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Reassuring Democrats, Bingaman to Run Again

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) announced Monday that he will seek a fifth term in 2006, quelling the fears of national and state Democrats that he would retire and leave his seat vulnerable to a Republican takeover.

“While we have made progress in education, health care and job growth, there is more work to be done on these and other challenges facing New Mexico,” the 61-year-old Senator said in a statement. “I am committed to continuing my strong advocacy, and I look forward to having the opportunity to serve our state for another term in the Senate.”

Although Republicans are optimistic about their long-term prospects in the Land of Enchantment following President Bush’s narrow victory there in 2004, Bingaman will enter his race as a prohibitive favorite. Unless Rep. Heather Wilson (R) can be persuaded to enter the contest, the Republican nominee is not likely to be well-known statewide.

Former Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley (R) and state Rep. Dan Foley (R) have both said recently that they are considering challenging Bingaman, but both are looking more seriously at running for governor in 2006.

Bingaman’s last competitive race was in 1994, when he took 54 percent of the vote. As of Dec. 31, the Senator, who rarely does much off-cycle fundraising, had $384,000 in the bank.

“Jeff’s decision greatly strengthens our hand to regain seats in the Senate,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said Monday.
— Josh Kurtz

State Senator Sets Up Exploratory Committee

State Sen. Robert Vasquez (R) has taken the first step toward running for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Butch Otter (R).

Vasquez has established an exploratory committee for the 1st district seat, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported.

Otter is running for governor next year.

The Canyon County commissioner is an outspoken critic of liberal immigration policies and supports, among other things, denying indigent medical care to illegal aliens.

Several other Republicans are reportedly eyeing the race, including state Sen. Skip Brandt; state Controller Keith Johnson; Sandra Patano, state director for Sen. Larry Craig (R); Norm Semanko, director of the Idaho Water Users Association; and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
— Nicole Duran

Blackburn Launches PAC, Skips Senate Bid

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) will not run for Senate in 2006, choosing instead to run for a third term in the 7th district and start a leadership political action committee to increase her fundraising capabilities.

“Now is the time for my focused work in the [House],” said Blackburn, adding that she will work toward “electing a strong conservative Republican Senator in 2006.”

With Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R) set to leave his seat after two terms, a number of Republicans have already jumped into the open-seat contest.

Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker (R) is the early frontrunner thanks to the $2 million he raised in the last three months of 2004. Former Rep. Ed Bryant and state Rep. Beth Harwell, the former chairwoman of the Tennessee GOP, are also expected to run. Former Rep. Van Hilleary, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002, is also mulling a Senate bid.

The Democratic side is much clearer as 9th district Rep. Harold Ford Jr. appears the likely nominee. State Sen. Rosalind Kurita is also running but is not considered a serious challenger to Ford if he decides to enter the race.

Blackburn’s new venture will only fuel speculation about her future statewide ambitions.

Called WedgePAC, the new leadership committee will allow Blackburn to contribute to candidates and committees at a higher level than she has done previously.

She will hold a kickoff fundraiser for the PAC Feb. 20 in Nashville.
— Chris Cillizza

Cantwell’s Fundraising Tapestry Includes King

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) is in full fundraising mode with singer-songwriter Carole King recently headlining a $1,000-a-plate event.

King’s fundraiser helped the cash-strapped Cantwell rake in $125,000 for her 2006 re-election bid, The Seattle Times reported last week. Also in attendance was Cantwell’s former boss, Rob Glaser, founder and chief executive of RealNetworks, as Cantwell sought donations from her former high-tech colleagues.

Cantwell ultimately spent about $13 million of her personal fortune, earned at RealNetworks and greatly diminished when the tech stock boom busted, when she ousted then-Sen. Slade Gorton (R) in 2000 by just 2,229 votes. She has only recently paid off debt incurred from that campaign and still owes herself money.
— N.D.

Two Legislators Poised to Run for LaHood Seat

If Rep. Ray LaHood (R) opts to run for governor next year, look for state Reps. David Leitch (R) and Bill Mitchell (R) to jump into the 18th district race to succeed him.

