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Democrats Press Strickland on Senate

Senate Democrats are stepping up their efforts to convince Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) to challenge Sen. Mike DeWine (R) in 2006, believing that the Ohio Republican is increasingly vulnerable back home.

Strickland had a lunch meeting with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday, one of several recent conversations Strickland later acknowledged he has had with the Democratic leader about the race.

“I’m going to go have lunch with a candidate that is going to run for the Senate against a Republican,” an optimistic Reid told those gathered on Capitol Hill for a rally Wednesday.

But Strickland remained noncommittal about the statewide race when asked about his interest, even while he asserted his belief that he could beat DeWine if he runs.

“I don’t know what I am going to do,” Strickland said. “Ohio is a big, complex, costly state in which to run. I wouldn’t consider this if I didn’t think the country was being led to a very destructive place.”

Strickland acknowledged “running for the Senate, I think, would be a significant risk” and said he still enjoys the “energy of the House and the camaraderie of my colleagues.”

He said he plans to make a decision about the race “sooner rather than later” and acknowledged the support of Senate Democrats would be a significant factor as he makes up his mind.

“There is no way I could do this if I didn’t think Sen. Reid and the Democratic leadership was 100 percent on board,” Strickland said.

Democrats argue that Strickland’s pro-abortion rights, pro-gun and pro-union profile would be an attractive package for voters in a swing state like Ohio.

Strickland, a Methodist minister and one-time prison psychologist, was first elected to the House in 1992. He was defeated two years later, but won the seat back in 1996. Since then, he has had little trouble winning re-election in the potentially competitive 6th district, which runs along the eastern state line and borders Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

A member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, he showed $444,000 in the bank as of the end of last year.

Strickland spent much of 2004 traveling the state and lining up support from key Democratic constituencies for a 2006 gubernatorial bid. He announced in January that he would not run for governor, but held the door open to a possible Senate run.

“We think Strickland would be a very strong candidate” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who previously met with the Ohio Democrat to discuss the race but did not attend Wednesday’s lunch.

Democrats are also increasingly convinced that DeWine is vulnerable. A recent poll conducted for the DSCC showed that only 36 percent of those surveyed favored re-electing the Senator, although the committee declined to share the poll’s other findings.

“People in Ohio don’t associate accomplishment with Mike DeWine,” DSCC spokesman Phil Singer said.

Republicans, meanwhile, said they are confident that DeWine, a former Congressman and Ohio lieutenant governor, will be returned to the Senate.

“He is very strong,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole (N.C.). “He has a great record. I feel very strong about that one.”

DeWine would not address the still hypothetical possibility of facing Strickland next year.

“I am going to wait until he decides,” he said. “I am not going to speculate about someone who hasn’t announced.”

But DeWine also noted that his campaign operation is in full gear and he is preparing for a tough challenge regardless of what Strickland does. Former Ohio Attorney General Lee Fisher, who lost a 1998 gubernatorial bid, and former Rep. Dennis Eckart are among the other Democrats mentioned as possible challengers to DeWine, although they would likely defer to Strickland if he runs.

“I am doing what I should be doing,” he said Wednesday. “We had $2.1 million in the bank as of Dec. 31. … We probably raised another $250,000 since that filing and we have a fundraiser tonight right here in Washington.”

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