

Smith is in a tough six-way primary with five current or former state legislators. Each, with the exception of Joe Schwarz, a former state Senator who is backed by the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, has been trying hard to burnish his conservative credentials.

The Club for Growth is known for supporting anti-tax conservatives and for lavishing funds on its chosen candidates.

In a news release announcing the endorsement, the group said it expects to raise contributions “in the six-figure range” for Smith’s campaign.
— Nicole Duran

Democratic Lawmaker Drops Out in 3rd District

State Sen. Reggie Dupre (D) dropped out of the 3rd district open seat race Tuesday, citing a lack of desire to raise the money needed to win the contest.

“I consider myself a good public servant but not a good beggar,” Dupre said from the floor of the Louisiana state Senate.

Finance reports filed late last week revealed that Dupre had been grossly outraised by former state Rep. Charlie Melancon (D).

Melancon brought in $323,000 from Jan. 1 to March 31 compared to just $34,000 for Dupre. A third serious Democratic candidate — former Louisiana Sen. Bennett Johnston (D) aide Charmaine Caccioppi — recently entered the contest but did not file a report with the Federal Election Commission.

Only state Sen. Craig Romero is in the race for Republicans, but BellSouth executive Billy Tauzin III, the son of the current Congressman, is also expected to run.

Romero raked in $170,000 in the period with $167,000 still in the bank.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Democrat turned Republican, has held the southeastern Louisiana 3rd district easily since 1980, but the race to replace him is expected to be hotly contested by both national parties.
— Chris Cillizza

Isakson Foes Look to Channel Ed McMahon

In the Peach State’s contentious GOP Senate primary, Rep. Johnny Isakson took some heat this week from his opponents for missing a debate in his hometown.

Due to a scheduling conflict, Isakson did not attend a candidate forum Monday sponsored by a number of local Republican groups and held at the Cobb Civic Center in Marietta.

Isakson’s two leading primary opponents, Godfather’s Pizza mogul Herman Cain and Rep. Mac Collins, seized on the frontrunner’s absence both before, during and after the event.

Cain opened his comments at the debate by echoing the old opening line from “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson: “Where’s Johnny?” he asked.

“No one in this race should feel that he can just coast into the United State Senate,” Cain said in a statement released Tuesday.

In an effort to blunt his opponents’ criticism, Isakson’s campaign issued a statement before Monday’s debate stating that he will attend five public debates in the three months before the July 20 primary. Isakson has already participated in two debates.

“The goal of scheduling these debates is to ensure they take place in credible forums that are fair to all the candidates and accessible to as many Georgia voters as possible,” said Isakson, who attended a meet-and-greet in Cherokee County instead Monday night. “We have tried to accept invitations in numerous parts of the state and at locations that are easily accessible to the news media.”
— Lauren W. Whittington

Poll: Conservatives Take a 2nd Look at Toomey

A new Quinnipiac University survey in the Keystone State’s GOP Senate race showed Rep. Pat Toomey closing the gap on four-term Sen. Arlen Specter, with one week to go before the primary.

Specter led Toomey 49 percent to 44 percent in the poll of 431 likely primary voters, conducted April 12-18. The survey had a 5 percent margin of error.

The last Quinnipiac poll, conducted in early April, found Specter led by a 52 percent to 37 percent margin and also indicated that Toomey had yet to unify support among his conservative base.

But the new poll showed 51 percent of the voters surveyed now say Specter is “too liberal,” a jump from 43 percent in the last poll.

“Conservative Republicans are rallying behind Congressman Toomey’s charge that Sen. Specter is too liberal for Pennsylvania,” said Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “The 10-point swing in the last two weeks comes from conservatives who deserted Specter in favor of his challenger from the right.”

Specter campaigned with President Bush in Pittsburgh on Monday. The president heaped praise on the “independent-minded” moderate, for whom he helped raise $400,000.

Meanwhile, the conservative Club for Growth on Tuesday unveiled a new anti-Specter TV ad. Called “Roadtrip,” the ad highlights Specter’s taxpayer-funded travel.

“Merry old England. Romantic Paris. Historic Egypt. Dozens of trips — all at taxpayer expense,” the ad’s narrator says.

“Arlen Specter. Very liberal with your taxes,” the ad concludes.
— L.W.W.

Terry Enjoys 36-Point Lead Over Thompson

Rep. Lee Terry (R) leads his Democratic opponent by 36 points in a new poll conducted for his campaign earlier this month.

Terry took 60 percent to 24 percent for state Sen. Nancy Thompson (D) in the Public Opinion Strategies survey, which was conducted April 7 and 8. It tested 400 likely voters with a 4.9 percent margin of error.

Both Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that Thompson is the most serious challenger that Terry has had in his brief Congressional career.

On paper, the Omaha-based district is the most competitive of the state’s three Congressional seats, which in Nebraska still gives it a decided Republican tilt.

President Bush won the district by 18 points in 2000, underperforming his statewide margin by 11 points.

Terry has been regularly targeted by national Democrats since winning the open seat of then-Rep. Jon Christensen (R) in 1998.