According to a Copley News Service report last week, the two state lawmakers are considering running to succeed LaHood, who is contemplating a statewide bid next year.

“I’m going to test the waters. I just think that in the event that [LaHood] decides to run for governor, it’s important to be prepared to run for Congress, in the event that that makes sense,” Leitch told the wire service.

The Peoria-based district is not considered highly competitive between the parties, so whoever winds up with the Republican nomination is likely to be elected to Congress. Still, Democrats note their recent successes in the state and hold out the possibility of targeting an open-seat race.
— Lauren W. Whittington

Stop the Presses! Lugar Is Popular in New Poll

Sen. Dick Lugar (R) hasn’t seen a competitive race for re-election in two decades, and chances are slim that he’ll see one when he faces voters again in 2006.

But that fact hasn’t stopped Indiana Republicans from trumpeting the senior Senator’s high favorability in the state.

A survey released late last week by the state GOP showed Lugar with a 75 percent favorable rating, while only 10 percent of those polled had an unfavorable view of the Foreign Relations chairman.

The Public Opinion Strategies poll was taken Jan. 26-27 and had a 4 percent margin of error.

The results mirrored those of a poll released by Lugar’s campaign last month.

Lugar has not made a formal re-election announcement, but he opened a campaign office in December to begin preparing to run for a sixth term. No other Hoosier has ever served more than three terms in the Senate.
— L.W.W.

Secretary of State Choice Was Potential Farr Foe

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) nomination Friday of a former state Senator to become secretary of state directly impacts two Members of Congress — and a former Member who retired last year.

By nominating ex-state Sen. Bruce McPherson (R) to the post, Schwarzenegger took the toughest potential foe of Rep. Sam Farr (D) out of the running in the 17th district.

McPherson, a 61-year-old moderate, has frequently been mentioned as a challenger to Farr in the coastal district, and he has been widely hailed by Republicans for his ability to win elections in Democratic districts. Assuming McPherson is confirmed by the Legislature, he is almost certain to run for a full term as secretary of state in 2006.

The post became vacant when then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (D) resigned Feb. 4 amid allegations that his office improperly spent millions of dollars in federal funds.

Schwarzenegger reportedly chose McPherson over half a dozen other serious contenders — including Rep. Mary Bono (R) and former Rep. Doug Ose (R), who just retired at the end of 2004. If Bono had been selected and confirmed, a special election would have been held to replace her — one that likely would have been very competitive between the parties.
— J.K.

Second Candidate Hits TV Airwaves in Special

Julie Padilla (D) on Saturday became the second candidate in the 5th district special election to begin advertising on television, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Padilla, dean of the Lorenzo Patino Law School, is airing a 30-second spot in which she calls for universal health care and more government spending on education. Padilla has criticized the frontrunner, Washington, D.C., lobbyist Doris Matsui (D), for not being vocal enough in her criticism of the war in Iraq. Matsui went up with her own ads Wednesday.

Twelve candidates are vying in the March 8 special election to replace Matsui’s husband, Rep. Robert Matsui (D), who died of a rare blood disorder on New Year’s Day. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in the all-party primary, the top finishers from each political party will advance to a May 3 runoff.

While Doris Matsui and Padilla went on the air in the past few days, the Republicans in the race staged a debate in Sacramento on Friday night. John Thomas Flynn, a one-time member of then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s (R) Cabinet, is considered the leading GOP contender, but Democrats hold an overwhelming edge in voter enrollment in the Sacramento-based district. Matsui has so far resisted Flynn’s call for a one-on-one debate.
— J.K.

PAC Ruling Boosts Green’s Statewide Bid

Rep. Mark Green (R) can use $800,000 he raised from federal political action committees for his 2006 gubernatorial bid.

The Associated Press reported that a state committee overruled the state Elections Board last week and will allow Green to use the money after all. The Elections Board initially said the not-yet-declared statewide candidate could not use PAC money raised from groups outside of Wisconsin.

Green transferred $1.3 million from his federal campaign account to a state account last month. He has filed paperwork to start raising money for a gubernatorial bid but has yet to formally enter the race. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is already seeking the Republican nomination in the race to take on Gov. Jim Doyle (D) next year.
— N.D.

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