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NRCC Reaching Out to Organized Labor

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) hosted a meet- and-greet event with a variety of labor unions Tuesday night at the Capitol Hill Club.

The event was organized by Matt Keelen, a Republican fundraiser turned lobbyist, who represents the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

Roughly 35 unions were represented and roughly 90 percent of the Republican freshman House class showed up, according to those who attended. House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Connecticut Rep. Rob Simmons (R) also made appearances.

It was not a fundraiser, Keelen stressed but rather an event by the unions “to build relationships with the Republican Party.”

The firefighters and painters unions have long been major donors to the Democratic Party although IAFF led organized labor in donations to Republicans last cycle.

“Our union believes in bipartisanship,” said Firefighters President Harold Schaitberger. “For the IAFF, it’s not about D’s and R’s.”

During the 2004 cycle, IAAF contributed $1.8 million to political candidates and parties, 72 percent of which went to Democrats. IUPAT gave nearly $700,000 in donations last cycle, 88 percent of which went to Democrats.

— Chris Cillizza

Cardin Tells Supporters He’s Planning to Run

In the clearest sign yet that he plans to be a Senate candidate in 2006, Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D) sent an e-mail to supporters last week asking them to volunteer on his nascent campaign.

“I am very actively planning a Senate campaign to replace Senator [Paul] Sarbanes [D] when he retires,” Cardin wrote in a missive whose subject line was, “Let’s Get to Work.” “This campaign will be the most challenging one of my career and I need your support.”

Cardin is one of several Democrats actively exploring the open-seat Senate race. Former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume has already announced his intention to run, and Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Dutch Ruppersberger have created exploratory committees to examine the race. Several other current and former officeholders are also examining a bid.

The Gazette newspaper reported last week that Dennis Rasmussen (D), a former Baltimore County executive turned prosperous statehouse lobbyist, is now considering the Senate race. Rasmussen, who also spent a dozen years in the Legislature, said that if he ran, he would tout his political moderation.

“Many of the people who have called me [about running] said that we need to bring the party back to the center,” he told the paper.

In a related development, Free State Democratic leaders are discussing the possibility of passing a measure to change the 2006 primary date — even though there is just half a week remaining in the state legislative session.

Democrats fear that their nominees for Senator and governor could come out of the Sept. 12 primary crippled and broke following what are shaping up to be bruising primary contests.

By setting the primary for June 20, party leaders figure that Democratic nominees will have more time to replenish their campaign treasuries and regain their political balance. State Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman said the earlier primary date would benefit Republicans as well.

Although it is technically too late in the General Assembly session to introduce a new bill, and some House leaders oppose the measure, the state Senate president held open the possibility of attaching an amendment that would change the primary date onto any number of pieces of legislation pertaining to state election law. And he told The Gazette that Annapolis Democrats have been discussing the matter with their counterparts on Capitol Hill.
— Josh Kurtz

Gus Bilirakis Loses His Only GOP Primary Foe

State Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R) lost his only announced primary opponent earlier this week, as former state Sen. John Grant (R) dropped out of the 9th district race.

Grant’s departure, however, had little impact on Bilirakis’ frontrunner status in the race to replace his father, retiring Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R).

Gus Bilirakis, 42, raised $317,000 in the first quarter of this year, according to his recently filed Federal Election Commission report. He ended March with $273,000 still in the bank.

Democrats are optimistic that a competitive open-seat race will eventually unfold, a hope that largely rests on their ability to recruit former Pasco County Superintendent of Schools John Long into the race.

Long retired as superintendent last year after holding the office for eight years, and he previously served as a state Representative from 1986 to 1994.

Political newcomer Greg Rublee is the only announced Democrat in the race so far.
— Lauren W. Whittington

Poll: Ford Runs Strong Against All Republicans

A new poll conducted for Rep. Harold Ford Jr.’s campaign shows him with a comfortable lead in the Democratic primary and running neck and neck with his potential Republican rivals.

Ford, who has yet to announce for the contest, is widely seen as the Democratic nominee to replace Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R), who is retiring at the end of the 109th Congress.

The survey confirmed that sentiment, showing Ford with a 62 percent to 15 percent lead over state Sen. Rosalind Kurita (D). On the Republican side, former 7th district Rep. Ed Bryant led the pack with 35 percent to 26 percent for former 4th district Rep. Van Hilleary; Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker received 15 percent. State Rep. Beth Harwell, who is also running, was not tested.

The survey was conducted by Ford pollster Harrison Hickman, a partner in the Global Strategy Group. It was in the field March 22-24 testing 600 registered voters; it carried a 4 percent margin of error. The subsample in the Democratic primary was 166 voters; it was 190 voters on the GOP side.

In general election matchups, Ford led Corker 39 percent to 34 percent; he trailed Bryant and Hilleary by 40 percent to 38 percent and 41 percent to 38 percent margins, respectively.

