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Independent groups aligned on both sides of the Social Security debate on Monday sought to portray momentum for their preferred view as Congress prepared to return to Washington, D.C. after its Easter recess., an anti-privatization group collaborating with Americans United to Protect Social Security, launched a three-week, $1 million national cable television buy attacking the proposal put forward by President Bush.

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg that threatens your retirement,” says the narrator of the ad, which was produced by media consultant Jim Margolis for GMMB. “Look below the surface and you’ll find … benefit checks cut in half … $5 trillion in new debt.”

At the spot’s unveiling Margolis said it was a direct response to an ad by the pro-privatization group Progress for America, which compares the future of Social Security to the allegedly unsinkable Titanic.

Erik Smith, one of the founding members of, said the initial cable effort will be followed by ads targeting specific Members of the House and Senate. He added that the total budget for the group’s media campaign is between $10 million and $12 million.

Meanwhile, Generations Together, which along with Progress for America represents the leading edge of the pro-privatization forces, released a memo Monday documenting its efforts during the two-week Congressional break.

Among the activities: 4,000 Generations Together supporters attended 65 town halls held by Members of Congress, 200 supporters sent letters to the editor, and another 200 made calls to talk radio shows.
— Chris Cillizza

Whitehouse to Run; Brown Boasts of Cash

Former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse announced his bid Monday for the Democratic nomination in next year’s Senate race — the same day that Secretary of State Matt Brown (D) announced that his fundraising machine is humming along.

Whitehouse, an unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial candidate, entered the race only after both Reps. James Langevin (D) and Patrick Kennedy (D) declined Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee entreaties to challenge Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) in the Ocean State.

Meanwhile Brown, who noted that he has been running “just 56 days” for Senate, will report collecting more than $500,000 through March 31 in his April 15 Federal Election Commission filing, according to a campaign press release.

“Matt has raised a formidable amount of money for any Senate candidate — let alone a challenger,” said Don Sweitzer, a former Democratic National Committee political director who is helping Brown. “It is especially impressive that 99 percent of the funds come from individuals.” 

State Democratic Party Chairman William Lynch attended Brown’s most recent fundraiser, according to the Providence Journal — an indication that party leaders may be warming to him.

“The party may or may not endorse someone in a primary. There have been times when the party has, and there have been times when the party hasn’t,” Lynch told the paper.

— Nicole Duran

University Official Will Skip 2006 Senate Race

A would-be Senate candidate took his name out of consideration Monday.

Mark Rotenberg, general counsel for the University of Minnesota, had formed an exploratory committee and was considering vying for the Democratic nomination for the open seat. Rotenberg opted not to run citing the “mountain of money” that he would need to raise.

The only declared candidate so far is Rep. Mark Kennedy (R), who planned to challenge freshman Sen. Mark Dayton (D) before Dayton surprised most everyone and announced that he would retire when his term expires in 2007.

Former Sen. Rod Grams (R), whom Dayton beat in 2000, has also said that he would run.

Several high-profile Democrats are still mulling the race, including 2004 failed 6th district candidate Patty Wetterling, failed 2000 Senate candidate Mike Ciresi and Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, who already filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission.
— N.D.

Perlmutter Bid in Swing District Elates Democrats

Democratic hopes in the suburban Denver 7th district received a major boost recently when former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D) announced his intention to run for Congress.

“I just felt this is the time to do it,” said Perlmutter, who had declined a bid for the newly created seat in 2002 and also turned down a challenge to Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) in the previous cycle.

Perlmutter will run regardless of whether Beauprez decides to vacate the seat to seek the governorship, a proposition that appears to be growing more likely by the day. Perlmutter was seen as a possible 2006 gubernatorial candidate as well before announcing for Congress.

He carries an impressive political résumé, having served as Senate President Pro Tem from 2000 to 2002 when he was term-limited out of the body. He was first elected to the west Denver 20th state Senate district in 1994. He won an open seat and replaced a Republican Member.

Perlmutter turned down the contest in 2002 because his youngest daughter, who at that time was just 10, said politics made him “grumpy.”

The district is one of the few remaining toss-up seats nationwide. In the 2004 presidential race, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) took 51 percent to 48 percent for President Bush.

Two other Democrats, former state Rep. Peggy Lamm and 2004 6th district nominee Joanna Conti, have also signaled their intention to run next year.

— C.C.

