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In Florida, Harris, Still Pondering, Huddles With Sen. Dole

As Rep. Katherine Harris (R) continues to mull a challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D) next year, the Sarasota lawmaker met with National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) on Wednesday, according to knowledgeable GOP sources.

It was the first meeting that Harris, who passed on running for an open Senate seat last year, has had with NRSC officials this cycle.

Harris’ indecision has essentially frozen the field of potential GOP challengers in the Senate race thus far. Polls have shown the one-time Florida secretary of state would be hard to beat in a primary, but have also indicated she might be a weak nominee against Nelson.

Harris is expected to make a decision about the race in the near future.

— Lauren W. Whittington

Murphy Announces Rematch With Gerlach

Attorney Lois Murphy (D) announced Wednesday that she will seek a rematch with Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) next year, setting up what is likely to be another closely watched and hotly contested race in the suburban Philadelphia 6th district.

Murphy, who is close to Gov. Ed Rendell (D), came within 7,000 votes of defeating Gerlach last year in what became one of the top House races in the country.

Gerlach raised more than $2.3 million and Murphy raised more than $1.9 million, with outside interest groups spending even more on each candidate’s behalf.

In an e-mail to supporters, Murphy talked about Social Security and health care and also sought to tie Gerlach to embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Murphy noted that the incumbent voted in favor of House ethics committee rules change earlier this year and charged that Gerlach votes with DeLay 90 percent of the time.

“Today Jim Gerlach puts Tom DeLay’s interests ahead of your interests,” Murphy wrote in the letter. “Jim Gerlach has taken more money from DeLay than any other Pennsylvanian, and is the only Pennsylvania Congressman who has given DeLay thousands of dollars for his legal defense fund.”

Also on Wednesday, Murphy unveiled her campaign Web site,

— L.W.W.

’04 Primary Runner-Up Won’t Try Again in ’06

Jeff Steinborn, who lost a bid for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd district in 2004, said this week that he will not try again in 2006.

But Steinborn, a former aide to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) and then-Rep. (now Gov.) Bill Richardson (D), told the New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan blog that he does not intend to fade from state politics and could try for the House seat again in the future.

Steinborn, who is just 35, was recently elected chairman of the Doña Ana County Democratic Party. His father, David Steinborn, is a former mayor of Las Cruces, the Land of Enchantment’s second-largest city.

No Democrat has come forward to challenge two-term Rep. Steve Pearce (R), though state Rep. Joseph Cervantes (D) is said to be contemplating the race. Although voter enrollment figures in the southern New Mexico district favor Democrats, it is a conservative district and Pearce has run strong in his first two races.
— Josh Kurtz

Mfume Stance on Deal at Odds With CBC’s

He has yet to secure an endorsement for his Senate campaign from the Congressional Black Caucus and its key leaders.

Now, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) finds himself at odds with the group he once headed over the deal Senate moderates reached earlier this week to avoid a showdown over judicial filibusters.

As the CBC was blasting the arrangement Tuesday, calling it “more of a capitulation than a compromise,” Mfume issued a news release praising the deal.

“It guarantees that both political parties will retain input and influence when determining what judges are ultimately confirmed to serve on the nation’s highest courts,” Mfume, a former president of the NAACP, said in a statement.

Mfume did urge Senators to vote against judicial nominees “who have not demonstrated a history of commitment to protecting individual liberties, civil rights and social justice,” and he urged the White House “to abandon its confrontational strategy on judges” and not nominate political ideologues.

— J.K.

Clark to Headline D.C. Fundraiser for Ex-Aide

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark will headline a Capitol Hill fundraiser for New York Democratic House hopeful Eric Massa, an international business consultant, on June 21.

Massa, a 24-year veteran of the Navy who spent several years in the late 1990s as a top aide to Clark — first in Panama, where Clark headed the U.S. Southern Command and later when Clark was NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe — is aiming to unseat freshman Rep. Randy Kuhl (R) in the Empire State’s Southern Tier 29th district.

The event, to be co-hosted by former Secretary of the Navy John Dalton and Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), will take place at Lounge 201 on Massachusetts Avenue Northeast from 6 to 8 p.m.

Massa may not have the Democratic field to himself. Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni is reportedly contemplating the race, and 2004 nominee Samara Barend has not ruled out another run.
— Bree Hocking

Dormant GOP Senate Race Starts to Wake Up

After months of inaction by Republicans in their uphill effort to unseat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), two candidates have gone public with their interest.

Ed Cox, a New York City lawyer and son-in-law to the late President Richard Nixon, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to formalize his candidacy Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro (R) announced she would not seek re-election in November, focusing instead on either running for Senate, governor or state attorney general in 2006.

Whomever the Republicans nominate, Clinton is a heavy favorite next November.

She ended March with $8.7 million in the bank — the most of any of the 33 Senators up for re-election in 2006.
— Chris Cillizza

Committees Attack on Judicial Developments

In the wake of Monday night’s Senate compromise over judicial appointments, the two Senate campaign committees have wasted no time whacking Members of the opposing party.

But the punching and counter-punching has been particularly heavy in the Cornhusker State.

No sooner did Sen. Ben Nelson (D) vote against the nomination of Priscilla Owen to the U.S. Court of Appeals on Wednesday then the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a news release accusing Nelson of siding with extremist left-wing groups. The committee argued that Nelson turned his back on a judge who had been praised by most major newspapers in her home state of Texas and whose nomination was supported in a poll by 84 percent of Texans.

“If Priscilla Owen is good enough for 84 percent of Texans and every major newspaper that endorsed her, you’d think she would be good enough for Ben Nelson,” said NRSC spokesman Brian Nick.

Although they have yet to find a top-tier challenger, Republicans are still targeting Nelson and need to tar him as a liberal if they are to have any hope of defeating him.

A day earlier, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee blasted Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) for criticizing the compromise the 14 centrist Senators had reached.

“Has the right wing gotten to Hagel?” a DSCC news release asked, noting that the Senator had previously called for civility in judicial debates and was considered part of the coalition of Senate moderates. The DSCC theorized that Hagel has put his 2008 presidential ambitions ahead of the needs of the Senate and the nation.
— J.K.

Filner Gets Backing From Labor, Democratic Clubs

Rep. Bob Filner (D), facing a tough primary challenge from state Assemblyman Juan Vargas (D) next year in the 51st district, has grabbed early endorsements from a host of San Diego-area labor unions and Democratic organizations.

The list is headed by the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO, which has 110 affiliates and comprises 110,000 families.

“Congressman Filner is clearly the working families’ choice for San Diego and Imperial Valley,” Jerry Butkiewicz, secretary-treasurer of the labor council, said in a statement this week.

Also endorsing Filner were the California Federation of Teachers, two police officers’ unions and the San Diego Democratic Club, among others.

Filner and Vargas are squaring off for the third time. Filner won a multicandidate Democratic primary to win the seat in 1992 (Vargas finished fourth), and squeaked by Vargas in a rematch four years later.
— J.K.

Conservative: Snowe Alienates Her GOP Base

Conservative state Rep. Brian Duprey continues to explore the possibility of challenging Sen. Olympia Snowe in next year’s Republican primary.

Asked this week by Roll Call whether Snowe’s participation in a compromise over President Bush’s judicial appointments increased the likelihood that he would run, Duprey did not directly answer. But he did say: “The constant ignoring of her Republican base has alienated many who would like a real Republican to vote for; I am exploring giving Republicans a candidate that they can feel good about voting for knowing that their interests would truly be represented in Washington.”

Despite the conservatives’ ire, Snowe likely remains the Pine Tree State’s most popular politician.

— J.K.

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