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Nelson Has Big Lead in Florida Poll to Be Released Today

A new Mason-Dixon poll set to be released today showed Sen. Bill Nelson (D) with a healthy lead over Rep. Katherine Harris (R) in a test of next year’s Senate matchup.

Nelson led Harris 53 percent to 36 percent in a survey of 625 registered voters in the state. The poll had a 4 percent margin of error.

Harris, who was elected to Congress in 2002, announced earlier this month that she will seek to challenge the first-term Senator in 2006. However, she is widely viewed among the GOP establishment as the party’s weakest nominee against Nelson — a belief that has been reinforced by this and other polling data.

The Mason-Dixon survey also showed that 32 percent of those polled had a favorable view of Harris, although an almost equal number (30 percent) said they view her unfavorably. Meanwhile, 44 percent of those tested had a favorable view of Nelson, while only 10 percent had an unfavorable view.

Some Republicans are trying to woo Florida House Speaker Allan Bense (R) into the race, which would set up a high-profile and expensive primary with Harris. Currently, the Sarasota Congresswoman is unopposed for the GOP nod.

— Lauren W. Whittington

Weber Won’t Run, Backs Kennedy, Friend Says

Despite apparent efforts by some Republicans to coax former Congressman and GOP heavyweight lobbyist Vin Weber into next year’s Senate ring, Weber reportedly will not budge.

“Vin is a backer and contributor to Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) and has never contemplated an ’06 candidacy,” said Alex Conant, a close friend of Weber’s who is spokesman to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).

Weber has strongly supported Kennedy since he first decided to seek the seat being vacated by Sen. Mark Dayton (D), Conant said. The rest of the party establishment, including Sen. Norm Coleman (R) and Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), quickly lined up behind Kennedy despite efforts by former Sen. Rod Grams (R) to make room for an active primary earlier this year. Grams has since said he would not run.

— Nicole Duran

No Decision Imminent:McCaskill Is on a Mission

Democrats awaiting state Auditor Claire McCaskill’s decision about whether she will challenge freshman Sen. Jim Talent (R) next year will have to wait a little bit longer.

McCaskill, who ran a close race against now-Gov. Matt Blunt (R) last year, is in Guatemala through the end of June on a volunteer project.

McCaskill and her children are on a medical mission to Central America through the University of Kansas medical school and will not return until the end of the month, according to her state spokesman.

Democrats have been urging the telegenic McCaskill to run for some time, but their entreaties likely have grown more desperate since the only announced challenger, state Sen. Chuck Graham, recently dropped the race to head up Democrats’ recruiting efforts for state Senate contests.

— N.D.

NRSC Rips Democrats For Flouting State Law

The National Republican Senatorial Committee wasted no time blasting Senate Democratic hopefuls Jon Tester and John Morrison for breaking a state law forbidding the solicitation of campaign funds via automated telephone calls.

The NRSC issued a news release late last week titled “Montana Democrat U.S. Senate Candidates Violate State Law” in response to a local newspaper article about the issue.

Both Morrison, the state auditor, and Tester, the state Senate president, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle last week that they knew they violated the law when they allowed the calls to be placed, but both said they did so because they believe the law to be unconstitutional.

Neither has challenged the 1991 law and Republican groups — most recently the state GOP — have also run afoul of it, the paper reported.

Both men are seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Conrad Burns (R) next year.

Burns’ spokesman told the paper that the four-term Senator’s campaign will not solicit donations via illegal calls.

Burns is in a better position to stay on the right side of the law, as he already has amassed a $1.5 million war chest as of March 31 and has been working the fundraising circuit hard this spring.

The law — which carries a $2,500-per-offense penalty — was flouted routinely enough last year that Montana’s attorney general had to remind candidates about its existence.

— N.D.

Rogan Throws Water On Talk of Candidacy

Former Rep. James Rogan (R) has taken himself out of the running — more or less — in the soon-to-be-called 48th district special election.

“I don’t anticipate being a candidate, barring some unforeseen event,” Rogan said in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.

Rogan’s remarks came just days after a prominent national conservative organization issued a statement urging the former Pasadena-area Congressman to seek the Orange County seat of Rep. Christopher Cox (R), who has been nominated to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. Rogan moved to Orange County recently, though he does not live in the 48th.

“None of the candidates who have stepped up can hold a candle to Rogan as far as passion for the free enterprise agenda is concerned,” said Mallory Factor, president of the Free Enterprise Fund Political Action Committee.

State Sen. John Campbell (R) and former state Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer (R) are the two most prominent candidates in the open primary so far. The L.A. Times reported that Campbell was set to write his campaign a $200,000 check — in response to the $150,000 Brewer gave her own campaign.

Because the Senate has not confirmed Cox yet, the timing of the special election to replace him is not yet clear. If he is confirmed by July 19, the primary could coincide with the special statewide election that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) called to consider a host of initiatives, the L.A. Times reported. If the confirmation comes later, the election will take place later, and voter turnout will likely be depressed.

— Josh Kurtz

Businesswoman Eyes Fitzpatrick Challenge

Businesswoman Robin Weissman (D) is considering challenging freshman Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R) next year, reported last week.

Weissman, who will reportedly get the backing of EMILY’s List if she runs, is expected to make a final decision in coming weeks and hopes to avoid a contested primary.

Weissman is married to Ken Jarin, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell’s (D) chief fundraiser.

— L.W.W.

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