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Massachusetts: Meehan’s Wife to Chair Tsongas’ House Race

Niki Tsongas (D), running to replace departing Rep. Marty Meehan (D) in the 5th district, announced Wednesday that the Congressman’s wife will serve as her campaign chairwoman, further underscoring that Tsongas is Meehan’s heir apparent.

In a clear signal that Tsongas has Meehan’s backing, Ellen Murphy Meehan — who runs a consulting firm that services health care providers — has joined her campaign. With a possible crowded primary to replace Meehan in the Democratic-leaning seat, the Congressman’s support could prove key to Tsongas’ prospects.

Meehan, meanwhile, will vacate his Lowell-based seat no later than July 1 to become chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, his alma mater. A special election to replace him is scheduled to follow later this year.

Tsongas, a college administrator, is the widow of former Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.). She is joined in the top tier of candidates interested in succeeding Meehan by Eileen Donoghue (D), the former mayor of Lowell and currently a member of its city council, and Middlesex County Sheriff James DiPaola (D).

Some insiders also believe that David O’Brien, a Democratic National Committeeman, could be a formidable candidate.

— David M. Drucker

After ’06 Loss, LaRocco Eyes Challenge to Craig

Fresh off of his losing bid for lieutenant governor, former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D) announced he’ll seek the Democratic nomination for Senate and the right to challenge Sen. Larry Craig (R).

LaRocco lost his bid for Idaho’s No. 2 executive post to incumbent Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R) by 19 points. Risch actually was serving as governor at the time of the election because former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) had vacated the office to join President Bush’s Cabinet.

Craig won re-election in 2002 with 65 percent of the vote, beating his Democratic opponent by 33 points. And because Idaho remains overwhelmingly Republican, LaRocco could face an uphill climb against Craig — although the Senator has not declared whether he intends to run again next year.

— D.M.D.

Unger a Democrat of Choice for Capito Race

State Sen. John Unger (D), who appears to be the choice of state and national Democrats to take on Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) in 2008, is considering a run for Congress.

Unger was in Washington, D.C., recently to meet with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), after being promoted by Mountain State Democrats as the perfect challenger to Capito in the 2nd district.

“We want you to run and we want to support you on that run,” Unger said he was told by Van Hollen during a meeting that took place two weeks ago at the DCCC. “I’m seriously thinking about it.”

Unger expects to make a decision by early summer, and West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey said he believes the state Senator will run.

Unger’s legislative district partially overlaps Capito’s Congressional seat, and where the two meet the state Senator has performed well compared with the Congresswoman, Casey said.

“He’s got geography on his side,” Casey said, adding that he believes Unger will run “if he gets financial backing, particularly from the DCCC.”

Capito won re-election in 2006 in a tough environment for Republicans with 57 percent of the vote, leading Republicans to believe the Congresswoman is prepared to handle whatever challenge is thrown her way next year.

She could face heavy targeting from Democrats, who, with fewer Republicans to pick off now that they’re in the majority, look to Democratic-rich West Virginia to grow their majority, Capito’s success over the past four cycles notwithstanding.

— D.M.D.

Gerlach Hit With Fine Following Complaint

The Federal Election Commission said Wednesday it was hitting Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) with a hefty six-figure fine for keeping messy ledgers over a two-year period.

Gerlach’s campaign will have to pay $120,000 for overreporting $2.2 million in contributions and misreporting $9,000 in refunded contributions.

The FEC’s investigation stemmed from a complaint filed by Lois Murphy, an attorney who has unsuccessfully challenged Gerlach in the past two elections.

Gerlach’s campaign had about $11,000 in cash going into the first quarter of 2007, according to CQ PoliticalMoneyLine.

— Matthew Murray

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