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Cellular Magnate’s Wife Could Take On Cantwell in Washington State

The wife of a billionaire cell phone magnate is being mentioned as a possible challenger to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) next year.

The prospect that Susan McCaw may run has excited Republicans who are looking for a strong candidate to take on Cantwell next year, according to a knowledgeable Washington state Republican.

McCaw, a political novice who was a 2004 “Ranger” for the Bush-Cheney campaign, is the wife of Craig McCaw, billionaire founder of McCaw Cellular, which later became AT&T Wireless.  

It could make an intriguing race because McCaw could easily write herself a check in the tens of millions of dollars, while Cantwell, a millionaire he said, is not self-financing her race this time.

When Cantwell ousted then-Sen. Slade Gorton (R) in 2000 using some $10 million she earned as an executive with RealNetworks, the tech bubble had yet to burst.

No sooner had she won, however, then she found her stock value slashed and she had to secure personal loans to pay off her campaign debts, a move that put the actual cost of her race closer to $13 million.

Cantwell still refuses political action committee money but has done an impressive fundraising job nonetheless.

She ended March with just under $2 million in the bank.

— Nicole Duran

Capito’s Loss of Top Aide Fuels Talk She’ll Stay Put

As Republicans await a decision on whether Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) will challenge Sen. Robert Byrd (D) in 2006, there is some speculation that the recent departure of her chief of staff is an indication the Congresswoman is leaning against a Senate run.

Martin Baker, who was hired as Capito’s chief of staff earlier this year, returned to work at the National Republican Congressional Committee last month. He has been replaced by Joel Brubaker, who most recently served as Rep. Bill Shuster’s (R-Pa.) legislative director and also has some campaign experience.

Baker managed Capito’s 2002 re-election race, and his move back into the fold was viewed by some as a sign that Capito was ramping up to take on Byrd, who is expected to seek an eighth term next year.

A Capito spokesman warned against reading too much into Baker’s departure and stressed that she has always looked outside of her Congressional office when putting together her campaign team.

On the June 30 edition of the “Talkline” radio program in West Virginia, Capito told conservative radio host Hoppy Kercheval that she hasn’t yet made up her mind about taking on Byrd.

“I suppose there’s only one person that really knows what I’m going to do, and I’m sitting in this chair right here and I haven’t made a decision and I’m going to make the final decision in the fall and I intend to stick to that time line,” she said.

Capito was scheduled to appear with President Bush when he visited West Virginia University’s Morgantown campus on Monday.

— Lauren W. Whittington

Businessman Eyes Run for Cardin House Seat

Add Baltimore businessman Oz Bengur to the list of Democrats contemplating a run for the 3rd district House seat being vacated by Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D), who is running for Senate.

Bengur, the treasurer of the Maryland Democratic Party who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in the adjoining 2nd district in 2002, told Roll Call on Friday that he will create an exploratory committee later this month and expects to reach a final decision by the fall. He now lives in the 3rd district.

“I probably will [run], unless I find some reason why I shouldn’t,” he said.

Bengur said he should have plenty of time to raise the $1 million he needs for the campaign. He spent about $500,000 of his own money when he ran in 2002 and did not rule out the possibility of dipping into his bank account for this campaign.

Former Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson and state Del. Neil Quinter have already entered the Democratic race, and state Sen. Paula Hollinger is expected to announce her candidacy next week. Other potential Democratic candidates include Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens, lawyer Kevin O’Keeffe and state Del. Jon Cardin — the Congressman’s nephew.

— Josh Kurtz

Senate Fundraising: Tale of Haves and Have Nots

Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D) has raised $1 million since announcing his Senate candidacy two months ago, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who continues to contemplate the Senate race, already has more than $1 million in his campaign account.

Although fundraising reports for the second quarter of the year aren’t due at the Federal Elections Commission until July 15, the two Members were quick to boast of their fundraising prowess late last week.

“We worked hard this quarter and we’re grateful for how enthusiastically Marylanders have responded,” Cardin said in a statement.

Despite his fundraising success, Van Hollen continues to delay announcing his intentions and keeps the entire Maryland political community anxious. His decision to get in the Senate race would drastically alter the dynamic; at the same time, the number of people thinking about running for his 8th district seat if he moves on has hit double digits.

While Cardin and Van Hollen are awash in cash, the other Democrat officially in the race, ex-Rep. Kweisi Mfume, has struggled to keep pace financially. Mfume, the former president of the NAACP, told Maryland media outlets that he raised about $150,000 since April 1, on top of the almost $100,000 he already had on hand.

“We’re right on schedule, right where we thought we’d be,” Mfume told The Gazette newspapers.

In a related development, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is in a dispute with the administration of Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) over documents related to the duties of Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the likely Republican nominee for Senate.

