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McCollum, Gutknecht on 2006 Senate Sidelines

While three Gopher State House Members initially pondered a 2006 Senate bid in the wake of Sen. Mark Dayton’s (D) decision not to seek re-election, only Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) will run.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D) announced Monday that she too will attempt to stay in the House next year, joining Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R) in opting out of the open race.

“Next year, I plan to seek re-election while at the same time working to ensure the strongest Democrat emerges to win the U.S. Senate race,” McCollum, who represents the 4th district, said in a statement. “In the future I will likely explore other political opportunities, but for now I have a job that I love.”

No Democrat has formally entered the Senate race but child safety advocate and Kennedy’s 2004 challenger Patty Wetterling, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and attorney Mike Ciresi are considered likely candidates.

Kennedy and former Sen. Rod Grams (R), who lost to Dayton in 2000, are the only candidates in the GOP race with Gutknecht’s announcement Friday that he would not run.

While most state and national Republican leaders, including Sen. Norm Coleman (R), have signaled their support for Kennedy, Gutknecht stopped short of endorsing his more junior colleague.

“I don’t really believe in some of the kingmaker stuff that’s been going on here in the last three or four weeks,” he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “The one thing I know about Minnesota politics, there are going to be a lot of twists and turns over the next year and a half. I just think this is far too early” to endorse anyone.

Gutknecht also said that his interest in higher office mainly lies in the governor’s mansion, though he made clear he would never challenge Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who is up for re-election in 2006.

There has been speculation that Pawlenty is positioning himself for a national run and, therefore, the governorship could be open soon.

“In the state of Minnesota, anything can happen,” said Gutknecht’s campaign spokesman, Nels Pierson.

He gave the same answer when asked if Gutknecht would reconsider the 2006 Senate race under different circumstances.

Pierson said that Gutknecht seemed to go back and forth on the Senate decision, though he had Friday’s remarks written for nearly three weeks.

Minnesota Democrats wasted no time in taking issue with Gutknecht’s decision to break a term-limit pledge by deciding to seek a seventh term in the 1st district next year.

“Gil Gutknecht was forced out of the Senate race by his party’s kingmakers, and he will now break his pledge to Minnesotans and reluctantly run for a seventh term in Congress,” Democratic state party Chairman Mike Erlandson told the Star-Tribune.

“Ultimately, the voters will sort that out,” Gutknecht told the paper.
— Nicole Duran

Lacking Big-Name Foe, Talent Pulls in Big Bucks

Sen. Jim Talent (R) raised more than a quarter-million dollars for his 2006 re-election campaign last Wednesday, even as Democrats continued to struggle to find a challenger to the freshman Member.

The Talent event, which was held at La Colline on Capitol Hill, brought in $269,000 and was attended by a number of GOP Senators including Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) and Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

At the end of 2004, Talent had $245,000 in the bank — one of the less impressive totals for a potentially vulnerable incumbent.

In his 2002 victory over then-Sen. Jean Carnahan (D), Talent raised and spent more than $8 million. Carnahan outspent him by $4 million.

National Democrats continue to talk up their chances of unseating Talent but no top-tier candidate has stepped forward.

Those mentioned include former Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, former acting Gov. Roger Wilson, state Attorney General Jay Nixon and newly elected Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan — Jean Carnahan’s daughter and sister of freshman Rep. Russ Carnahan (D).

Democrats were crushed in the Show Me State in 2004 as President Bush easily carried it, Republicans won the governorship and Sen. Kit Bond (R) was re-elected with his largest margin ever.
— Chris Cillizza

Democrats Get Their Desired Senate Matchup

State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) announced Friday that he will challenge Sen. Rick Santorum (R), setting up a race that is expected to become one of the most hotly contested Senate showdowns of the 2006 cycle.

State and national Democrats quickly coalesced behind Casey, who had widely been considered their top choice to take on Santorum.

As soon as Casey announced, state Treasurer Barbara Hafer (D) stepped aside at the request of Gov. Ed Rendell (D), who had been working to clear the field for his former rival. Former Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D), the 2004 Senate nominee who had been contemplating another Senate bid, also said he would not challenge Casey for the nomination.

Casey, the son of the late Gov. Bob Casey (D), previously served two terms as state auditor general and was elected treasurer in 2004, winning the most votes of any statewide candidate in Pennsylvania history. Democrats are hopeful that Casey’s conservative views on key social issues — he opposes abortion rights and gun control — will help him win the support of swing voters and moderate Republicans.

Casey has long harbored gubernatorial ambitions, but he cited President Bush’s most recent budget proposal and plan to reform Social Security as two factors that led him to a Senate run.

