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Gallagher Says He’s a Player in Fla. GOP Senate Primary

Touting a new poll done for his Senate campaign, businessman Doug Gallagher (R) argued Monday that he is now positioned to make the crowded GOP primary into a three-way contest.

Although former Rep. Bill McCollum and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez are commonly viewed as the frontrunners in the GOP race, Gallagher is quickly becoming a player with a month and a half to go before the Aug. 31 primary.

Gallagher is the brother of the state’s chief financial officer, and he has pumped several million dollars into his effort thus far.

“The race has clearly become a three-way contest,” Gallagher pollster Neil Newhouse said in a conference call with reporters Monday. “The race has narrowed dramatically.”

The survey, conducted July 6-7, showed McCollum leading with 23 percent, followed by Martinez with 19 percent and Gallagher with 15 percent. The Public Opinion Strategies poll of 600 likely primary voters had a 4 percent margin of error.

The new poll indicates McCollum’s support slid considerably since May, when a poll done by the same firm showed the former lawmaker at 29 percent. That same poll showed Gallagher’s support at 8 percent.

“We’re ecstatic with the numbers,” Gallagher said. “Our message is getting through to the voters directly.”

Gallagher’s jump in poll position could also be attributed to the fact that he was the first GOP candidate on the air in the race. Newhouse noted that only 25 percent of voters queried said they had seen his ad.

Gallagher is focusing his campaign message on his experience as a businessman and the fact that the Senate is predominantly populated by lawyers, the chosen profession of both Martinez and McCollum.

Meanwhile, Martinez scored the endorsement of three former state Republican Party chairmen on Monday. Last month, Martinez, the favorite of the national GOP establishment, was endorsed by National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.).
— Lauren W. Whittington

Ditka Can’t Say No; Barthwell Quits Day Job

As Illinois Republicans went back to the drawing board yet again last week in their effort to find a replacement Senate candidate for the November ballot, their search has focused on two names — one with virtually universal name identification and one with almost none.

Chicago Bears coaching legend Mike Ditka has yet to bat down an effort to draft him into the Senate race and in a TV interview Monday signaled that he is considering getting in the race.

“There’s no no and there’s no yes,” Ditka told Chicago’s Fox WFLD-32 when asked whether he was in or out of the race. “Let’s just see what happens, because you know my problem is that I’ve made a lot of commitments for this year. And TV-wise and radio-wise and it’s just hard for me to say no to people. We’ll see what happens.”

Meanwhile, Andrea Grubb Barthwell resigned her post as a deputy director in the Office of National Drug Control Policy Friday in order to discuss a run with state GOP leaders.

The Illinois GOP Central Committee will have the ultimate vote on who will replace investment banker-turned-teacher Jack Ryan (R) on the ballot. The committee has said it hopes to have a replacement selected by next week.

The selection process headed back to square one last week after state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R), the frontrunner to secure the ballot spot, withdrew his name from contention just hours after Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) publicly backed his candidacy.

Ryan withdrew from the race last month after accusations that he had patronized sex clubs triggered a negative backlash from party leaders and the media. He has yet to formally file withdrawal papers.

Barthwell, a self-described moderate who supports abortion rights but not the so-called partial-birth abortion procedure, is not personally wealthy and would not be able to self-fund a campaign.

“I’m not afraid of a hard run,” she recently told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I bring a set of skills and abilities that would make this an interesting race.”

If Barthwell, 50, is selected as the GOP nominee, it would be the first time in history that two black candidates have squared off for a Senate seat. The GOP pick will face state Sen. Barack Obama (D). Still, Barthwell has a long way to go in securing crucial support from the state GOP institution.

When asked about Barthwell on Friday, Hastert told The Associated Press, “Who? Don’t know her.”
— L.W.W.

Darrow Car Ads on TV May Violate BCRA Rule

The question of whether the business legacy of GOP Senate candidate Russ Darrow could be damaged by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act will probably have to be settled by the Federal Election Commission.

The FEC is “likely” to have to rule on whether Darrow’s chain of Chrysler-Plymouth dealerships will be allowed to run advertisements in the month before the Sept. 14 primary, a commission spokesman said.

“It’s possible” that commercials for the Russ Darrow Group could violate the electioneering communication rule that forbids corporate-sponsored ads featuring a candidate to run in the 30 days before an election, said Bob Biersack, the FEC spokesman.

Told that the business is now run by Darrow’s son, Russ Darrow III, Biersack said the campaign and car dealerships might be able to avoid the prohibition.

So far, neither the Darrow campaign nor the business has sought an advisory opinion from the FEC, he said.

The irony of the situation was not lost on Darrow’s campaign as he, and his Republican rivals, have all chided the man they want to replace, Sen. Russ Feingold (D), for making campaign-finance reform a chief goal.

“The fact that a person can be in business for so many years, and now a practice that has gone on for many years, his advertising, can come under question is the height of absurdity, and it speaks to the lack of important issues that Russ Feingold has been fighting for,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quoted Darrow campaign manager Eric Schutt as saying last week.

