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Connecticut: With Goalie Out of Game, Party Activist Eyes Shays

Although they lost a potential celebrity challenger last week, when former New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter announced that he would not run, Democrats insist that they won’t give Rep. Christopher Shays (R) a free pass in 2008.

Despite the favorable political climate for Democrats last fall, and the fact that Shays is one of eight House Republicans sitting in a district that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) carried in the 2004 presidential election, the Congressman won an 11th term by 4 points. But Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) predicted Monday that Shays could be in even more danger in 2008 because more Democrats will turn out to vote in a presidential year.

One well-placed Democratic source in the 4th district, however, said that the party missed its chance to knock off Shays in the previous presidential cycle.

“The best shot of winning was in 2004, and the national party missed the boat,” the source said. “They invested only $100,000 in the race, and [nominee] Diane Farrell got 48 percent. In 2006, the national party made it a priority, but in a non-presidential year that district is tough. Even in a presidential year that district is tough.”

Richter was in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to meet with Democrats in the Connecticut House delegation and with Van Hollen, and he also appeared at the weekly Caucus lunch. But Richter, who helped now-Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) get elected in November, decided that his three sons were too young for him to mount an aggressive campaign.

With Richter out of the picture, the leading potential candidates appear to be state Rep. James Shapiro (D) and Jim Himes, chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee.

Himes, a Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar, runs the New York City office of Enterprise, a nonprofit provider of affordable housing for low-income residents. A former vice president at Goldman Sachs, he is scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to meet with the DCCC. The well-placed Democratic source said Himes should be in a position to self-finance some of his race.

Himes said that if he runs, he’ll appeal to voters that other Shays challengers haven’t been able to reach.

“I grew up in Latin America and am fluent in Spanish,” he said, “and the fastest-growing demographic in the district is Latino. With my dedication to community service and things like affordable housing, I feel I’m in a good position to span very different demographics in the district.”

Julie Shutley, a National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman, said, “The fact that three of the leading Republican nominees for President have proven they can win in blue states will be a tremendous asset for Chris Shays in 2008.”

— Daniel Heim

Ex-Marine Exploring Bid Against Rep. Hall

Iraq War veteran Kieran Michael Lalor (R) has set up an exploratory committee as he considers whether to challenge freshman Rep. John Hall (D) in the Hudson Valley 19th district.

Hall, a former rock musician, rode the anti-GOP wave to upset then-Rep. Sue Kelly (R) in November, and Republicans are eager to win the seat back. They are looking for a high-profile challenger, and Lalor does not automatically fit the bill.

But as a former Marine corporal who runs a group dedicated to winning the war on terror, known as the Eternal Vigilance Society, Lalor has gotten a certain amount of ink and air time in the New York area. He founded the group because he felt liberals were using their opposition to the Iraq War for political gain.

Lalor was a Marine reservist who had just begun law school when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks took place. His unit was deployed to Iraq in March 2003. He later volunteered in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit and was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his work there.

“Kieran Michael Lalor is a proven leader who has demonstrated uncommon devotion to his country and the Hudson Valley,” the exploratory committee’s Web site states. It goes on to accuse Hall of representing the values of “Hollywood elites and liberal extremists.”

— Josh Kurtz

Cole Headlining Event for Walberg Tonight

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) is headlining a dinner and reception for freshman Rep. Tim Walberg (R) tonight at Bistro Bis, near the Capitol.

Walberg, who beat then-Rep. Joe Schwarz in the GOP primary last year, is soliciting contributions from $1,000 to $2,000.

Democrats think Walberg, an unyielding conservative, could be vulnerable in the south-central 7th district.

Schwarz was a moderate, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said Walberg is “not in sync” with the majority of the district that gave President Bush 54 percent of the vote in the 2004 White House election.

— Nicole Duran

Burner Cites Controversy Over Attorneys in E-mail

Darcy Burner (D), who came within 2 points of toppling Rep. Dave Reichert (R) in November, is wasting no time in getting her rematch off the ground.

Burner, who announced earlier this month that she would try again in 2008, weighed in on the controversy surrounding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys across the country.

“I am deeply troubled by the removal of U.S. Attorneys, including John McKay for what appear to be partisan political reasons,” she wrote in an e-mail last week to supporters.

Burner called for an independent investigation into the matter that has Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in a fix with Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill.

McKay was the Republican U.S. attorney in Seattle and was among those fired. Critics of his firing believe it had to do with his rulings in the contested 2004 gubernatorial election.

Reichert’s suburban Seattle 8th district is a true swing district. Republican leaders know that the former King County sheriff is unlikely to ever get a pass and have added him to their fundraising program aimed at helping vulnerable incumbents, Retain Our Majority Program.

Despite Burner’s close call in November, she may have to fight for the Democratic nomination as state Rep. Ross Hunter, who Democratic leaders tried to recruit in the previous cycle, is weighing a bid.

— N.D.

Jones Tells Chambliss He’s Challenging Him

DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones officially filed paperwork earlier this month to challenge Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) in 2008, becoming the first Democrat to enter the Senate contest.

Jones filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on March 16, listing “Vernon Jones for Georgia” as his principal campaign committee. According to the filing, Jones does not plan to spend any personal money on the contest.

Jones visited Washington, D.C., recently and met with Chambliss, as well as with freshman Rep. Hank Johnson (D), to inform both men of his candidacy, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week.

Jones is term-limited and cannot seek re-election to his current job in 2008.

Still, political observers remain skeptical that Democrats can generate a competitive contest against Chambliss next year. The Peach State has undergone a Republican revolution in recent years, and Democrats there appear to have an even steeper uphill climb in a presidential election year.

— Lauren W. Whittington

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