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Ruling in Washington State Could Increase Calls for Rossi Senate Bid

A judge’s ruling may have brought the Evergreen State’s 2006 Senate race into clearer focus Monday.

Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges firmly dismissed Republican efforts to overturn Democrat Christine Gregoire’s narrow win over Republican Dino Rossi in last year’s gubernatorial election.

He found no evidence to support GOP claims that errors, illegal votes and outright fraud tilted the balance to give Gregoire a 129-vote margin in a third recount, which was done by hand.

The judge’s stiff ruling left Republicans little room for an appeal to the Washington Supreme Court, and at press time Monday state GOP officials had not said if they would seek one.

Either way, Rossi will likely find himself under fresh pressure from state and national GOP leaders to challenge Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) next year.

So far he has declined, saying his focus is on becoming governor and that the Senate holds no allure for him.

Cantwell, who narrowly unseated then-Sen. Slade Gorton (R) in 2000, had topped national Republicans’ list of vulnerable Democratic Senators. But with the gubernatorial lawsuit pending, the Republicans had made little progress toward recruiting a strong candidate to run against her.

Prominent Republicans, most notably former Rep. Rick White (R), who upended Cantwell from her House seat in 1994, and Safeco executive Mike McGavick, have held off on making bids for the seat, awaiting the lawsuit’s outcome — and Rossi’s next move.

Both are expected to defer to Rossi if he chooses to enter the Senate contest.

— Nicole Duran

NRSC, DSCC Are Polls Apart on Byrd-Capito

A GOP poll released last week showed Sen. Robert Byrd (D) and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) in a virtual dead heat in a hypothetical 2006 race.

Byrd led Capito 46 percent to 43 percent in the survey conducted for the Charleston Daily Mail by RMS Strategies Inc., a difference well within the poll’s 5 percent margin of error.

The poll of 401 registered voters was conducted May 11-18.

Democrats, meanwhile, countered with their own polling that showed a larger gap between the two.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last week also released a survey taken a month earlier that had Byrd leading Capito 51 percent to 41 percent.

The Garrin-Hart-Yang poll of 615 likely voters was conducted April 18-20.

Byrd has not yet announced he’ll run again but is currently expected to seek an eighth term in 2006. With the help of an e-mail distributed nationally by the liberal organization, his campaign raised $1.2 million in the first three months of the year. Byrd, who will turn 89 two weeks after Election Day, has never faced a strong challenger.

Capito, meanwhile, is weighing her options and has said she will make a decision about a Senate bid in coming months.

The Republican poll also showed Byrd had a 62 percent favorable/33 percent unfavorable rating. Capito had a 57 percent to 19 percent favorable/unfavorable rating.

— Lauren W. Whittington

DCCC Poll Has Fossella Leading But Beatable

A recent poll conducted for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee showed Rep. Vito Fossella (R) holding a significant lead over three potential Democratic challengers in the Staten Island-based 13th district.

But the DCCC, which is working hard to recruit a top-tier challenger, is focusing on the fact that only 43 percent of those surveyed said they would definitely vote to re-elect the five-term Congressman.

In a poll of 401 likely voters conducted May 17 and 18 by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, Fossella led New York City Councilman Michael McMahon (D), 45 percent to 30 percent. He led state Sen. Diane Savino (D) 49 percent to 26 percent, and state Assemblyman Michael Cusick 50 percent to 25 percent.

The poll had a 5 percent error margin.

Although none of the three Democratic officials has committed to the race, the DCCC is recruiting and local Democratic leaders are interviewing potential candidates.

“Vito Fossella has a lot of work to do in Brooklyn and Staten Island,” Savino told the Staten Island Advance Monday.

But Fossella said that he was “somewhat heartened” by the poll results, considering that the survey was conducted by a Democratic firm.

“The numbers are probably even better than they appear in the poll,” he said.

— Josh Kurtz

ILLINOIS A Second State Senator Joins Race for Hyde Seat

Illinois state Sen. Carole Pankau (R) last week jumped into the 6th district race to succeed Rep. Henry Hyde (R), who is retiring next year.

