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At the Races

Wavering Oxford to Announce Plans Today

Millionaire entrepreneur Cliff Oxford has scheduled a noon news conference today to announce whether he will seek the Democratic nomination for Senate.

Oxford was considered all but in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D) — even privately telling Democratic Senate leaders last week that he planned to run — but has had second thoughts this week about running.

In an interview Wednesday, Oxford expressed his desire to run but acknowledged that his decision hinged largely on the impact the so-called “millionaire’s amendment” provision of the new campaign finance law would have on the race.

“Once you start looking at it, that’s quite punitive on people putting millions of dollars in,” Oxford said, noting that the provision allows individual contribution limits for the opponents of self-funding candidates to be lifted. In a general election, the provision can also allow for unlimited state and national party coordinated expenditures.

Oxford, 41, sold his technology consulting company in 2003 for an undisclosed amount, and he is expected to self-fund his campaign.

“To win this race, I’d have to put in a good deal of money,” he said, throwing out an early estimate of “10 or 12 million.

Another concern, Oxford said, is that under the new law, self-funding candidates are prohibited from raising funds to pay themselves back after the election.

Oxford said he and campaign advisers were still walking through the ramifications of the new law, which he said he did not become familiar with until last Friday.

“We’re taking it very, very seriously,” Oxford said. “We want to get in this race.”

While Republicans last week began circulating damaging charges contained in Oxford’s divorce records, he said the early evidence of a smear campaign would have no impact on his final decision. He and his second wife have since reconciled, but have not remarried.

“We knew those records were there,” Oxford said. “Caryn and I are back together anyway. If I run, she’ll be 100 percent supportive. In fact, she’s encouraging me to run.”

He added this warning to Republicans: “If they really wanted to scare me they should have pulled out this millionaire’s amendment.”

Rep. Denise Majette, state Sen. Mary Squires and public interest lawyer Gary Leshaw are already seeking the Democratic nomination. The state’s filing deadline is Friday.
— Lauren W. Whittington

Field for Majette Seat Continues to Grow

The number of women in the race to succeed Rep. Denise Majette (D) in the 4th district has now grown to five, with the first male candidate possibly set to jump in soon.

State Sen. Liane Levetan (D) entered the race last weekend, joining former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard, and state Sens. Connie Stokes and Nadine Thomas in the Democratic field. McKinney lost to Majette in a 2002 primary.

State Rep. Doug Teper (D) is still seriously eyeing the race and may jump in before Friday’s filing deadline.

The crowded field for the July 20 primary is likely to lead to a runoff on Aug. 10.
— L.W.W.

Quinn’s Son Will Decide on Race at End of Week

Another update from the 27th Congressional district, where would-be candidates have been scrambling in the brand new open-seat race to replace retiring Rep. Jack Quinn (R): Quinn’s son, local prosecutor Jack Quinn III, said in an interview that he plans to meet with his father’s supporters and political advisers this week and expects to decide on whether to make the race on Friday or Saturday. The younger Quinn said he would tap into his father’s political operation if he ran.

“I realize there are some deficiencies in my résumé,” the 26-year-old recent law school graduate said. “We’ll have some realistic and real conversations and see if this is feasible.”

Quinn said his main motivation is ensuring that the seat remain in Republican hands and said he had no interest in running in a primary.

“If I don’t run, it’s not the end,” Quinn said. “I’m 26 years old. There’s a lot of room to move as a Republican in Erie County.”

According to Wednesday’s Buffalo News, Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples (R) is interested in making the race and said she would be willing to spend some of her own fortune to do so. Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan (R) is also taking steps to run.

Among the two dozen Democrats whose names have been mentioned as possible candidates, state Assemblyman Brian Higgins and Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz are still creating the most buzz.

Higgins has targeted May 13 as the day he will formally enter the race and hold a $100,000 fundraiser, the News reported; Tokasz traveled to Washington on Wednesday to confer with party leaders and former Assembly colleagues who have made the move to Congress. He would have to sacrifice his leadership position in Albany to run for Quinn’s seat.

Other Democrats taking steps to make the race, according to the newspaper: state Sen. William Stachowski; West Seneca Town Supervisor Paul Clark; Buffalo City Judge Henry Nowak Jr., whose father and namesake held the seat before Quinn; and Erie County Clerk David Swarts.

With Quinn’s departure, the Buffalo-area district is a major battleground between the two parties.
— Josh Kurtz

Cooksey Trails Successor by 3 Points in New Poll

Rep. Rodney Alexander (D) held a narrow 3-point edge over former Rep. John Cooksey (R) in a poll conducted for the Republican.

Alexander took 47 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Cooksey in the Dresner, Wickers & Associates survey. It was in the field April 15-18 testing 400 likely voters and carried a 4.9 percent margin of error.