“The survey shows clear evidence that Tennessee voters are more interested in electing a Senator who will do what is best for the state than simply someone who will automatically support Bush administration proposals,” Hickman writes in the polling memo.

National Democrats were heartened by the results, pointing out that Ford is essentially running even with Corker, Bryant and Hilleary — all three of whom have run statewide previously.
— C.C.

Gaming Industry Places Its Bets With Berkley

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) raised about $235,000 with a little help from her friends in the gaming industry — some of whom are Republicans.

The MGM Mirage Political Action Committee, led by MGM CEO Terry Lanni, hosted its biennial fundraiser for Berkley at the MGM Mansion on the property of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas last week.

“Lanni, a semi-good Republican, can read Congressional district demographics as well as anyone else,” Nevada political watcher Jon Ralston noted in his daily newsletter.

Berkley has been easily re-elected to her Las Vegas-based district.

A Berkley spokeswoman said casino honchos respect Berkley because she came from their ranks.

Before coming to Congress in 1998, Berkley was vice president of governmental affairs for the Sands Casino, which is now the Venetian.

“Shelley is the only Member of Congress with gaming experience,” explained Renee Aschoff, Berkley’s campaign manager. “She understands their issues and works very hard to help other members understand their issues.”
— Nicole Duran

DeWine Vaults to Early Lead in His Own Poll

A new poll conducted for the campaign of Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine (R) has reinforced the widely held belief that he is the early frontrunner in the special election race to succeed Rep. Rob Portman (R). Portman is awaiting Senate confirmation to be the U.S. trade representative.

DeWine, the son of Sen. Mike DeWine (R), received 42 percent in a six-candidate ballot test conducted by Washington, D.C.-based polling firm The Tarrance Group.

State Rep. Tom Brinkman (R), the only other candidate officially in the race, received 6 percent in the poll.

According to the polling memo, the survey results showed DeWine is well-known and well-liked.

“DeWine is in a commanding position, particularly given the breadth of Republicans considering a run for office,” the memo states. “It is likely that as candidates get out of the race (which they are almost certain to do), DeWine’s ballot position will improve.”

The survey also tested several other GOPers who have expressed interest in running for the heavily Republican seat. Former Rep. Bob McEwen got 10 percent, attorney Bill Keating Jr. and former state Rep. Jean Schmidt each got 7 percent, and Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Greg Hartmann got 3 percent.

The survey of 400 likely Republican voters was taken March 29-30 and had a margin of error of 5 percent.
— L.W.W.

Lautenberg Readies for 2008, on the Web at Least

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), who hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll seek re-election in 2008, recently registered four Internet domain names for campaign Web sites in the event he does decide to run again.

Lautenberg’s Senate campaign purchased, www.lautenberg, and

Lautenberg, who came out of retirement in 2002 to replace then-Sen. Robert Torricelli (D) on the ballot, has said that if he is in good health he will consider another run in 2008, when he will be 84 years old.

A fundraising dinner featuring Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) raised $1 million for Lautenberg’s campaign war chest last month.
— L.W.W.

State Senator Looking Ahead to 2008 Election

State Sen. Vivian Figures (D) may be eyeing a 2008 Senate bid, the Mobile Register reported this week.

Figures met in September with former Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.), who died March 29 at age 83, to discuss the possibility of her running in 2008, when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) is up for re-election.

Figures was elected to the Legislature to finish the term of her late husband, Senate President Pro Tem Michael Figures (D), who died in 1996.

She told the Mobile newspaper that she is concentrating on her 2006 re-election but did not rule out running for federal office down the road.

“Right now I am focusing totally on getting re-elected in 2006,” Figures said. “Whatever the Lord has in store for me after that, I’m sure he will let me know at the proper time.”
— L.W.W.

After Losing to Hinchey, He’s Ready for Clinton

After winning just more than 25 percent of the vote in a 2004 House race, attorney William Brenner (R) is pivoting to challenge Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) in 2006.

Brenner is the first Republican to formally enter the race against Clinton; it appears likely that big-name candidates like Gov. George Pataki and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will pass on the contest.

“It was not my intention to be first,” said Brenner. “It is my intention to be the last, official Republican candidate in 2006.”

If the previous cycle is any indication, Brenner may struggle to make good on that promise.

After winning the Republican primary in the 22nd district, Brenner faced Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D) in the south central New York seat.

Hinchey crushed Brenner 72 percent to 28 percent. Brenner never filed a report with the Federal Election Commission — meaning that he never crested $5,000 raised. Hinchey brought in $645,000 last cycle.

Clinton ended 2004 with nearly $12 million raised and $5.3 million on hand.

Most neutral observers believe Clinton’s re-election is all but ensured.
— C.C.

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