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New Mexico: If AG Declines, Legislator Will Consider House Bid

As it looks more and more unlikely that state Attorney General Patricia Madrid or Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron will run for the Democratic nomination in the 1st district, someone who was once considered a long shot for the seat is now more likely to run.

Freshman state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D) told Roll Call that he would consider challenging Rep. Heather Wilson (R) if Madrid took her name out of contention.

“If Patsy doesn’t run, and others don’t run, we could at least make this a plebiscite on the [Iraqi] war,” Ortiz y Pino said. He reiterated that he thought Madrid “would be a very strong, hard nosed candidate. I don’t know why she’s leaning against” running.

Harry Pavlides, an Albuquerque-based pollster and friend of Ortiz y Pino, said that the chances of the Senator running are good.

“The odds are more in favor of him running than not running,” he said.

National Democrats have been trying to recruit Madrid, who is term-limited in 2006, into the Congressional race. But she has seemed reluctant to run.

While Ortiz y Pino is not as well-known — and almost certainly wouldn’t be as well-funded — as Madrid, he is a veteran liberal activist and political columnist who could attract grass-roots support.

Democrats have had Wilson in their sights since she narrowly won a special election in 1998, but she seems to gather strength each cycle.
— Sonny Bunch

Judge Deliberates a Challenge to Porter

A district court judge is reportedly exploring a bid in the Silver State’s 3rd district.

Clark County District Judge Nancy Saitta has talked to Democratic Party leaders about the possibility of challenging Rep. Jon Porter (R), according to the Ralston Report, a Nevada political tip sheet.

If she chooses to run in the swing district, she would have to resign her position as judge, Ralston added.

The Las Vegas-area 3rd district was drawn to be competitive between both parties, but Porter has won solid victories there in his first two elections.
— Nicole Duran

Hoyer Stumps for Four Top House Contenders

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) spent the lead-up to Labor Day stumping for Congressional candidates in Connecticut and Vermont.

He helped state Sen. Chris Murphy (D), who is challenging Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) in the 5th district, Wednesday morning. In the afternoon he hosted a Social Security roundtable with Diane Farrell, who is seeking a rematch with Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) in the 4th district, and in the evening he helped the Westport first selectwoman raise cash for her campaign.

On Thursday Hoyer attended a fundraiser for Joe Courtney, who again is taking on Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) in the 2nd district. The former state Representative lost to Simmons in 2002. Friday saw the Maryland Democrat arrive in Vermont, where he held a news conference and hosted a fundraiser for Peter Welch, the state Senate president pro tem, who is seeking the Green Mountain state’s lone House seat.

Welch faces his predecessor as state Senate leader, Peter Shumlin, in the Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Senate.
— N.D.

McGavick Won’t Leave Job Quite So Quickly

The Seattle insurance company executive that Republicans are banking on to give freshman Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) a run for her money next year will have to wait a little longer before focusing on his bid.

Mike McGavick (R), who was to step down as chief executive officer of Safeco Corp. on Wednesday in order to focus on the race, said he will remain at the helm of Safeco until a replacement can be found.

“We are working through our slate of candidates and will take the time necessary to complete the formal search process,” Safeco director Robert Cline told The Seattle Times last week.

McGavick, who has only formed an exploratory committee so far, will continue on as chairman through the end of the year as previously announced.

Meanwhile, the League of Conservation Voters has endorsed Cantwell.

The environmental group chose Cantwell as the first candidate to get behind for the 2006 midterm elections.

Simultaneously the group announced it would run an “independent, grass-roots campaign” on her behalf and that it is opening an office in the Pacific Northwest.

— N.D.

Connected Neophyte Enters Senate Primary

Forensic psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren joined the Democratic race for Senate last week.

“I am not a career politician,” the 54-year-old mother of three said during announcement speeches in Baltimore and Bethesda. “I am a citizen fed up with the way the country is headed.”

Van Susteren called health care the nation’s leading problem and criticized “professional politicians” for their inaction.