According to The Baltimore Sun, the DSCC last month filed three requests for public information from state agencies regarding Steele’s official duties. But Ehrlich’s counsel has not responded in a timely fashion; instead, he wrote back to the committee, charging that the DSCC is seeking the documents for “partisan political purposes.”

DSCC officials countered that the Ehrlich administration is ignoring a provision in the state’s public information law that says the state must consider such requests for public information without regard to the affiliation of the applicant.

— J.K.

Primary Date May Not Be Changed After All

The desire of Democratic leaders to move the 2006 primary date from September to June to give their nominees extra time to recover for the general election may be thwarted — by Democrats.

The Gazette newspapers reported Friday that a substantial cross-section of state House Democrats are currently opposed to the change — enough, apparently, to deny Democrats a veto-proof majority assuming Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) vetoes any bill that passes changing the primary date.

During this year’s legislative session, the state Senate passed legislation changing the date, but the measure stalled in the House. The chief proponents of the idea are House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D), state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) and state Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman.

State delegates interviewed by The Gazette gave a range of explanations for their opposition to the date change. But the primary motivation may be the realization that state law prohibits legislators from raising money during the annual legislative session, which runs from mid-January to mid-April — a prohibition that does not extend to legislative challengers.

— J.K.

Democrats Continue to Press Burns on Abramoff

Seeking to remind voters of Sen. Conrad Burns’ (R) ties to embattled Washington, D.C., lobbyist Jack Abramoff, state Democratic Party Chairman Bob Ream on Friday called on Burns to urge his former state director, Shawn Vassell, to cooperate with a Senate committee investigating Abramoff’s activities.

Vassell, who worked with Abramoff at the D.C. firm Greenberg Traurig, refused to testify at a recent Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on Abramoff, citing the Fifth Amendment protection against revealing self-incriminating evidence. Abramoff is being investigated by several law enforcement agencies for allegedly defrauding American Indian tribes.

Burns has admitted that he inserted a provision into an Interior appropriations bill that benefited some of Abramoff’s tribal clients, and he has accepted campaign contributions from Abramoff, his partners and clients — facts that Democrats seek to keep in the news.

“It is simply unacceptable for Sen. Burns to stand by and do nothing while his former state director withholds information about the activities of Jack Abramoff,” Ream said.

Burns is expected to face a tough re-election battle next year. State Auditor John Morrison and state Senate President Jon Tester are competing in the Democratic primary for the right to face the three-term Senator in 2006.

Last week, Donna Metcalf, widow of former Montana Sen. Lee Metcalf (D), endorsed Morrison in the contest.
— J.K.

Salvi Backing Away From Challenging Rep. Bean?

Former state Rep. Al Salvi (R) has apparently decided not to seek the 8th district GOP nomination to face freshman Rep. Melissa Bean (D), according to a businessman who recently met with Salvi.

Illinois Family Taxpayer Network President Jack Roeser said that Salvi informed him of his decision during a June 20 meeting.

“Among other things, we discussed the 8th Congressional District race,” Roeser wrote in a statement posted on the group’s Web site. “In the course of that discussion, Al advised us that he was not going to be a candidate for that office in 2006.”

Salvi waged unsuccessful bids for Illinois secretary of state in 1998 and Senate in 1996, losing to now-Sen. Dick Durbin (D).

A recent poll conducted for Salvi showed him as the early favorite to win the GOP nomination in the suburban Chicago district.

If Salvi doesn’t run, it leaves two wealthy business leaders as the top contenders to face Bean next year. Businesswoman Teresa Bartels and businessman David McSweeney are both seeking the GOP nod.

The prospect of Salvi’s wife, Kathy Salvi, running for Congress was also floated before Al Salvi began taking steps that indicated he would run.

— L.W.W.

State Senator Has Joined Crowded House Contest

State Sen. Skip Brandt (R) formally entered the race to succeed Rep. Butch Otter (R) in the Gem State’s 1st district last week.

He joins a crowded field that includes, former state Sen. Sheila Sorensen, Idaho Water Users President Norm Semanko and Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vazquez. Attorney Larry Grant is the only declared Democrat has declared in the heavily Republican district.

Otter is vacating the seat to run for governor next year.

— N.D.

Poll: Feinstein Trounces Superstar Noncandidates

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) appears to be in extraordinarily strong shape for re-election, according to a new Field poll released last week.

Feinstein, who is up for re-election in 2006, handily defeated Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in head-to-head match-ups — even though neither is expected to take her on.

Fifty-six percent of the 711 registered voters surveyed June 13-19 said they were “inclined” to re-elect Feinstein; 37 percent said they were not inclined to vote for her again. The survey had a 3.6 percent error margin.

Republicans are struggling to find a credible challenger to the 72-year-old Senator. Bill Mundell, a high-tech executive who is bankrolling an organization called Californians for Fair Redistricting, is seen as a possible candidate. The Field poll did not test a match-up between Feinstein and Mundell.

— J.K.

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