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Illinois: Seals Officially Kicks Off Second Try to Oust Kirk

On Wednesday Dan Seals (D) officially launched his bid for a rematch with Rep. Mark Kirk (R) in the 10th district.

Seals, who captured 47 percent of the vote last year despite being a complete unknown, does not have the Democratic field to himself, however.

Business consultant Jay Footlik (D) already said he would return to the area from Washington, D.C. — he grew up in Skokie, which is not in the 10th district, but has not lived in Illinois since high school — to run.

Local Democrats had hoped to clear the field for Seals, who in the words of one party activist who did not want to be named, had “earned it,” but they could not dissuade Footlik from running.

“I had a primary last time as well, and I’m a business person,” Seals said. “I’m used to competition and I welcome him to the race.”

Seals does not hide his disappointment with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee but said this is a new cycle.

“They didn’t really play much of a role in the last campaign, much to my chagrin, but this time they are paying close attention,” Seals said.

Seals ultimately raised $2 million without national help and forced Kirk, a leading Republican moderate, to dump $3.5 million on his way to narrowly securing a fourth term.

The DCCC finally lent Seals a hand in the campaign’s closing days but it was not enough to overcome Kirk in the 10th, which is based in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

Kirk is one of only eight Republican Congressmen representing seats won by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential election, and the DCCC is unlikely to ignore the district again.

“Since coming to Washington, Mark Kirk has been a rubber stamp for the Bush administration, voting with Bush every four out of five times, and supporting [President] Bush’s failed ‘stay the course’ agenda in Iraq. But now, after a poor election performance against Dan Seals in 2006, Kirk’s running scared,” said Ryan Rudominer, a DCCC spokesman.

But Republican operatives argue that Kirk is battled-tested and that his views suit his district.

“Kirk is working overtime and will be well-prepared to take on either candidate that makes it out of what will surely be a bruising primary,” said Julie Shutley, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “His first-quarter numbers show he will take any challenge very seriously, but his hard work for the people of Illinois will be what gets him re-elected in 2008.”

Kirk, who is part of the NRCC’s Regain Our Majority Program, ended March with $626,000 cash on hand.

Seals, who had $37,000 in the bank as of April 1, said his biggest advantage will be the early start he is getting this time. Last cycle he only campaigned for 11 months.

“When you’re a new candidate people need time,” Seals said. “They need to see you to really get what you’re all about.”

Seals understands last year was unusual and the wave that won Democrats 30 new House seats is unlikely to crest again.

“My message was never ‘Democrats good, Republicans bad,’” Seals said. “That’s not the kind of campaign I ran. You can’t put politics in front of policy.

“We’ve seen awful leadership on both sides of the aisle and I think I’m better positioned to get us back on track than Mark Kirk is.”
— Nicole Duran

Ravenel Cocaine Bust Shakes Up State Politics

Popular state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel (R) was indicted Tuesday for allegedly possessing and planning to distribute cocaine late last year. The federal grand jury’s probe alleges that Ravenel, along with another man, had the cocaine around the same time as his much-publicized victory this past November.

If convicted, Ravenel faces up to 20 years in jail with no possibility of parole and a $1 million fine. Local media reports indicate Gov. Mark Sanford (R) has suspended Ravenel during the investigation.

Ravenel, a wealthy real estate developer, is the son of former Rep. Arthur Ravenel Jr. (R-S.C.). He ran a close third in the open-seat GOP primary that now-Sen. Jim DeMint won in 2004.

Just 40 years old, he was seen as a rising star in state politics before the drug bust and was being encouraged by some conservative groups to challenge Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) in next year’s GOP Senate primary.
— Matthew Murray

Conservatives Fund PAC Backs Former Colleague

Former Rep. Jim Ryun (R), hoping to win the 2nd district GOP primary and challenge Rep. Nancy Boyda (D) for his old job, was endorsed this week by the House Conservatives Fund, a political action committee.

“There can be no doubt that Jim Ryun is a proven conservative,” Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Conservatives Fund, said in a statement. “And it just makes sense to elect a proven conservative to represent a conservative district.”

To earn a shot at Boyda, Ryun must first get by state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins, who also is running in the GOP primary. Even though the Eastern Kansas 2nd district leans Republican, Boyda came from behind last year to pull off a close upset.
— David M. Drucker

Jennings Loses Another Round in Appeals Court

A Florida appeals court this week denied Democrat Christine Jennings’ request to access the inner workings of electronic voting machines that she claims cost her the 13th district election in November.

The court’s decision ends Jennings’ quest to have a state court sort out whether malfunctioning machines led to thousands of “undervotes,” which Jennings believes handed the open-seat election to now-Rep. Vern Buchanan (R). State auditors confirmed late last year that Buchanan won the seat by 369 votes.

But Jennings, who has yet to concede, continues to press her case. Last week, a special House task force voted to have the Government Accountability Office look into the matter and report back by July 27.
— M.M.

Democrat Files Papers to Challenge Rep. Keller

A trial lawyer and former prosecutor announced on Tuesday he will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge four-term Rep. Ric Keller (R) next year.