“The U.S. Senate needs to be shaken up and I am not afraid to do it,” she said.

Van Susteren joins two veteran public officials, Rep. Benjamin Cardin and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, in the Democratic race to replace retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D). Other Democrats are expected to join the field in the weeks ahead.

Although she is making her first bid for public office, Van Susteren has an experienced team around her. It includes media strategist Tad Devine and pollster Diane Feldman. Lisa McMurray, a former chief of staff to Virginia Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) who managed Kaine’s 2001 campaign and the unsuccessful 2003 re-election bid of then-Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D), will run the campaign.

Van Susteren is married to Jonathan Kempner, a Washington, D.C., insider who heads the National Mortgage Bankers Association. She would not say whether she would be willing to self-fund her campaign.

As for her association with her famous younger sister, Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren, who appeared at the Baltimore announcement, the candidate said: “I’m hoping it will help.” — Josh Kurtz

Foes Question Yassky’s Primary Endorsement

In another sign that the race to replace retiring Rep. Major Owens (D) in Brooklyn will be a racially charged affair, foes are accusing one of the candidates, City Councilman David Yassky (D), of making a politically motivated endorsement in this year’s Democratic primary for district attorney.

Last week, Yassky, the lone white candidate in the Congressional race who has come under criticism from some black leaders — including Owens — for running in a district that is more than three-quarters minority, endorsed state Sen. John Sampson (D), the leading black candidate in the wide-open DA’s race.

“I’m shocked and outraged,” one local political leader told the New York Daily News. “I have no conception as to why David Yassky would do it except for political reasons.”

But Yassky denied that his endorsement was designed to inoculate himself from complaints that he is hoping to benefit from a large black field in the House race to win a seat that was created by the Voting Rights Act.

“This is about getting the best possible DA for Brooklyn at this time,” he told the paper.

— J.K.

Istook Ponders a Run for Governor in 2006

Rep. Ernest Istook (R) might seek the Republican nomination for governor in Oklahoma, the Congressman told The Oklahoman newspaper late last month.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me to consider it, and I’m listening to them,” Istook said.

Two high profile Oklahoma Republicans recently said they would not run — former Rep. J.C. Watts and Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin.

If Istook decides to run, he would give the GOP a candidate with statewide name recognition to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. Brad Henry.
— David M. Drucker

Nelson Trounces Harris in Newest Senate Poll

Freshman Sen. Bill Nelson (D) has expanded his lead over Rep. Katherine Harris (R) in a hypothetical 2006 Senate matchup, according to an independent poll released last week.

In the latest poll from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, Nelson led Harris 57 percent to 33 percent. The poll of 1,187 registered voters was conducted Aug. 23-29 and had a 2.8 percent margin of error.

“It’s easy to see why Republicans in the White House and in the State House are skeptical about running U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris as their candidate for Senate next year. Many Florida voters say she is divisive and too partisan and even Republicans say 41-38 percent that Nelson will win re-election if Harris is their candidate,” said Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

In the last Quinnipiac poll on the race, released on June 29, Nelson held a 50 percent to 38 percent lead over the Congresswoman. But GOP efforts to recruit another candidate into the race have so far proved unsuccessful.

— J.K.

Republican Feldkamp Seeks DeFazio Rematch

Marketing executive and Republican Jim Feldkamp is once again running for the 4th district Congressional seat.

If he secures the GOP nomination, Feldkamp will challenge popular Democratic incumbent Rep. Peter DeFazio.

Feldkamp’s firm, Feldkamp and Associates, specializes in marketing and development for nonprofit organizations, according to a news release put out by the Feldkamp campaign.

DeFazio was elected to a 10th term in 2004, beating Feldkamp with 61 percent of the vote. The Eugene-based 4th district split evenly between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential election.

— D.M.D.

To No One’s Surprise, Warner Skips Senate Bid

Gov. Mark Warner (D) announced last week that he will not challenge Sen. George Allen (R) in 2006, ending months of speculation about what would have been a blockbuster showdown.