Pankau is the third Republican to announce her candidacy. She plans to position herself as a more socially moderate alternative to fellow state Sen. Peter Roskam (R), who has been viewed as the leading contender in the race.

Roskam, the Republican Minority Whip in the state Senate, is closely aligned with interests that make up the conservatives wing of the state party.

“It comes down to is this the right time in my life to pursue something like this and I believe it is,” Pankau told the Chicago Tribune. “I think the district out there wants to see a contest and they want to see and hear different views and then they’ll make their minds up as voters.”

— L.W.W.

Pederson Giving Up Control of His Business

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Pederson appears to be inching closer to challenging Sen. Jon Kyl (R) next year.

The Phoenix Business Journal reported last week that Pederson, a wealthy real estate developer, would soon relinquish day-to-day control of his company, the Pederson Group, to a longtime associate at the company.

Pederson told the business paper that he had not made “a final decision” on whether to take on Kyl. He insisted that turning over the reins at his company was unrelated to a possible Senate bid.

If Pederson runs for Senate, he is likely to largely self-finance his campaign. He contributed more than $2.3 million to the Arizona Democratic Party in the 2004 election cycle, according to the Business Journal, and another $3.7 million to the party in 2002. Pederson’s infusion of cash is largely credited with helping Gov. Janet Napolitano win office in 2002.

— J.K.

Burns Says He’ll Need $8-10M for Re-election

With a new poll showing him with comfortable but not insurmountable leads over his two likeliest Democratic challengers, Sen. Conrad Burns (R) is appealing to donors, estimating that he would need $8 million to $10 million to win a fourth term next year.

“We’re ready to go into the trenches,” Burns told a Republican gathering in Great Falls last week, according to the Helena Independent Record.

An independent poll of 625 likely Montana voters, taken May 23-25 by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., found Burns leading state Auditor John Morrison (D), 49 percent to 34 percent. The same poll, conducted for the Billings Gazette, showed Burns leading state Senate President Jon Tester (D), 50 percent to 26 percent. The poll had a 4 percent error margin.

The Mason-Dixon poll also showed Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R) leading a potential Democratic challenger, state Rep. Monica Lindeen, 58 percent to 24 percent.

— J.K.

Osborne’s Ag Aide Seeks to Plow the Same Soil

A top aide to Rep. Tom Osborne (R) last week announced his intention to seek his boss’ 3rd district seat.

John Hanson, 43, Osborne’s senior agricultural adviser and district director, became the second major Republican to get into the race to replace Osborne, who is running for governor.

State Sen. Adrian Smith (R) entered the race last month.

Hanson said the five years he worked for Osborne were the perfect preparation for the western Nebraska Congressional contest.

“Tom was the right man for the time,” Hanson told the Grand Island Independent. “He is a great leader, and it has been an honor to work for him.”

Other potential candidates in the Republican stronghold include state Treasurer Ron Ross, state Public Service Commission Chairman Jerry Vap, and Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek.

— J.K.

Owens to Her County Colleagues: Not So Fast

When 15 state, county and local officials from Anne Arundel County gathered in Annapolis last week to endorse Rep. Benjamin Cardin’s (D) Senate candidacy, one Anne Arundel politician was conspicuous by her absence: County Executive Janet Owens (D).

Owens told The Capital newspaper in Annapolis that she is still thinking of entering the Senate race herself.

“I’m used to being ganged up on,” she said.

Owens, who is term limited in 2006 and whose political plans have been the subject of much speculation, all but rejected the suggestion that she would seek to replace Cardin in the House next year. She has not ruled out a run for state comptroller, and is rumored to be a possible selection for lieutenant governor — on either the Democratic or Republican ticket.

Cardin, who is so far facing former Rep. Kweisi Mfume in the Democratic primary, although others could follow, said he was “grateful to have the support of so many of the leaders of the Anne Arundel County community in my race for the U.S. Senate” — even if Owens was not among them.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is seen as increasingly likely to run — and could make an announcement in the next several days.

— J.K.

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