“Instead of confronting these problems, the current Republican leadership in Washington views the results of the November election as a mandate to increase the speed and severity of their push to undermine policies that protect middle-income working families,” Casey said. “Their actions since the election played a large part in my decision to enter the Senate race.”

Democrats also targeted Santorum, the Republican Conference chairman, in 2000. He eventually defeated then-Rep. Ron Klink (D) 52 percent to 46 percent.
— Lauren W. Whittington

Top-Tier Challenger Enters Race With Shaw

State Sen. Ron Klein (D) announced last week that he will challenge Rep. Clay Shaw (R) next year. The South Florida race is expected to become one of the most expensive and closely watched of the 2006 cycle.

Democrats believe Klein is their strongest possible recruit against Shaw, a perennial target who has been tested in close races before.

“I’m an underdog because I’m running against a 24-year incumbent,” Klein told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “[But] I’m a very feisty underdog who works very hard in campaigns.”

Klein, who is term-limited in the Legislature and cannot seek re-election, has compiled a moderate, pro-business record during his 12 years in the state House and Senate.

Shaw’s closest re-election was in 2000, when he beat then-state Rep. Elaine Bloom (D) by just 599 votes.

The Republican performance of Shaw’s district was improved during the last round of redistricting, and he has easily won re-election since.

The debate over Social Security reform is expected to play prominently in the race. Shaw is a former chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, and almost a quarter of the population in the Fort Lauderdale-based district are Social Security recipients.
— L.W.W.

NRSC Poll Shows Solid Early Lead for Sen. Kyl

A poll commissioned by the National Republican Senatorial Committee shows Sen. Jon Kyl (R) in strong shape to win re-election in 2006.

In a head-to-head matchup with Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Jim Pederson, Kyl held a comfortable 54 percent to 23 percent edge.

Fifty-three percent of those tested had a favorable opinion of Kyl compared to just 14 percent who had an unfavorable opinion.

The survey was conducted by DataCall Inc. for the NRSC. It was in the field March 1-5, testing 503 likely voters with a 4.5 percent margin of error.

Prior to the 2004 election, Arizona Democrats, led by Pederson, were talking up their chances against Kyl. But President Bush’s comfortable winning margin in the state considerably dimmed that optimism.

Kyl was elected in 1994 with 54 percent; Democrats were unable to field a challenger to him in 2000 when he took 79 percent.
— C.C.

Thousands Responded to Poll on Rep. Hinchey

An unscientific readers’ poll on Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D) conducted last week by a newspaper in Hinchey’s district appears to have been manipulated by national conservative bloggers and the Congressman’s own staff.

More than 41,000 people responded to Kingston Freeman’s online poll, which typically generates 500 to 2,000 responses a week.

The poll asked readers whether they found plausible Hinchey’s theory that White House political guru Karl Rove could have produced the phony documents that undermined a controversial CBS News report on President Bush’s military service.

Hinchey generated a furor — and gained plenty of national attention — when he discussed his hunch at a town hall meeting in his district two weeks ago. Almost 60 percent of the people who responded to the newspaper’s poll agreed with the Congressman’s theory, while 40.5 percent said they did not.

But a Freeman article on the poll results quoted a Hinchey spokesman, Daniel Ahouse, as conceding that he sent a “handful” of e-mails to Hinchey supporters asking them to respond to the poll after he learned that conservative Web sites around the country were urging their readers to weigh in.

“What’s sad is that in today’s political climate, even a poll as relatively benign as this one became the subject of a tug of war between the left and the right,” said Freeman Publisher Ira Fusfeld.
— Josh Kurtz

O, Henry! Cisneros Takes a Pass — Again

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros dashed Democrats’ hopes again last week when he announced he would not run for the Senate in 2006.

“I don’t have any plans to run for the Senate,” Cisneros told The Dallas Morning News. “I’m not considering it.”

Cisneros, a former San Antonio mayor, is the perennial Democratic dream candidate in the Lone Star State. He had earlier ruled out a run for governor in 2006.

Democrats are beginning to cast around for potential candidates as it becomes more clear that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) will forgo a re-election bid to return to Texas and challenge Gov. Rick Perry (R) in a primary.

Democrats interested in the Senate race include former Dallas mayor and 2002 Senate nominee Ron Kirk, former state Comptroller John Sharp, former Rep. Jim Turner and former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson.

On the Republican side, Rep. Henry Bonilla will run if Hutchison vacates the seat, while Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Attorney General Greg Abbott are also interested.
— C.C.

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