Feingold co-authored BCRA, which became law in late 2002, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Feingold’s campaign responded: “The McCain-Feingold bill was designed to stop the corrupting influence of party soft money on federal campaigns, not to prevent legitimate business advertisements from being broadcast,” the paper reported.

While the Darrow question swirled, state Sen. Bob Welch, who is also seeking the GOP nod, took the opportunity to slam Darrow and a third opponent for pouring their own money into the race.

“Millionaire car dealer Russ Darrow and millionaire pipeline executive Tim Michels have each spent more of their personal fortunes on their campaigns for U.S. Senate than they said they would in official filings with the FEC,” Welch’s campaign said in a statement.

Michels had told the FEC he would not spend more than $307,200 of his own money, enough to trigger BCRA’s “millionaires amendment” — a threshold that if exceeded by one candidate allows his rivals to raise more money from individuals and political action committees.

Darrow had pledged not to spend more than $807,200, yet Michels has given his campaign almost $900,000 and Darrow has contributed $1.4 million, Welch claims.

Even though Welch does not have the ability to self-finance, the pressure that Darrow’s and Michels’ millions are placing on him was evident when Welch’s campaign announced Monday that it too would finally take to the airwaves.

The ad, which plays up Welch’s experience and record, will begin airing later this month.

Darrow and Michels are both already running television commercials.

Feingold began running two new ads Monday featuring the Senator’s efforts to protect Wisconsin jobs.
— Nicole Duran

Teachers Unions Split on Burns’ Seat Endorsement

The war over endorsements continues in the 12th district Democratic primary, with only a week to go before voters head to the polls.

Former state Sen. Doug Haines scored the endorsement of the National Education Association and the Georgia Association of Educators this week. The GAE comprises more than 38,000 Georgia teachers.

“I’ve always fought for our teachers, our public schools, and our children,” Haines said in announcing the endorsement. “Having the support of these great organizations represents a vote of confidence that is gratifying and humbling. I’m honored to stand with our heroes in the classroom in bringing a chorus of voices for change to Washington.”

Last week, the rival Georgia Federation of Teachers endorsed Haines’ top opponent for the Democratic nomination, Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow.

Barrow is backed by labor and environmental groups and is generally viewed as the favorite of national party insiders. Still, they concede Haines could force an Aug. 10 runoff.

Haines, Barrow and attorney Tony Center are vying in the July 20 primary for the right to face freshman Rep. Max Burns (R) this fall.
— L.W.W.

NRA Backs Boren as Newspaper Slams Free

The National Rifle Association last week endorsed state Rep. Dan Boren (D) in his bid to succeed Rep. Brad Carson (D) in the eastern Oklahoma 2nd district.

Boren faces former District Attorney Kalyn Free in the July 27 Democratic primary. Carson is vacating the seat and running for Senate.

Meanwhile, The Daily Oklahoman on Sunday published a scathing editorial targeting Free. The newspaper has not yet endorsed in the race.

“The next Congressional representative for southeastern Oklahoma has big shoes to fill. And Kalyn Free is not the person to fill them,” the newspaper wrote. “She’d make a good foot soldier for John Kerry and John Edwards. She’s comfortable shining the pumps of radical feminists and the wingtips of trial lawyers. She has ample campaign funding from some of the most liberal special-interest groups in America. But she is not the right fit for the district she’d like to serve.”

The newspaper added: “Our problem with Free is not that she’s a Democrat or a woman or a Choctaw. … Our problem with Free is that her views don’t fit with Oklahoma values.”

Free, a member of the Choctaw nation, has the backing of EMILY’s List, as well as the state AFL-CIO.
— L.W.W.

Cheney Stumps With Two House Contenders

Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned in the Keystone State, a key presidential battleground, on behalf of two Congressional candidates Monday.

Cheney did a breakfast event in Bethlehem for 15th district nominee and state Sen. Charlie Dent (R) and then attended a $500-per-plate lunch and $2,000-per-person private reception for Scott Paterno, the son of Penn State football coaching legend Joe Paterno, who is challenging Rep. Tim Holden (D) in November. Cheney also attended a Pittsburgh fundraiser for the state party’s coordinated campaign.

Both Paterno and Dent were featured prominently on stage with President Bush, when the president attended a campaign rally in York, Pa., last week.

Dent is favored to win the Lehigh Valley-based seat being vacated by Rep. Pat Toomey (R). He faces real estate developer Joe Driscoll (D) in November.

Paterno, 31, faces a steeper incline in his first run for office.

The 17th district race was a top target for both parties in 2002, when Holden defeated Rep. George Gekas (R) in a Member-versus-Member matchup created by redistricting.

While Republicans hold a sizable registration advantage in the district, Holden remains popular, and the race is not yet considered a top target for the GOP.
— L.W.W.