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In Florida Poll, Nelson Tops Harris But Remains Below 50%

A new Strategic Vision poll set to be released today showed that Sen. Bill Nelson (D) has increased his lead over Rep. Katherine Harris (R) in a test of next year’s Senate race.

Nelson led Harris 48 percent to 36 percent in the survey, conducted by the Atlanta-based GOP firm Sept. 16-20. The poll of 1,200 likely Florida voters had a 3 percent margin of error. [IMGCAP(1)]

“While the news is that Harris trails Nelson by a greater margin than other potential challengers, what is significant is that despite all the negative stories she still holds Nelson below 50 percent, which means if she can reintroduce herself to voters in a more favorable light and make Nelson the issue, the dynamics of the race could change,” said David Johnson, CEO and founder of Strategic Vision.

The poll also tested a hypothetical general election matchup between Nelson, who is seeking a second term, and Rep. Mark Foley (R), who has still not ruled out a Senate bid.

Nelson led Foley 45 percent to 41 percent in that trial heat.

Meanwhile, the survey also found that President Bush’s approval rating among Floridians mirrors his sinking national poll numbers.

Of those surveyed, 40 percent said they approved of the job Bush is doing while 50 percent said they disapproved.

“The president’s numbers have fallen significantly since our August poll and this can be tied directly to Hurricane Katrina and the rising gas prices,” Johnson said, adding that Bush continues to hold his base support.

Also, in the state’s wide open governor’s race, the poll found that Rep. Jim Davis (D) leads among the Democratic contenders, although a majority of the likely voters polled said they would prefer a different set of candidates. Davis garnered 26 percent in a three-way contest with state Sen. Rod Smith and former state Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox.

— Lauren W. Whittington

Ex-Log Cabin Leader May Primary Rep. Kelly

The former national field director of the Log Cabin Republicans will announce on Tuesday that he is forming an exploratory committee as a prelude to challenging Rep. Sue Kelly (R) in next year’s GOP primary.

Jeff Cook, a 26-year-old law school graduate who has also served as executive director of the New York chapter of the gay Republican group, said Kelly’s recent votes will hurt the GOP’s ability to hold a district that is trending Democratic. He said that Kelly, a moderate among House Republicans, is vulnerable in her district north of New York City because she sided with conservative GOP leaders who wanted to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case and voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Cook said national Republican leaders have been urging him to stay out of the race, arguing that a grueling primary will benefit the Democrats. But Cook disagrees.

“I believe the Hudson Valley and the Republican Party need more vigorous representation,” he said. “The seat’s not in jeopardy because of my interest in the race. It’s in jeopardy, period.”

Cook may not be Kelly’s only Republican challenger, however. GOP sources said that Ed Heelan, a Putnam County real estate developer who helped run Pat Buchanan’s 2000 presidential campaign in the Empire State, is also eyeing the race. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

On the Democratic side, fundraiser Darren Rigger, teacher Ben Shuldiner and attorney Judy Aydelott are preparing to run. There was some talk that real estate heiress and Democratic donor Connie Milstein would run, but that no longer seems to be the case.

Kevin Callahan, Kelly’s press secretary, said the Congresswoman is not paying attention to the political jockeying at the moment.

“Congresswoman Kelly is fully focused on the job she needs to do in Congress right now,” he said. “When the time comes, she will run an aggressive campaign just like she always does. She’s continuing to work hard for her constituents in New York who want her focused on policy right now, not politics.”

— Josh Kurtz

Istook Is Close to Henry in GOP Statewide Poll

Rep. Ernest Istook (R) trailed incumbent Gov. Brad Henry (D) in a hypothetical gubernatorial matchup 44 percent to 36 percent, according to a poll released this week by the Oklahoma Republican Party.

Istook expects to make a decision in the next couple of weeks on whether to challenge Henry next year.

“Ernest is still weighing his options,” spokesman Matt Lambert said Wednesday.

The poll, conducted by Wilson Research Strategies, surveyed likely voters by telephone Sept. 12-13 and found 20 percent to be undecided when asked to choose between Istook and Henry.

Henry had a 64 percent to 25 percent favorable/unfavorable rating, with his favorable rating increasing to 68 percent in Istook’s House district. The poll nevertheless showed Istook leading Henry in Oklahoma’s 5th district by a margin of 16 percentage points, 49 percent to 34 percent.

Respondents who had heard of Henry and Istook were evenly split on the two, with each receiving 42 percent support. Those polled who knew enough about the candidates to rate them gave the nod to Istook, 49 percent to 40 percent. The poll had a 4.4 percent error margin.

— David M. Drucker

Schwarzenegger: RNC Event Will Hurt Initiatives

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) would like President Bush to push back a California fundraiser scheduled for October until after the Nov. 8 special election for fear it will suck up contributions he needs to fund his initiative campaign.

“In the next two months, it would be better if we just do the fundraising,” Schwarzenegger told the San Francisco Chronicle in Wednesday’s edition. “Then let us go [past] our special election — and then they can pick it up again, the [Republican] national committee.”

A Republican National Committee spokeswoman said Wednesday that while the RNC is sympathetic to Schwarzenegger’s concerns, rescheduling the fundraiser — set for Oct. 20 at a private home in Los Angeles — is unlikely.

“We recognize there are various goals within the GOP at both the state and national level and California is an important state to the Republican Party,” RNC Press Secretary Tracey Schmitt told Roll Call. “This happened to be the date that worked for the RNC from a scheduling perspective.”

Schwarzenegger called a special election for Nov. 8 to push three ballot measures he believes are vital to his efforts to reform state government, including one that would change the rules governing the drawing of legislative and Congressional districts.

Schwarzenegger has also endorsed a measure to prevent public employee unions from spending dues on political activity unless members, on an annual basis, give explicit written permission.

The governor stressed to The Chronicle that Bush is always welcome in his state, and that the two have a “terrific relationship.”

— D.M.D.

Doran Exits Senate Race, Will Run for Governor

Wealthy real estate developer Kelly Doran dropped his bid for the Democratic nomination for next year’s Senate race Wednesday and said he will seek it in the governor’s contest instead.

In a speech in St. Paul, Doran said he feared that being in Washington, D.C., would take him too far away from his young family but that he still wanted to serve the public.

“Our goal when deciding to enter public service was to focus on solutions that would address problems for the long-term,” he said. “What I now realize is that I am best suited to achieve these goals as the governor of Minnesota.”

Doran was the unknown in the Democratic Senate race. A political novice, he sprang out of the gate with an experienced campaign team and showed a willingness to spend his own money to become known to Minnesota voters.

His move pares the field down to Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, child safety advocate Patty Wetterling and philanthropist Ford Bell. Wealthy attorney and failed 2000 Senate candidate Mike Ciresi (D) is reportedly still pondering getting into the open race to succeed retiring Sen. Mark Dayton (D).

Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) essentially has the GOP field to himself.

— Nicole Duran

GOPer With Popular Name Opts Out of Race

The field of Republicans vying to challenge Sen. Ben Nelson (D) next year thinned a bit this week, as military hero Shane Osborn chose to run for state treasurer instead.

The Omaha World-Herald reported Wednesday that Osborn, who guided a Navy reconnaissance plane to an emergency landing in China and spent 11 days in captivity after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet, will challenge the sitting Republican treasurer for the GOP nomination to that post.

Although Osborn never officially declared for Senate, a recent poll of the three Republican candidates who have announced, and Osborn, found the former Navy pilot might fare well in a four-way matchup — perhaps because his name is similar to that of popular Rep. Tom Osborne (R), who is running for governor.

— D.M.D.

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