Ex-McGreevey Aide Eyes Garrett Challenge

Paul Aronsohn, an aide to then-Gov. Jim McGreevey (D), is mulling a challenge to Rep. Scott Garrett (R) in 2006, the Web site recently reported.

Aronsohn, now an executive with New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc., was a one-time press secretary to McGreevey, who resigned from office last year.

Aronsohn said he expects to announce a campaign exploratory committee soon and expressed his desire “to put an end to divisive, purely partisan politics” and “to hold accountable those elected officials who peddle it.”

“I care passionately about our state and our country, and I am deeply concerned about the direction in which we are heading,” he told the site devoted to state political news. “My plan is to spend the weeks and months ahead talking with and listening to the people of the 5th district.”

However, the Northern New Jersey district is not considered competitive for Democrats. President Bush took 57 percent of the vote in the district last year, and Garrett has easily won close to 60 percent of the vote since being first elected to Congress in 2002.

— Lauren W. Whittington

State Senator Eyes Race Against Rep. Murphy

State Sen. Sean Logan (D) is considering challenging Rep. Tim Murphy (R) in 2006, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last week.

Logan told the newspaper that he is forming an exploratory committee to look at running in the Pittsburgh-area 18th district.

Murphy, a former state Senator first elected to Congress in 2002, has never faced a competitive challenge in the Republican-leaning seat. The district gave President Bush 54 percent of the vote in 2004.

Logan, who was first elected to the state Senate in 2000, would not have to give up his seat to run for Congress. He is a former mayor of Monroeville and a one-time aide to Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.).
— L.W.W.

Cheney Helps Sodrel as Hill Considers Rematch

Vice President Cheney headlined a district fundraiser last week for Rep. Mike Sodrel (R), as the freshman lawmaker gears up for a possible rematch with former Rep. Baron Hill (D).

About 300 people attended the event in Jeffersonville that raised an estimated $175,000, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported last week.

Sodrel ended 2004 with about $40,000 in his campaign account. He also showed $1.3 million in debts (mostly owed to himself).

Hill told The Associated Press recently that his chances of running again are “50-50 right now” and that he may form an exploratory committee in the next month to begin raising money for another bid.

Hill represented the southeastern 9th district seat for three terms before losing to Sodrel by close to 1,500 votes in 2004.
— L.W.W.

State Lawmaker Says He’ll Challenge Lott

State Rep. Erik Fleming (D) announced this weekend that he plans to run for Senate next year, regardless of whether Sen. Trent Lott (R) seeks another term.

The 40-year-old lawmaker, has served in the state Legislature since 1999.

“It is my hope that my candidacy will offer a viable option for those citizens who feel that their concerns are not being met, let alone heard,” Fleming said in a news release.

Once considered likely to retire, Lott, the former Senate Majority Leader, has said he is preparing to seek a fourth term in 2006.

National Democrats are not likely to target Lott and could face difficulty in making an open-seat race competitive if he does decide to forgo re-election.
— L.W.W.

Colleagues Aid Cantwell Town Hall, Fundraiser

A group of Democratic women Senators spent part of the Easter recess helping freshman Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) bolster her first quarter Federal Election Commission numbers.

Flanked by fellow Washingtonian Patty Murray (D), as well as colleagues Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Mary Landrieu (D), Barbara Mikulski (D), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Cantwell reportedly raised about $300,000.

During a luncheon tied into the Senators’ Social Security town hall meeting, Boxer told the crowd: “It sends a message way beyond this ballroom, that this campaign is a winner,” the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.

Seats at the luncheon started at $125 and went up to $1,000. A reception at a local artist’s studio cost donors $5,000.

Cantwell is hoping to show in her April 15 FEC report banking $1.8 million in the first quarter of this year after using most of her previously raised money to pay off debt left over from her 2000 defeat of then-Sen. Slade Gorton (R), the paper noted.

Cantwell spent more than $10 million of her own money on that campaign but when the stock market’s tech sector crashed, wiping out the majority of her fortune earned as an executive at RealNetworks, she found herself in a financial bind.

After paying off bank loans, she still owes herself about $2.4 million.

Several Republicans are considering challenging Cantwell next year, including former Rep. Rick White, who knocked Cantwell out of her House seat in 1994; Safeco Chief Executive Officer Mike McGavick; radio talk show host Mike Siegel; state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance; and last year’s failed gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, who is still contesting the protracted election’s results.

— N.D.

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