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Montana’s State Auditor Says He’ll Take on Burns

State Auditor John Morrison has become the first Democrat to enter next year’s race against Sen. Conrad Burns (R).

“As a Montanan, I’m very concerned about the way things are going in Washington, DC,” Morrison said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “And so I’ve … begun laying the groundwork for a Senate campaign. That includes having filed my statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and establishing a Web site at”

Bolstered by gains on the state level, including their recent takeover of the governor’s mansion and looking at negative headlines and the close call Burns had in 2000, Democrats see a target.

Last time around, Burns won a third term with only 51 percent of the vote against political neophyte Brian Schweitzer (D), despite outspending the farmer and rancher 2-to-1.

Schweitzer went on to be elected governor last year when his party made a near sweep of statewide offices. They wrested control of the state Senate from the Republicans and forced a tie in the state House, giving them the Speakership because they control the governor’s mansion.

Burns has also been the subject of national and local news stories that examine his ties to disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, which prompted state Democratic leaders to call for a Senate ethics investigation into his conduct.

Republicans are fighting back by targeting Morrison.

The state Republican Party asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate his pre-candidacy fundraising earlier this month.

Morrison has been testing the Senate waters and raising money through an exploratory Web site, to which the GOP objected.

Morrison, an attorney in private practice until his election as auditor in 2000, is the son of former state Supreme Court Justice Frank Morrison.

Other credible Democrats were eyeing the race, including state Senate President Jon Tester, but Morrison’s announcement could be a signal that party leaders have successfully cleared the field for one candidate.
— Nicole Duran

State Senator to Kick Off Challenge to Johnson

State Sen. Chris Murphy (D) will file papers later this week to formally challenge longtime Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson.

“I cannot sit by any longer watching Republicans in Congress destroy the programs that have made our country great,” said Murphy in a statement announcing his candidacy.

Murphy is the second Democrat in the race. J. Paul Vance, president of the Waterbury Board of Aldermen, had previously filed.

Murphy is seen as the favored candidate of the Democratic establishment both in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut.

First elected to state House in 1998, Murphy served two terms before running and winning a state Senate seat in 2002. He now serves as Assistant Senate Majority Leader.

Murphy is perhaps best known as the campaign manager of Charlotte Koskoff’s 1996 challenge to Johnson. Johnson won that race 50 percent to 49 percent — the closest result in any of her 11 Congressional elections.

Johnson’s northwestern Connecticut 5th district is narrowly divided between the parties, but she has shown considerable electoral strength. In 2002, she easily bested then-Rep. Jim Maloney (D) by 11 points in a redistricting-forced battle.

Johnson will be well-funded for her 2006 race. She ended March with $1.3 million in the bank.
— Chris Cillizza

Cardin to Travel State in Launch of Senate Bid

Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D) will formally enter the 2006 Senate election today, with four appearances scheduled in three Free State cities.

He’ll begin the day with a formal announcement and rally in front of the Museum of Industry in Baltimore. Next he’ll head to Frederick, for lunch at a local diner.

The Baltimore-area Congressman will move on to voter-rich Montgomery County later in the afternoon, first for an issues forum at the Leisure World retirement community near Aspen Hill — the highest performing precinct in the state — then to shake hands at the Glenmont Metrorail station.

Cardin is the third Democratic candidate to formally enter the Senate race, joining ex-Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a former NAACP president, and perennial candidate Robert Kaufman in the contest.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen heads the list of other Democrats contemplating the open-seat race. Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is seen as the Republicans’ leading choice.
— Josh Kurtz

State Official Eyes Run If Van Hollen Moves On

A top state economic development official is eyeing a run for the House if Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) decides to run for the Senate next year.

William Askinazi (R), an assistant secretary in the Department of Business and Economic Development, told The Gazette newspaper last week that Van Hollen’s departure would leave the 8th district race wide open.

“If he runs, it gives an opportunity to a person with an extensive base, which I have,” Askinazi said. “It seems natural.”

