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Akaka to Run Next Year, When He Will Turn 82

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) sought to end speculation about his political future before it really got started last week by announcing that he would pursue another term next year.

The 80-year-old lawmaker, who has served in the Senate since 1990, is the latest veteran Democrat to reiterate his commitment to politics, much to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s delight.

“My career in public service has always been fueled by the hopes and dreams of our citizens,” he said in a written statement. “Much remains to be done. Our brave men and women in the service still need adequate resources to enable them to complete their missions, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. … Next year, I will humbly ask the people of Hawaii for another opportunity to continue to represent their interests in Washington, D.C.”

Akaka, who also served 14 years in the House, is not expected to face major opposition. — Nicole Duran

Democratic Poll: Cantwell Biewed Very Favorably

Evergreen State Democrats are fighting back on the poll front, recently circulating a survey showing that Sen. Maria Cantwell (D), a probable Republican target next year, is in good shape for re-election.

The freshman Senator was viewed favorably by 57 percent of the 901 voters surveyed Jan. 6-10 by the Democratic polling company Evans/McDonough of Seattle.

The margin of error was 3.3 percent.

Some recent GOP polls have shown that Cantwell may be vulnerable as she seeks re-election for the first time since she narrowly knocked off then-Sen. Slade Gorton (R) in 2000.

No public poll has pitted her against a specific candidate as no Republican has declared an intention to challenge her yet. — N.D.

Hutchison’s Approval Ratings Are Sky-High

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) remains the most popular politician in Texas, according to a new independent poll.

Seventy-two percent of those polled approved of the job Hutchison is doing in the Senate, including 85 percent of Republicans sampled.

Gov. Rick Perry (R) posted solid numbers in the survey as well with 51 percent approving of the job he is doing and 33 percent disapproving.

The poll was in the field from Jan. 27 to Feb. 14 and tested 1,000 adults with a 3 percent margin of error. It was conducted by the Scripps Research Center.

Hutchison is expected to return to Texas in 2006 to challenge Perry for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Such a move would open up Hutchison’s Senate seat to a free-for-all.

The leading Republican candidates for the Senate under that scenario are Rep. Henry Bonilla and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Democrats mentioned include former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and former state Comptroller John Sharp.
— Chris Cillizza

House Leader Mulls Joining Senate Race

Gopher State House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen (R) has said he is contemplating the race to succeed retiring Sen. Mark Dayton (D) next year.

Paulsen has not committed himself and some Minnesota political observers think he is more interested in raising his profile than challenging Rep. Mark Kennedy (R), the early frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

Meanwhile, child safety advocate Patty Wetterling (D), who competitively challenged Kennedy in the 6th district last year in her first political campaign, is set to announce Friday whether she will run for the House or Senate or sit on the political sidelines.

Democrats who may be interested in Kennedy’s 6th district seat are waiting to see if she passes on the House race.

In the 1st district, Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R), who said he would decide about the Senate race early next month, may get an aggressive Democratic challenge if he opts to pursue a seventh term in the House instead in 2006.

The Minnesota Democratic Party is already pressuring him to honor a term-limit pledge he made when he was first elected in 1994, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported last week.

Gutknecht has said he would serve no more than 12 years in the House.

He supports the concept of term limits but “you can’t unilaterally enact them or it negatively impacts the district,” his Congressional spokesman told the paper.

Democrats think they can use the issue against him if he chooses to remain in the House. The southern Minnesota 1st district is roughly split between the parties.

“We just want to know when he will announce his retirement,” state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Erlandson told the paper.
— N.D.

Warner Leads Allen in Independent Senate Poll

An Emerson College poll released late last week showed Gov. Mark Warner (D) beating Sen. George Allen (R) in a hypothetical 2006 Senate matchup.

Warner garnered 48 percent to Allen’s 41 percent in the poll, which was taken Feb. 13-17. The survey of 420 likely voters had a 5 percent margin of error.

“Warner’s appeal is unprecedented and could result in a Democratic victory on Capitol Hill in 2006,” said David Paleologos, president of DAPA Research Inc., who oversaw the poll.

Warner is Democrats’ dream candidate, and their only real prospect, to take on Allen, a former governor who was first elected to the Senate in 2000.

But many political insiders view Warner, who will leave office in January 2006 due to term limits, as having his sights set on a presidential bid in 2008 and therefore believe he won’t gamble on a Senate run next year. Allen also has 2008 presidential ambitions.

Warner ran for Senate once before. In 1996, he challenged Sen. John Warner (R), losing 52 percent to 47 percent after spending $10 million of his personal fortune on the race.

“We’ve said all along that Gov. Warner or any other self-financing multimillionaire would be a very formidable opponent,” said Jason Miller, Allen’s campaign manager. “That’s why Sen. Allen has put together a seasoned campaign team and is raising money this early in the election cycle. We’ll be prepared.”
— Lauren W. Whittington

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