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In North Carolina, Shuler’s Close to Decision on Challenging Taylor

Former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler (D) will decide in the “next couple of weeks” whether he will challenge Rep. Charles Taylor (R) next year, Shuler friend and adviser Randy Flack said in an interview this week.

Shuler has been mulling a bid for a couple of months, and Democrats are salivating at the prospect of the star power of his candidacy.

Shuler, who did a three-year stint with the Washington Redskins in the mid-1990s, could also spend some personal money if he entered the race.

Once a star quarterback at the University of Tennessee, Shuler was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 1994. He ended his career in 1997 after one season with the New Orleans Saints.

In late 2003 he moved to western North Carolina but still owns a real estate business based in Knoxville, Tenn.

A multimillionaire who primarily self-finances his campaigns, Taylor has been targeted by national Democrats in recent years but has continued to win re-election handily. Last year, he beat Buncombe County Commissioner Patsy Keever (D) 55 percent to 45 percent.

— Lauren W. Whittington

Poll: Sheriff Does Well on His Own Home Turf

Democrats are encouraged by the results of a new poll that showed Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth (D) strongly positioned against Rep. John Hostettler (R) in Ellsworth’s home county — the most populous county in the district.

The Garin-Hart-Yang poll of 505 voters in Vanderburgh County, conducted in early June for Ellsworth, showed the Democrat defeating Hostettler 61 percent to 29 percent.

The county accounts for 26 percent of the total vote in the 8th district, where Democrats have perennially targeted Hostettler.

Last year, Hostettler won 50 percent of the vote in Vanderburgh compared to 48 percent for his Democratic opponent, Jon Jennings. President Bush won the county with 59 percent of the vote. Hostettler won the overall 8th district vote 53 percent to 45 percent.

“We are not under any illusion that Sheriff Ellsworth enjoys the same kind of standing and name recognition in the rest of the 8th” Congressional district, according to the Garin-Hart-Yang memo that accompanied the poll. “We feel confident that with the financial resources to raise his profile outside Vanderburgh County, that Brad Ellsworth has an excellent chance to defeat Congressman Hostettler next November.”

— L.W.W.

Laffey Waiting Game to Last All Summer

Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey (R) seems to enjoy slowly torturing his party.

For months he refused to deny rumors that he might seek to challenge Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) in next year’s Ocean State GOP primary. Now he says he will take the summer to fully consider a bid.

“I am spending part of this summer talking to people and gauging personal commitments for a potential Senate run,” he said in a statement released Tuesday night. “It’s the future for our children that I care about most deeply. If I conclude that the best way for me to improve their future is to run for the United States Senate, then I will do that.”

On the Democratic side, Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown and former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse are battling it out in the primary for what is expected to be a close general election.

In advance of Thursday’s campaign finance filing deadline, Whitehouse held a $150-per-person fundraiser Wednesday night. “Friends” had to pay $250 and “hosts” $500 for the evening event at the Metacomet Country Club in East Providence.

— Nicole Duran

Nelson Holds Tenuous Edge Over GOP Foes

Sen. Bill Nelson (D) continues to lead all comers in the 2006 Senate race, according to a new poll — but his lead appears to be as much a function of the low standing of his potential opponents as a sign of voters’ enthusiasm for the first-term Senator.

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute surveyed 1,248 registered voters June 22-26. The poll had a 2.8 percent error margin.

In a trial heat between Nelson and Rep. Katherine Harris (R), who has already announced her intention to run, Nelson was preferred by 50 percent of the voters, Harris by 38 percent.

But Harris, who was Florida secretary of state during the controversial 2000 presidential recount, carries “strong baggage,” according to Clay Richards, assistant director of the polling institute. A full 37 percent of those surveyed said they were less likely to vote for Harris because of her role in the controversy.

Harris nevertheless had a healthy lead over two potential Republican primary opponents — both of whom also trailed Nelson in hypothetical general election match-ups.

Nelson led state House Speaker Allan Bense (R), who is being urged into the race by national GOP leaders, 55 percent to 26 percent. And he led state Senate President Tom Lee (R), who is not expected to run, 53 percent to 30 percent.

Despite those numbers, Nelson’s job approval declined from April. He was given 46 percent approval in the most recent survey, down from 50 percent two months earlier. Only 38 percent of those surveyed said they would definitely vote to re-elect the Senator.

“He gets a lukewarm approval rating and even 36 percent of Democrats would rather see someone else elected to the Senate,” Richards observed. “Those wavering Democrats come scurrying home, however, when Harris is Nelson’s opponent.”

— Josh Kurtz

Kramer Stumping State In Senate Bid Kickoff

Former state Republican Party Chairman David Kramer is in the middle of a four-day swing across the state, announcing his bid for the 2006 Republican Senate nomination.

