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Georgia: Hudgens Exits Special, Boosting Whitehead Bid

State Sen. Ralph Hudgens (R) has taken himself out of the 10th district special election contest, a move that further solidifies state Sen. Jim Whitehead (R) as the frontrunner to succeed the late Rep. Charlie Norwood (R).

“After three weeks of campaigning, it became very evident that I don’t have the fire in the belly, I didn’t have what it takes,” Hudgens said, according to The Augusta Chronicle.

Hudgens, who has run unsuccessfully for Congress three times before, was the best-known of several candidates from the Athens area who had declared their intention to run. He would have been forced to give up his state legislative seat to run in the special election.

Whitehead, who is the only well-known candidate in the race from the Augusta area, has surrounded himself with much of Norwood’s political apparatus.

Hudgens’ departure leaves Whitehead as the best-known candidate in the field, although former Athens Mayor Doc Eldridge still is mulling a run. Eldridge was a Democrat when he served as mayor, but he indicated that he would become a Republican if he ran for the House.

The all-party special election is scheduled for June 19. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held on July 17.

A qualifying date will be set after the end of the state legislative session late next month. Any legislator who decides to run for the House seat will be forced to resign from the Legislature after qualifying for the Congressional race.

— Lauren W. Whittington

NORTH CAROLINA Hayes’ Donors to Witness Big Easy March Madness

Interested in witnessing some March Madness down in the Big Easy — and helping a Republican House Member who won re-election last year by the skin of his teeth?

Then Rep. Robin Hayes (R) wants to see you in New Orleans Friday.

Hayes has a private suite set aside at the New Orleans Arena Friday afternoon, where donors can take in some first-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament action: first Memphis vs. North Texas, then Nevada vs. Creighton. Tickets cost $500 for individuals and $2,500 for political action committees.

Hayes, who represents a competitive Charlotte-area district, defeated teacher Larry Kissell (D) by just 300 votes in 2006, and Kissell is seeking a rematch next year.

Kissell has a fundraiser of his own scheduled for March 24, coinciding with a North Carolina Young Democrats convention in Greensboro. Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), one of the leading recruiters for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is headlining the event.

— Josh Kurtz

First-Termer Gillibrand Cranks Up Fundraising

Freshman Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has scheduled her first major in-district fundraiser since entering Congress in January.

First reported by the Albany Times Union, the fundraiser is scheduled for March 24 at a hotel in Saratoga Springs. Ticket prices start at $125.

“The Gillibrand campaign is off to the races once again,” an invitation to the event reads. “With only two months in office, our Congresswoman, Kirsten Gillibrand, has distinguished herself as one of the hardest working members of Congress. The Republicans have taken notice and she is their ‘top target.’”

A handful of Republicans are considering challenging Gillibrand in the GOP-leaning upstate district, led by wealthy former state Republican Chairman Sandy Treadwell. Ex-Rep. John Sweeney (R), whom Gillibrand ousted in November, is said to be exploring the race, but he is considered less likely to run.

— J.K.

Wilson, a Political Brand and a Basketball Brand

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament tips off at noon on Thursday, and so does a fundraiser for freshman Rep. Charlie Wilson (D).

Wilson is hosting a “March Madness” fundraising luncheon tied to the start of the tourney at the National Democratic Club on Capitol Hill. Ticket prices start at $1,000.

Although he represents a conservative district in the Southeast corner of the state that twice voted for President Bush, Wilson thus far is seen as a fairly safe bet for re-election. No Republican has come forward yet to challenge him.

— J.K.

AIDS Activist Kicks Off Second Run for House

Mike LaFevers (D), an AIDS activist who lives in Bradenton, filed papers late last week to run for the 13th district House seat now held by freshman Rep. Vern Buchanan (R), the Bradenton Herald-Tribune reported.

LaFevers attempted to run in 2006, but he failed to qualify for the ballot. Banker Christine Jennings (D) won the Democratic primary and she wound up losing to Buchanan by 369 votes — a result she is continuing to dispute in the courts and before the House Administration Committee.

Although Jennings refuses to talk about 2008, arguing that she still is focused on overturning the controversial 2006 results — she claims a badly designed electronic ballot is to blame for her defeat — it is widely assumed that she will be a candidate again regardless of how her appeals turn out.

— J.K.

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