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Maryland: Ehrlich to Host Event for Gilchrest Primary Foe

Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) is aiding state Sen. Andy Harris (R) in his primary challenge of Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R).

Ehrlich, a former Congressional colleague of Gilchrest’s, has stopped short of endorsing Harris outright, however.

Ehrlich announced Wednesday that he’ll be hosting a fundraiser in October for Harris, who entered the race at the beginning of the summer and last month was endorsed by the anti-tax group Club for Growth. The Oct. 16 event will take place in Queen Anne County, in Gilchrest’s figurative backyard.

“Andy Harris has been a consistent leader in promoting our Republican values and beliefs,” Ehrlich said in a statement Wednesday. “His leadership on fighting for lower taxes, eliminating wasteful spending and support for honest government is legendary in the legislature. I am proud to offer my help.”

Chris Meekins, Harris’ political director, conceded that the former governor has not endorsed the challenger yet.

“This is a courtesy for Andy, who raised a lot of money [for Ehrlich’s unsuccessful re-election bid] last year,” Meekins said. “Anything he’s willing to do for us we’ll take and we’ll take graciously.”

Although Ehrlich is not yet endorsing Harris, some of his top financial supporters have done so already.

Harris is the latest in a string of conservative primary challengers to Gilchrest, who has become increasingly critical of President Bush’s Iraq War policies.

Tony Caligiuri, Gilchrest’s chief of staff, called Ehrlich’s decision to aid Harris “old news.”

“I know the governor has a lot of irons in the fire and he’s looking at a political comeback, but I’m not real familiar with what the governor’s political tactics are because he really didn’t interact with us during his re-election campaign,” Caligiuri said. “So we don’t have a great familiarity with how he operates or what his plans are.”

— John McArdle

State Senator Drops Bid, Paving Way for Burner

Democrats caught a major break in the highly competitive 8th district Wednesday, when state Sen. Rodney Tom (D) announced that he was dropping out of the race and deferring to the 2006 nominee, former Microsoft executive Darcy Burner (D).

“Our fundraising was going great, but Darcy Burner’s campaign has been phenomenal,” Tom told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Darcy has over 3,200 contributors, an incredible statement to her broad base of support.”

“Darcy Burner’s campaign has proven they have the leadership, strength and momentum to win next November,” Tom continued.

Tom’s departure means Burner appears to have a clear second shot at sophomore Rep. Dave Reichert (R). Burner, a political neophyte, finished just 3 points behind Reichert last year and Democrats are increasingly confident that the former King County sheriff — one of just eight House Republicans representing districts that President Bush lost in 2004 — can be brought down.

While Burner and Tom skirmished in the two months they were competing head-to-head — Burner’s supporters were quick to point out that the Senator is a former Republican — Burner was gracious about her former rival’s withdrawal.

“I want to publicly thank and commend Senator Tom for the grace with which he conducted his campaign,” she said in a statement. “He has proven himself to be a strong voice for positive change and a wonderful addition to the Democratic Party.”

According to the Post-Intelligencer, Tom will personally pay for all the expenses his campaign has incurred so far and will fully reimburse all of his contributors.

— Josh Kurtz

GOP: Businessman Can Hackett Versus Carney

In businessman Chris Hackett (R), the Republicans think they might finally have a candidate capable of ousting Rep. Chris Carney (D) in the solidly GOP 10th district.

Carney, who won the seat last year partly due to former Rep. Don Sherwood’s (R) scandal-ridden personal life, is well-regarded in his district and reasonably positioned for re-election considering the strong Republican bent of his district.

Hackett, however, sees an opening, claiming that Carney hasn’t followed through on his campaign promises.

“Chris Carney made many promises to get elected, and has let us down,” Hackett said in a statement as he announced his candidacy. “Carney says one thing to get elected here at home, and does another in support of his liberal friends in Washington.”

Carney closed the second quarter with a healthy $445,000 on hand. He might need it, as the National Republican Congressional Committee has said Carney will be one of its top targets in next year’s elections.

— David M. Drucker

Hart Returns to D.C. This Week to Raise Cash

Former Rep. Melissa Hart (R), who hopes to get her old job back in the 4th district, is in Washington, D.C., this week to raise money for her 2008 candidacy and obtain the support of House Republicans, according to a House GOP leadership aide.

This aide said Hart participated in a fundraiser Tuesday morning with House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and made an appearance at the weekly House Republican Conference meeting.

Hart lost her Republican-leaning suburban Pittsburgh seat last year to now-Rep. Jason Altmire (D). Altmire reported banking $514,000 to close the second quarter, putting him well out in front of Hart in the money chase.

Hart only recently jumped into the race, and banked only $3,700 to close the second quarter.

— D.M.D.

Main Street Backing Sununu and Bradley

The Republican Main Street Partnership political action committee has endorsed Sen. John Sununu (R) in his bid to win a second term next year.

RMSP, a group that supports and funds centrist Republicans, also has backed former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) in his bid to reclaim his old job representing the 1st district.

Sununu is bracing for a tough campaign next year, with the popular former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) poised to enter the race. Several polls have shown that Sununu would lose to Shaheen by a wide margin if she runs against him.

Sununu closed the second quarter with $2.1 million on hand. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is expected to contest the seat heavily.

— D.M.D.

Club for Growth Hit With $350,000 FEC Fine

The Federal Election Commission on Wednesday reached a deal with the conservative anti-tax group Citizens Club for Growth, which would escape an ongoing lawsuit by paying a fine for violating campaign finance laws. The agreement adds yet another scalp to the FEC’s ongoing crackdown of outside political groups.

The group, known previously as the Club for Growth, would pay $350,000 in exchange for the FEC’s withdrawal of a lawsuit against the Club that was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which still must OK the deal. The suit alleged that between 2000 and 2004 the group, which at the time was not registered with the commission as a political committee, spent at least $1.28 million taking sides in federal races, mailing out fundraising pleas and taking in excessive campaign contributions.

Because the Club made both more than $1,000 in expenditures and received more than $1,000 in contributions, it met the statutory definition of a political committee and was required to register and report with the FEC, provided that its major purpose “was to influence federal elections,” according to a statement Wednesday by the commission.

In February, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the Club for Growth president, told club members the group was phasing out its 527 status, switching the bulk of its activities to a registered political action committee and a 501(c)(4), a section of the tax code used by social welfare organizations.

“I’ll spare you all the minute details here, but in a nutshell, when you first joined the old Club it was a ‘527’ organization,” Toomey wrote in a mass e-mail. “Such groups proved so effective at highlighting the harmful policies of Members of Congress and presidential candidates like John Kerry that the political class made it practically impossible to continue in that type of structure.”

— Matthew Murray

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