Askinazi, a fiscal conservative and social moderate, has run twice unsuccessfully for a seat in the House of Delegations — raising a fair amount of money and coming close both times in a Democratic-leaning district, but not close enough.

Askinazi is also being touted as a potential running mate for Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) in 2006, if Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) runs for Senate next year, the newspaper reported.

Several eager Democrats in the Montgomery-Prince George’s County Congressional district are waiting to see what Van Hollen’s next move is. The list of possible Democratic contenders, if Van Hollen runs for Senate, includes former state Del. Mark Shriver, Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman, Democratic National Committee Vice Chairwoman Susan Turnbull, state House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, Del. Bill Bronrott, state Sen. Rob Garagiola and Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews, among others.

On the Republican side, 2004 nominee Chuck Floyd has said he’ll run again regardless of what Van Hollen does. Floyd, a retired Defense Department official, took just 25 percent of the vote in the heavily Democratic district.
— J.K.

Grams Abandons Race for His Old Senate Seat

Former Sen. Rod Grams (R) yielded to the inevitable over the weekend and announced that he would not compete for the seat he once held.

Grams’ efforts to return to politics were not well received by the Gopher State’s Republican Party hierarchy and Grams, who lost to Sen. Mark Dayton (D) in 2000, would have sought his party’s nomination with no institutional support.

GOP decision-makers began lining up behind Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) even before Dayton surprised everyone earlier this year and announced that he would not seek a second term in 2006.

Kennedy already has the backing of Sen. Norm Coleman (R), Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and many state legislators.

Grams lashed out at state party leaders, accusing them of practicing “third-world politics” and “king-making” when it became clear that Kennedy was the preferred candidate more than a year ahead of the party’s endorsing convention.
— N.D.

Whitehouse Poll Shows Him Trouncing Brown

Democratic Senate hopeful Sheldon Whitehouse released a poll Monday showing him trouncing his primary opponent in a head-to-head matchup.

Whitehouse, the state’s former attorney general, leads Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown (D) by 26 points but did not break the critical 50 percent mark.

Of the 500 likely primary voters surveyed by Anzalone-Liszt Research on behalf of Whitehouse, 49 percent would support Whitehouse to 23 percent for Brown, while a full 28 percent were undecided.

Whitehouse was viewed favorably by 53 percent of those polled, while Brown was viewed favorably by 25 percent. Whitehouse was also known by 78 percent of would-be voters, while Brown’s name recognition was 57 percent.

The poll was conducted April 12-14 and had a 4.4 percent error margin.

Whitehouse unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2002, the same year in which Brown was first elected to his office.
— N.D.

AG Backs State Senator’s Bid in Owens’ District

State Sen. Carl Andrews (D) begins his campaign for the Brooklyn-based seat of retiring Rep. Major Owens (D) with a key endorsement — from state Attorney General and gubernatorial frontrunner Eliot Spitzer (D).

In a campaign prospectus that Andrews is circulating to interested parties, Spitzer calls Andrews “a dedicated, effective leader” who “will be an outstanding Member of Congress.”

Spitzer has been unafraid to endorse candidates in potentially contentious Democratic primaries across the state. He was an early supporter of former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer in the four-way Democratic primary contest for mayor of New York this year.

Andrews also touts endorsements from several key state legislators, including the state Senate Democratic leader and Assemblyman Clarence Norman (D), the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

In his prospectus, Andrews notes that the number of residents in his state Senate district account for 45 percent of the 11th Congressional district population — a far greater percentage than any other legislative or city council district in the 11th.

Andrews has not formally declared his candidacy, but he has set up an exploratory committee for fundraising. Chris Owens (D), the Congressman’s son who is an HMO administrator and former local school board member, has entered the race.

New York City Councilwomen Tracy Boyland (D) and Yvette Clarke (D) and state Assemblyman Nick Perry (D) may also run. Clarke and Boyland finished second and third, respectively, in the Democratic primary with Congressman Owens in September 2004.
— J.K.

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