Kramer, 40, confirmed Tuesday that he would compete with former state Attorney General Don Stenberg (R) for the right to take on Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in November 2006.

“There are times in life when we are called upon to choose between the well-worn path and the road less traveled,” Kramer said, echoing Robert Frost. “Today I choose the road less traveled.”

Kramer, a lawyer, has never run for public office but spent the past four years as GOP chairman, where he built up a wealth of contacts. He also ran two controversial statewide ballot measures, one to provide more funding for public schools and the other to help build a convention center in downtown Omaha.

In Stenberg, Kramer faces a veteran elected official who is making his third bid for Senate. Despite his mixed electoral success, Stenberg has close ties to social conservatives, and that will serve him well in the GOP primary.

— J.K.

Snub by Bush Helped Fuel Congressional Run

Former FBI agent Coleen Rowley (D) wants to challenge Rep. John Kline (R) in the Gopher State’s 2nd district.

A factor in her decision to run was the fact that she did not a receive an appointment recently from President Bush to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, she told The Associated Press.

Rowley was one of Time magazine’s Persons of the Year in 2002 for her role in bringing to light intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Burnsville City Councilwoman Teresa Daly, who lost to Kline by 16 points last year, may also seek the Democratic nomination.
— N.D.

State Senate Democrats Offer Redistricting Plan

State Senate Democratic leaders this week put forward their own proposal for redistricting reform, as fresh polls showed public support for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and his reform initiatives plummeting.

With a Schwarzenegger-approved redistricting measure scheduled to be on the statewide ballot this fall, Democratic Senators unveiled their own proposal — a first step to a possible compromise with the governor in an attempt to forestall the statewide vote.

Schwarzenegger proposes to take Congressional and legislative redistricting away from the Legislature and place the responsibility with a panel of retired judges.

But Senate Democrats want to create a seven-member redistricting commission. The governor, the four legislative leaders, the president of the University of California and the California Judicial Council would each appoint a member.

While skeptical about the specifics, Margita Thompson, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary, told the Los Angeles Daily News that the mere existence of the Senate proposal could suggest that a compromise is possible.

“When the governor looks at the proposal, it’s with an eye toward finding a long-term solution to the state’s structural problems,” she said.

But whether Schwarzenegger likes the Senate plan or not, he may be in more of a mood to compromise on redistricting reform than he had been previously. A recent Field Poll found that only one-third of registered voters surveyed would support his redistricting initiative, while 44 percent said they would vote no.

The poll of 711 registered voters was conducted June 13-19 and had a 3.8 percent error margin.

The same poll found that only 39 percent of voters said they were “inclined” to re-elect Schwarzenegger in 2006, while 57 percent were not inclined. That’s a precipitous drop from a February Field poll, when 56 percent said they were inclined to re-elect Schwarzenegger, while 42 percent said they were not.

In this month’s poll, Schwarzenegger just barely led four potential Democratic challengers.

— J.K.

DCCC Poll Suggests Pombo Can Be Beaten

Less than a week after the strongest potential Democratic candidate announced that he would not run in 2006, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has released a poll showing that Rep. Richard Pombo (R) may be vulnerable next year.

In the poll of 402 registered 11th district voters, conducted May 31-June 2, only 32 percent of those surveyed said they would definitely vote to re-elect Pombo. Sixteen percent said they would definitely vote against the House Resources chairman, and 28 percent said they would consider someone new.

Equally significant, only 34 percent of those surveyed said the nation is on the right track right now.

The Garin-Hart-Yang poll had a 4.7 percent margin of error.

Despite those promising numbers for the DCCC, Democrats have no strong candidate at the moment. Last week, state Sen. Michael Machado (D), who raised a whopping $9 million for his competitive re-election campaign last year, announced that he would not run, leaving 2004 nominee Jerry McNerney as the only Democrat in the race.

— J.K.

Rangel Fundraiser to Celebrate Milestone

Although he turned 75 earlier this month, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D) won’t celebrate the milestone until Aug. 3, when he hosts a fundraiser at the swank Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York’s Central Park.

According to Crain’s New York Business, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) will headline the affair, with proceeds going to Rangel’s political action committee.

Rangel appears to have clear sailing in his quest for a 19th term representing Harlem and upper Manhattan.

— J.K.

One’s In, One’s Out of Democratic House Race

State Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch (D) will seek the House seat being vacated by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I).

Welch’s entry has prompted one Democrat, state Sen. Matt Dunne, to drop out of the race.

Dunne had said all along that he would step aside if Welch ran.

Peter Shumlin, the man who used to hold Welch’s post but is now out of the Legislature, is also seeking the Democratic nomination.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Maj. Gen. Martha Rainville, who heads up the Vermont National Guard, are both contemplating seeking the Republican endorsement for the Green Mountain State’s lone House seat.

Sanders is making a play for the seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Jeffords (I).

— N.D.

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