Both men had extremely strong favorable to unfavorable scores in the poll; Alexander was thought of favorably by 69 percent and unfavorably by just 8 percent; Cooksey had a 63 percent to 13 percent favorable/unfavorable ratio.

Alexander released a poll of his own in January that showed him with a 52 percent to 36 percent edge over Cooksey. Democrats speculated that the difference between the polls was the percentage of black voters in the two samples.

Cooksey, who held the northeastern Louisiana 5th district from 1996 until 2002, is seen as Republicans’ strongest candidate against Alexander. He has not yet made a final decision on the contest.

Cooksey left the seat after three terms to run an ill-fated bid for the Senate in 2002 that saw him place a distant third.

Alexander was considered an underdog in the race to replace Cooksey but in a December runoff he beat former Cooksey chief of staff Lee Fletcher by 974 votes.

High on the list of GOP targets, Alexander contemplated a party switch earlier this year but ultimately decided to stay a Democrat.

He would begin a race against Cooksey with a significant financial lead. Alexander ended March with $498,000 in the bank.
— Chris Cillizza

Ex-Senator, Ex-Candidate Smith Backs McCollum

Just weeks after ending his quixotic Florida Senate bid, former Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) endorsed former Rep. Bill McCollum (R) in the race to replace retiring Sen. Bob Graham (D).

Smith, who took up residence and began selling real estate in Florida after being defeated in a 2002 primary by now-Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), dropped his own bid earlier this month.

“During all of my years in Congress, I never met a more honest, hard-working and dedicated individual than Bill McCollum,” Smith said in a statement released by McCollum’s campaign. “He shares my vision for a safer, more prosperous America, and is the one candidate with the experience and background necessary to lead during today’s challenging times.”

Smith, a former chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is now serving as president of the Everglades Foundation.

McCollum, who lost a Senate bid in 2000, has consistently led the crowded Republican primary field in early polls. However, the GOP race is commonly perceived as a two-person battle between McCollum and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, who has the backing of the White House and Senate leadership.
— L.W.W.

Frost, Sessions Vow to Keep Campaign Clean

Reps. Martin Frost (D) and Pete Sessions (R) signed a clean-campaign pledge Tuesday as they prepare for what could be the most expensive House race in the country.

The agreement foreswears all outside interest groups — including the two party committees — from running any negative television ads or sending any negative direct mail. It has no legal standing, however, to keep third parties out of the race and, if past history is any indication, is unlikely to do so.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it will honor Frost’s request while the National Republican Congressional Committee reserved the right to run ads comparing the two candidates’ stances on issues.

The suburban Dallas district was created by Republican remappers in late 2003. Frost chose to challenge Sessions after seeing his 24th district split into a number of other politically unwinnable districts.

Both men have flexed their fundraising muscles to this point in the contest. Sessions had $1.9 million in the bank on March 31; Frost had $1.2 million.
— C.C.

E. Dole Aids Nethercutt in His Murray Challenge

Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) will help Rep. George Nethercutt (R) formally kick off his Senate bid May 14. 

“Like me, Senator Dole knows how to win tough campaigns,” Nethercutt said of the news. “Washingtonians want strong leadership in the U.S. Senate — Senator Dole will help our campaign highlight the easy choice for voters.”

Nethercutt, who has a primary challenger, will likely face Sen. Patty Murray (D) in November.
— Nicole Duran

Thune Camp Blasts Daschle’s Phone Calls

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s (D) campaign stopped an automated phone call to South Dakota voters after it became clear the call violated federal campaign finance laws.

The calls, which urged listeners to call former Rep. John Thune (R) and tell him to keep third-party groups out of the state, did not include a disclaimer that Daschle had paid for them.

Daschle’s campaign admitted the mistake, dismissing it as a minor incident that resulted from changes in the law as a result of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Republicans did not see it that way; Thune campaign manager Dick Wadhams told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that the slip-up was “either blatant disregard for the law or incompetence.”

The blowup over the phone call highlights the microscope under which both the Daschle and Thune campaigns are operating.

National party figures on both sides of the aisle see this election as the premier and defining Senate race of the cycle.
— C.C.

Kennedy Gets His First Democratic Challenger

Ted Thompson (D), a Stillwater mortgage broker, says he already has $40,000 in commitments in his bid to unseat Rep. Mark Kennedy (R), which he launched this week.

Kennedy banked $608,000 for his campaign for a third term as of the March 31 Federal Election Commission reports.

So far Thompson, who was chief of staff to former Rep. Bill Luther (D-Minn.), is the only announced candidate seeking the Democratic endorsement in the Republican-leaning 6th district.

“I think Americans want to return to a simpler time where they felt connected to their government,” the 40-year-old broker said in announcing his candidacy.

Patty Wetterling, who rose to national prominence when her son was abducted in 1989, recently said she too may run.

The filing deadline is not until July 20.

Kennedy’s 2002 Democratic challenger, Janet Robert, abruptly took her name out of consideration, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported recently.
— N.D.

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