In 2000 he won 66 percent against a Democratic state Senator; last cycle he took 63 percent against a free-spending heir to the Omaha Steaks fortune.

Terry has a solid lead over Thompson in fundraising as well.

He ended March with $648,000 in the bank to Thompson’s $163,000.
— C.C.

American Indian Leader Bows Out, Backs Daschle

American Indian newspaper publisher Tim Giago dropped his plans to run as an independent in November’s Senate race after discussions with Sen. Tom Daschle (D).

Giago and Daschle met Saturday, during which “I laid out what is considered most important to the tribes of South Dakota,” Giago told The Washington Post.

Daschle agreed to hold a meeting in August with leaders from the state’s nine Indian reservations where they can voice their priorities and concerns.

Giago’s decision not to run and subsequent endorsement of Daschle removes a major stumbling block for the South Dakota Democrat in his race against former Rep. John Thune (R).

The American Indian community is overwhelmingly Democratic, and the vast majority of votes that Giago would have received will now likely return to Daschle.

In the 2002 South Dakota Senate race the American Indian community was crucial.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D) defeated Thune by just 524 votes thanks in large part to a massive get-out-the-vote operation on the reservations.

Republicans alleged that Johnson’s margin among American Indians was due to illegal voter registration gambits, but Thune declined to pursue a legal challenge.
— C.C.

Longshot Candidate Blasts Republican Bosses

Tired of getting the cold shoulder from state Republican officials, long-shot Senate contender Michael Benjamin (R) has struck back.

Benjamin, who has largely been ignored — or worse — by Gov. George Pataki (R) and the state GOP since he launched his campaign to unseat Sen. Charles Schumer (D) more than a year ago, has published a slick 18-page booklet called “Undermining Democracy,” which he has distributed to 10,000 political activists, observers and opinionmakers.

It lists nine examples of what he calls the GOP establishment’s “path of obstruction and sabotage” against his campaign — everything from the state Republican chairman walking out of a lunch with him, to being denied the opportunity to speak at party functions, to having Pataki administration officials renege on their commitments to support him.

Benjamin says he has reached out to good government groups and the ACLU in an effort to reform the state’s political system.

“The feedback we’ve gotten [from the booklet] to my surprise has been very positive,” Benjamin said. “Now we’re waiting to see who takes it beyond saying nice things.”

Benjamin said he remains committed to competing for the GOP Senate nomination against the man whom Pataki forces encouraged to run after the governor and other high-profile Republicans didn’t: state Assemblyman Howard Mills III (R).

Benjamin, Mills and ophthalmologist Marilyn O’Grady are also seeking the nomination of the Conservative Party.

A recent Marist Poll found that Benjamin would fare no worse than Mills in a trial heat with Schumer. Schumer led Mills 72 percent to 17 percent and Benjamin 71 percent to 16 percent. The first-term Senator led 84-year-old millionaire and frequent candidate Abe Hirschfeld (R), 72 percent to 16 percent.
— Josh Kurtz

Wilson Foe Highlights Her Halliburton Money

State Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero (D), the likely challenger to Rep. Heather Wilson (R), is trying to use her robust campaign treasury against her.

In a news release, Romero charged that by accepting large contributions from Halliburton, Wal-Mart, WorldCom and Qwest — not to mention from controversial GOP figures like Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) and Rep. Katherine Harris (Fla.) — Wilson is showing how out of touch she is with New Mexico voters.

“Heather is clearly more interested in pleasing her friends in Washington than the people of New Mexico.”

While acknowledging the big contributions that Wilson has received, Jane Altweis, the Congresswoman’s campaign treasurer, noted in response that individuals have contributed more than $850,000 of the more than $1.4 million that Wilson has raised this cycle.

“That’s what makes us unique,” Altweis told The Albuquerque Tribune. “There are high dollars and low dollars.”

Through March 31, Wilson had $898,000 in the bank. Romero, who is seeking a rematch with the Congresswoman in the Albuquerque-based district after taking 45 percent of the vote against her in 2002, had $305,000.
— J.K.

Poll Shows Fingerhut Closing in on Voinovich

State Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D) has narrowed Sen. George Voinovich’s (R) lead significantly in the Buckeye State’s Senate race but still trails by double digits.

Voinovich led Fingerhut 54 percent to 38 percent among the 647 registered voters polled March 10-22 by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, which conducts the Ohio Poll. The poll had an error margin of 3.9 percent.

A year ago, Voinovich, who previously served as governor and Cleveland mayor, was leading Fingerhut 67 percent to 24 percent in the same poll.

Voinovich’s lead in the Cleveland area, however, is basically within the error margin — he’s ahead 48 percent to 44 percent.

Voinovich’s name recognition, a key factor, is at 97 percent while Fingerhut’s is only 52 percent.

Fingerhut faces a major hurdle in becoming better known to Ohioans as he trails Voinovich badly in the money chase.

Voinovich had more than $5 million in the bank on March 31; Fingerhut had only $109,000 on hand.
— N.D.

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