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Cardin Conferring, Others Prepare, Dream in Maryland

The week-old race to replace retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) in 2006 continues to churn, with new developments expected in the next several days.

One possible contender, Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D), was reportedly scheduled to meet with key advisers Sunday, sources said, and may reveal his plans by the end of the week.

Cardin, a 40-year veteran of Maryland politics, would be a major force in the Democratic primary if he were to get in. But Cardin has twice abandoned plans to run for governor and may be reluctant to abandon his perch as one of House Democrats’ leading experts on Social Security.

Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for the Congressman, said Friday that she could not comment.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D), who last week announced that he was creating an exploratory committee for a Senate run, is likely to disclose the leaders of the exploratory effort in the next couple of days in an effort to show broad regional support across the state. Ruppersberger, however, is considered less likely to run if Cardin gets in the race.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) has said he, too, will set up an exploratory committee and is expected to do so in a matter of days. When Sarbanes announced his retirement March 11, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) said he was considering running, but now he is expected to bow out soon.

Ex-Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D), a former president of the NAACP, announced March 14 that he will be a candidate.

Less well-known Democrats are also exploring the race. The Gazette of Politics and Business reported Friday that Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens (D), who is term-limited in 2006, is thinking about running for Senate and a host of other offices.

Joshua Rales, a businessman who was wooed by Republicans to challenge Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) in 2004, has switched parties and plans to run for Senate as a Democrat, the newspaper said.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele has the right of first refusal for the nomination. If he doesn’t run, 2004 nominee E.J. Pipkin and University of Baltimore business school dean Anne McCarthy might.

— Josh Kurtz

2 Democrats Raise Cash, Third Plans Trip to D.C.

Potential Democratic Senate candidates are moving ahead with their explorations, with one penning a fundraising letter last week and another planning a trip to Washington, D.C., soon.

Patty Wetterling, a child safety advocate who ran unsuccessfully for the House last year, circulated a letter seeking funds for her possible bid for the open Senate seat.

Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar is also moving ahead with fund-raising, The Associated Press reported.

Mark Rotenberg, a third potential candidate who is the University of Minnesota’s general counsel, said in an interview that he will make a final decision on the race in “several weeks.” He is planning to visit elected officials and leaders of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee soon.

Rotenberg said his decision to pursue elected office for the first time will not be affected by what other Democratic candidates do.

“I know some of these people … but I’m not prepared to stop this effort because one or more of them decide to run,” he said.

“It’s obvious that this is a wide-open seat,” Rotenberg continued. “We don’t have some veteran Member of Congress or a governor or somebody like that [running]. Given my broad experience in Washington and Minnesota in public service, I think this is a wonderful, unique opportunity.”

Before working at the university, Rotenberg worked for the Justice Department and as a clerk for a federal judge in Washington.

Rotenberg said he understands that time is of the essence, given that the Republican establishment has already lined up behind Rep. Mark Kennedy (R).

Rotenberg said he recently spoke with Kennedy: “I do know that he is out there running hard, so Democrats need to be sure that we get out there and are every bit as energetic as he appears to be.”
— Nicole Duran

Sweeney Trails Lt. Gov., Undecided in 2006 Poll

Although he has never publicly said that he is thinking of running for governor in 2006, Rep. John Sweeney (R) was included in a recent poll on a hypothetical Republican gubernatorial primary if Gov. George Pataki (R) does not seek re-election.

Like the other potential candidates named, Sweeney trailed in the “Don’t Know/No Opinion” category by a huge margin.

The Sienna Research Institute poll, conducted Feb. 28-March 4 for the Empire Page, a Web site on New York politics, queried 600 registered voters and had a 4 percent error margin.

Asked whom they would vote for in a GOP primary without Pataki running, 13 percent preferred Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue, 8 percent said Sweeney and 4 percent answered New York Secretary of State Randy Daniels. A whopping 72 percent of those queried expressed no opinion, and 3 percent named someone else.

Sweeney ran strongest in Upstate New York, where his district is located. But even there he trailed “Don’t Know,” 43 percent to 32 percent.

Daniels is the most likely to run for governor if Pataki, as expected, does not seek a fourth term. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee.
— J.K.

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