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Semanko and Johnson Ready to Run for House in Idaho

Numerous Republicans are already gearing up for the race to succeed Rep. Butch Otter (R) in the Gem State’s 1st district.

Norm Semanko, executive director of the influential Idaho Water User’s Association, recently filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to allow him to begin fundraising, while Idaho Controller Keith Johnson traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to promote his soon-to-be-announced candidacy.

Johnson is considered a rising star in the party and has said he will forgo seeking a second term as controller to pursue the House seat.

He interviewed pollsters, met with members of the Idaho delegation and introduced himself to operatives at the National Republican Congressional Committee during his trip to Washington this week.

He said he plans to announce his candidacy at month’s end.

Semanko, a former staffer to Idaho Sen. Larry Craig (R), was recently elected president of the National Water Resources Association, a Washington-based trade group for water usage and water rights groups.

But they are hardly the only Republicans in the field.

Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez (R) has established an exploratory committee and former state Sen. Sheila Sorenson, a close friend of Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), is reportedly running as well.

Otter is vacating the seat to run for governor in 2006.

The heavily Republican 1st district rambles from the Nevada border to Canada and includes the fast-growing northern city of Coeur d’Alene and the Boise suburbs.

Other Republicans still mulling the race are state Sen. Skip Brandt and Sandra Patano, Craig’s state director.

Democrats, who held the seat prior to 1994, hope to put up a strong candidate despite the district’s Republican makeup.

Former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D), who is now president of public relations giant Fleishman-Hillard’s government relations practice in D.C., served two terms in Congress and could be a strong Democratic candidate, if he is willing to run.

Attorney and former gubernatorial aide Dan Williams (D), who twice lost to former Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R) after she defeated LaRocco in the 1994 Republican sweep, is said to be mulling another run.

Other Democrats who are looking at the race include Larry Grant, the former general counsel to Micron Technology and LaRocco’s one-time finance chairman who flirted with the idea of challenging Otter last year, and Jim Grossman, who headed up the Kerry/Edwards campaign in Idaho.

— Nicole Duran

Casey Runs Strong in Poll on Senate Election

A new Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed state Treasurer Robert Casey Jr. (D) as the strongest possible challenger to Sen. Rick Santorum (R) in 2006.

Casey led Santorum 46 percent to 41 percent among registered voters in the poll, music to the ears of recruiters at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Casey, the son of a popular former governor, has not said that he will run next year. But he has met with top party leaders in Washington, D.C., and is their first choice to take on Santorum, who was targeted and won re-election narrowly in 2000.

The poll was conducted Feb. 10-14 and surveyed 1,250 registered voters. It had a margin of error of 3 percent.

Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said that Pennsylvania could shape up to be the premier Senate contest in the country next year.

“At this early stage, State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., clearly threatens Senator Santorum’s re-election bid,” Richards said in a news release. “As a conservative Democrat, like his much respected father, Casey takes up the rest of the political spectrum, as independent voters favor Casey 49-32 percent. Casey’s big problem at this point is to convince possible Democratic rivals to avoid a potentially party-splitting primary.”

Casey has signaled that he is unlikely to run unless the Democratic field is essentially clear of major opposition.

The poll showed Santorum beating three other possible Democratic challengers, former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer, former Rep. Joe Hoeffel and state party Chairman T.J. Rooney. Hafer was the only one of the three who held the Senator below 50 percent.

Santorum had a 52 percent approval rating, the poll showed. The survey also found that an overwhelming number of those queried (64 percent) said they do not favor Santorum running for president in 2008, while an almost equal number said that his position as Senate Republican Conference chairman is good for the state.

The poll also found that President Bush had a 45 percent approval rating in the state.
— Lauren W. Whittington

Miller Officially Enters Race to Succeed Davis

As expected, state Sen. Les Miller announced Tuesday that he will run for the Sunshine State’s 11th district seat, becoming the first Democrat to officially enter the race to succeed Rep. Jim Davis (D).

Davis recently announced he is running for governor in 2006.

Miller is likely to face stiff competition for the seat from Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor (D).

Castor is expected to enter the race but has not set a timetable for doing so.

Castor is the daughter of 2004 Senate nominee Betty Castor (D), who narrowly lost to now-Sen. Mel Martinez (R). If she runs she could get significant financial help from groups like EMILY’s List, which backed her mother’s campaign.

Miller currently serves as Democratic leader in the state Senate, and he estimates that he currently represents about 67 percent of the Congressional district.

In an interview with the Bradenton Herald, Miller acknowledged the challenge he faces in raising resources for the House race.

“Unfortunately the money raising is the nature of the beast,” Miller said. “That’s something that has to happen.”

Other possible Democratic candidates are former Tampa mayoral candidate Frank Sanchez and attorney Scott Farrell.

“We have to meet people as much as we possibly can,” Miller told the Bradenton newspaper. “If others come into the race, we just welcome them in and run a campaign and find out who Les Miller is.”
— L.W.W.

Another Poll Reveals Chafee Vulnerabilities

A new Brown University poll shows Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) vulnerable in his 2006 re-election bid.

The small poll of 384 voters had Chafee besting the announced candidate, Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown (D), but losing to Rep. Jim Langevin (D). The poll was conducted Feb. 12 and 13 and had a 5 percent error margin.

Chafee beat Brown 39 percent to 25 percent, while Langevin, who is expected to decide whether to join the race by April 1, had a 41 percent to 27 percent lead.

Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, who is considering challenging Chafee in the GOP primary, lost to both Langevin and Brown in hypothetical matchups. He got 22 percent to Langevin’s 46 percent and 27 percent against Brown’s 30 percent.
— N.D.

Giuliani Boosts Kyl’s Expected Re-election Bid

Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R) campaign coffers received a major boost Wednesday night when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) traveled to Arizona for a fundraiser.

The event was held in Paradise Valley, in suburban Phoenix.

Kyl has not yet said whether he will run for a third Senate term in 2006 but is acting very much like a candidate.

He had more than $1.8 million on hand at the end of 2004.

When he first ran in 1994, Kyl expressed solidarity with those advocating for two-term limits in the Senate but never signed a formal pledge.

Prior to the 2004 presidential election Arizona Democrats expressed considerable optimism about their chances against Kyl.

But following President Bush’s larger-than-expected win in the state, Democrats have been considerably chastened.

State Party Chairman Jim Pederson, who has considerable personal wealth, was expected to challenge Kyl but has backed away.

State and national Democrats wish that Gov. Janet Napolitano would run, though she seems set on seeking a second term in 2006.
— Chris Cillizza

Doris Matsui Already Advocating for District

In another sign that Democratic leaders are viewing Doris Matsui’s (D) victory in next month’s 5th district special election as a foregone conclusion, Matsui issued a news release Wednesday in which she sought to assure Sacramento-area voters that she is already fighting for their priorities in Congress.

In the release, Matsui said she had spoken recently to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and other committee leaders to ensure funding for 5th district transportation projects.

“Sacramento should not lose out on federal funding simply because the 5th district seat is vacant,” she said.

Matsui is one of a dozen candidates seeking to replace her husband, the late Rep. Robert Matsui (D), in a March 8 special election, but she is the heavy favorite. All of the candidates are competing in an all-party primary; if no one gets 50 percent of the vote, the top finishers from each political party will advance to a runoff May 3.

Congressman Matsui, who served for 13 terms, died on New Year’s Day of a rare blood disorder.
— Josh Kurtz

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