Mike Smith (D), a lifelong Central Florida resident, was an assistant state attorney for three years before becoming an in-house lawyer with State Farm Insurance. He is now a partner at Orlando-based Morgan & Morgan, a firm specializing in personal injury, malpractice and negligence cases.

Smith is a graduate of the University of Florida and Stetson University School of Law. He and his wife have two children.

After two relatively easy re-election battles, Keller took just 53 percent of the vote in his GOP-leaning district, fueling Democrats’ optimism about their prospects in 2008. Keller also faces a challenge from the right in the Republican primary.
— M.M.

Coal Association Chief Enters 2008 Space Race

A third Republican has entered the ring for the right to challenge freshman Rep. Zack Space (D) next year.

Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association, told the Coshocton Tribune on Tuesday that he would seek his party’s nomination in the 18th district.

Attorney Paul Phillips and former county magistrate Jeanette Moll are also seeking the GOP nomination.

Although the district, formerly represented by now-incarcerated ex-Rep. Bob Ney (R), is strongly Republican, Democrats believe Space is well-positioned to win a second term. Space refuses campaign contributions from lobbyists and has made lobbying reform a top priority in Congress.

“Congressman Space is an independent voice for his district who is changing the way business is done in Washington by standing up for tough ethics and lobbying reform, protecting our borders, and strengthening the local economy,” said Ryan Rudominer, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman.
— N.D.

Will Kerrey Homecoming Fuel Senate Bid Rumors?

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) is scheduled on Saturday to headline a fundraising dinner for the Nebraska Democratic Party.

The Morrison-Exon Dinner, set for Omaha, will also feature a joint news conference with Kerrey and Sen. Ben Nelson (D). Kerrey, who is now the president of The New School University in New York, has been rumored as a possible Senate candidate in 2008, but said in a newspaper report that there is little chance of him running.
— D.M.D.

As Republicans Attack, Lampson Asks for Cash

Rep. Nick Lampson (D) this week e-mailed an appeal for campaign funds in response to a robo-call hit and web video launched against him by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Referring to the NRCC as “political opportunists” and likening it to a “special interest” group, Lampson pledged in the letter that “the attacks will not stop us.”

“I’ve been working hard to meet your goals in the House of Representatives since taking office in January,” Lampson wrote. “However, while I’ve been focusing on important issues, the [NRCC] and other special interest groups already started running negative radio ads and phone calls in the district.”

The Republican-leaning, suburban Houston 22nd district is a top target of the NRCC.

The committee believes voters there will kick Lampson out if offered a qualified GOP candidate. Lampson’s victory in November was characterized by the absence of a Republican candidate on the ballot — a situation created when former Rep. Tom DeLay (R) withdrew his name and a Democratic lawsuit succeeded in prevented the GOP from replacing the former Majority Leader on the ballot with a new candidate.

The NRCC recently targeted Lampson for his vote on a budget that the committee claims will saddle voters with a heavy tax increase. Lampson responded in the letter that — among other benefits to the district generated by his voting record — he is working to ensure funding for NASA, whose Johnson Space Center is located in Houston.

The Republican primary field in the 22nd district is still fluid. Former Rep. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs (R), who was elected in a November special election to fill out the remainder of DeLay’s term — she served for three weeks — already is campaigning. However, she is not a favorite of Republican insiders and the GOP is still searching for a more desirable candidate.

“The primary field is still in the process of sorting itself out, but at the end of the day, Nick Lampson still remains one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress, with a voting record that doesn’t match up with the values of his district,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said.
— D.M.D.

Maloney’s Garden Party Sparks Senate Speculation

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) is hosting a “first annual” garden party fundraiser at her Upper East Side town house in New York on Monday, with ticket prices ranging from $500 to $4,600.

“Without your continued support, the Democrats will be in danger of losing the majority,” Maloney wrote in the invitation, which warned against “strong and hateful campaigns” being waged by Republican candidates.

First reported this week in The Daily Politics, the political blog of the New York Daily News, Maloney’s fundraiser has fueled speculation that the eight-term Congresswoman could be looking to stock up on campaign cash in case Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D) Senate seat becomes vacant after the 2008 election. Should Clinton be elected president, Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) gets to name her replacement, and several elected officials would probably angle for the appointment.

While Maloney’s Congressional seat is probably secure for as long as she wants it, a fatter campaign treasury will help her pay her dues at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. According to a DCCC document obtained by Roll Call, through June 18 Maloney had given the committee just $30,000 of the $250,000 she’s expected to contribute.

Maloney had $804,000 in her campaign account as of March 31.
— Josh Kurtz

FEC Hits Realtors’ 527 for Failing to Register

The Federal Election Commission is fining a 527 group affiliated with the National Association of Realtors for failing to register with the agency as a political committee during the 2004 election cycle.

According to the plea deal, the group will pay $78,000 for distributing direct-mail pieces and placing newspaper ads “expressly advocat[ing] the election of federal candidates,” according to the FEC settlement.

The group received $2.9 million from NAR during the cycle, spending $2.3 million on direct-mail campaigns and print ads.

“Its sole purpose was to advocate the election of federal candidates,” the commission concluded.
— M.M.

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