In announcing his decision Warner also promised that Democrats will field a top candidate against Allen, who has been raising money at a furious pace and is widely expected to run for president in 2008.

But the popular governor’s decision leaves state Democrats with no obvious candidate to take on Allen.

Former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer (D), former Rep. L.F. Payne (D) and former Navy Secretary James Webb have all been mentioned, but none appears to be interested in taking on the first-term Senator.

Warner, who leaves office in January, is still mulling a presidential bid in 2008.

—Lauren W. Whittington

Third-Party Contender Bows Out of Senate Race

The Minnesota Independent Party candidate has dropped out of next year’s open Senate contest.

Noting the race has reached full-steam extremely early, Jack Uldrich said he could not devote the time to mount a serious campaign.

“The length of this campaign is absolutely insane … it’s not healthy for the process,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Meanwhile, real estate developer Kelly Doran (D) is making balancing the federal budget a centerpiece of his upstart effort to capture the Senate seat.

The multi-millionaire has started a petition drive to encourage Congress and President Bush to adopt a Constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

The petition can be found on his Web site, below a running ticker that tracks the federal deficit.

Doran is the wild card in a Democratic field that includes Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and child safety advocate, and 2004 6th district Democratic nominee Patty Wetterling. Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) essentially has the Republican field to himself.

Sen. Mark Dayton (D) is not seeking re-election.
— N.D.

Yecke Drops House Bid for New Job in Florida

Cheri Pierson Yecke has dropped her bid for the Republican nomination in the open 6th district contest next year.

Yecke, the former state education secretary, exits the crowded GOP field — and the Gopher State — to head up Florida’s kindergarten to 12th-grade education overhaul efforts.

She was appointed to the post by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).

Many analysts believe her departure benefits state Sen. Michele Bachmann the most, but at least one Minnesota political observer told Roll Call that state Rep. Phil Krinkie has as good a chance of capturing her supporters as Bachmann.

Three other Republicans are seeking their party’s nod as well: businessman Jay Esmay, Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and state Rep. Jim Knoblach.

Two Democrats who are both former ministers, Scott Mortensen and Elwyn Tinklenberg, are competing for their party’s endorsement in the Republican-leaning district, though Tinklenberg is the early favorite.

— N.D.

RFK Jr. Backs Former Law School Classmate

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is helping former Ocean State Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse (D) in his bid for the Senate.

Kennedy penned a letter to environmentalists urging them to support Whitehouse, his University of Virginia law school classmate, in next year’s contest, the Pawtucket Times reported last week. Kennedy’s cousin, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D), is co-chairman of Whitehouse’s campaign.

Whitehouse faces Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown in the Democratic primary for the right to challenge Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R), who is a top Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee target.

Brown recently petitioned President Bush to set a timetable to withdraw from Iraq, beginning within six months. On his Web site he called upon voters and other Senate candidates to sign his petition to Bush.

Whitehouse declined to do so, but he has also advocated for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.

Chafee voted against giving Bush authority to pursue military action in Iraq.

— N.D.

LaHood Rips Governor But Won’t Take Him On

Six-term Rep. Ray LaHood (R) used the August recess to announce that he would forego a bid for governor in 2006 and would seek re-election instead.

LaHood began exploring a gubernatorial bid early this year, traveling the state and accelerating his fundraising. But he said he concluded that his constituents in his central Illinois district would prefer that he remain in Congress.

“My place is in Washington and in the 18th district,” LaHood said in a statement.

But he had harsh words for Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) — a former Congressional colleague — and vowed to work hard to defeat him next year.

“We have a number of very strong candidates in the Republican Party who are bright, capable and offer a willingness to seriously govern this state,” LaHood said. “This governor’s style is well documented. Polls over policy. Pandering over principle. Politics over people. To face this crisis, we need a real leader in the governor’s mansion — and in the governor’s office.”

Despite his flirtation with the governor’s race, LaHood isn’t likely to face any recrimination at the polls: He was re-elected last year with 70 percent of the vote.
— J.K.