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Stenberg Seeks Rematch With Nelson Next Year

Former state Attorney General Don Stenberg (R) is expected to announce today that he will challenge Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in 2006.

Stenberg’s decision sets up a potential rematch of the 2000 open-seat contest in which Nelson bested Stenberg 51 percent to 49 percent. Stenberg is the first Republican to formally announce a challenge to Nelson although several other GOPers are weighing bids. That list includes former state party Chairman Dave Kramer and state Sen. Kermit Brashear.

Republicans are also still holding out hope that acting Gov. Dave Heineman (R), faced with the prospect of a possible gubernatorial primary challenge from the immensely popular 3rd district Rep. Tom Osborne (R), steps aside and enters the Senate race. Heineman appears to be running full-force for governor, however, and has already secured the endorsement of Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (R).

Stenberg served as the state’s top cop from 1994 until 2002. The current attorney general — Jon Bruning, a Republican — has heavily criticized Stenberg for his failure to increase spending for the office during his tenure, which has led to funding shortfalls.

Stenberg emerged from a crowded Republican Senate primary in 2000 with 50 percent of the vote but struggled to raise the money necessary to stay competitive with Nelson. Though polls showed Nelson with a double-digit lead with just weeks to go before the election, he held on to win by just more than 15,000 votes.

Although Republicans’ top-tier prospects including Osborne and former Gov. Mike Johanns have passed on next year’s Senate race, President Bush’s 33-point margin in the state in 2004 makes it an attractive target for the GOP.

— Chris Cillizza

Schlafly, Norquist Boost Bachmann Candidacy

State Sen. Michelle Bachmann (R) recently held a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for her Congressional bid that was organized by conservative luminaries.

Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform sponsored the Friday fundraiser at the McLean, Va., Ritz Carlton to support Bachmann.

Her campaign manager said he did not yet know how much money she raised.

Bachmann is one of at least eight Republicans who are already running or thinking about running for the 6th district seat being vacated by Rep. Mark Kennedy (R), who is seeking the open Senate seat.

Only one Democrat, Elwyn Tinklenberg, the state’s former Transportation commissioner, is in the race.
— Nicole Duran

Senate Hopefuls Under One Roof, Mood Jocular

The two official Democratic candidates for Senate, along with two others who are still eyeing the race, were all in the same room Tuesday night at a fundraiser for one of the maybes, Prince George’s County States Attorney Glenn Ivey (D).

All four — Ivey, of course; Rep. Benjamin Cardin, who announced his candidacy earlier in the day; ex-Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who has been in the race for more than a month; and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who has formed a Senate exploratory committee — addressed the crowd at the Greenbelt Marriott.

There was much jocularity as the four eyed one another. When Cardin arrived, he shook hands with Mfume, who promptly elbowed the Congressman in the ribs good naturedly. Cardin told the audience that he declared his candidacy because “I didn’t want Kweisi to be lonely out there.”

Cardin also heaped praise on Ivey — Jolene Ivey, the prosecutor’s wife who once served on Cardin’s Congressional staff.

“There were some rumors that Glenn was considering running for the Senate,” Cardin said. “That didn’t concern me. What did concern me was Jolene considering running for the Senate.”

Whether Glenn Ivey, a protégé of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D), actually runs in 2006 is an open question. Friends say he’d like to serve in the Senate, but may have to defer to more experienced public servants like Cardin and Mfume this time. On the other hand, Ivey is also mentioned as a possible candidate for state attorney general or lieutenant governor next year, and he could win re-election to his current post without much effort.

Meanwhile, Van Hollen said that he continues to crisscross the state in his exploratory effort and hopes to reach a decision on the Senate race soon.

“We’re trying to get out and about — that’s the whole idea,” he said.

— Josh Kurtz

Elections Board Wants Laffey Off the Air

Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey (R) must sign off the airwaves, the state Board of Elections ruled Tuesday.

Laffey, who reportedly is mulling a primary challenge to Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) next year, has a weekly radio program on WPRO-AM titled, “The Steve Laffey Show.”

The unpaid gig only lasted about two months before the board ruled that it violated state laws prohibiting gifts worth more than $1,000 by a corporation to a sitting officeholder and ordered him to cease immediately, the Providence Journal reported this week.

An elections board member told the paper: “He used his association with WPRO to enhance his political résumé.”

The board ruled unanimously that the free airtime was tantamount to a campaign contribution. It also cited his Web site’s promotion of the show and his fundraising as cause for concern.

Laffey told the paper that the ruling was a violation of his First Amendment rights and that he would appeal.

“In a scene reminiscent of the old Soviet Politburo, the powerful political bosses have censored my ability to tell the citizens of Rhode Island what’s going on,” Laffey was quoted as saying. “I’m shocked, and I never stop being shocked at the lengths people will go to to shut me up.”

Two Democrats, Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown and former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, are already competing for the right to challenge Chafee next year.
— N.D.

Second Democrat Enters Primary for Hyde’s Seat

Wheaton arbitrator Peter O’Malley (D) has tossed his hat into the 6th district race to succeed retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R).

O’Malley will face insurance agent and 2004 nominee Christine Cegelis in the Democratic primary next March. Cegelis won 44 percent of the vote against Hyde last year in a race that received little national attention.

While the suburban district still favors Republicans, Democrats are vowing they will make the open-seat race competitive.

State Sen. Peter Roskam (R), who is currently exploring a bid, is the leading candidate to get the GOP nod.
— Lauren W. Whittington

CBC PAC Pulls in $200K At First Event of Cycle

The political action committee of the Congressional Black Caucus held its first fundraiser of the 2006 cycle Wednesday night in Washington, D.C. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) were among those expected to attend.

Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.), the PAC’s chairman, estimated that the event would generate about $200,000 for the committee. He said future fundraisers would be planned for other cities.
— J.K.

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