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Colorado: Paccione Decides Against Rematch With Musgrave

Giving a boost to Democratic hopes of ousting Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) in the 4th district, former state Rep. Angie Paccione, the 2006 Democratic nominee, dropped out of the race Wednesday.

Paccione said in a brief telephone interview that she changed her mind about running in 2008 to pursue a private-sector opportunity that she described as too good to pass up.

Her exit should help Democratic establishment favorite Betsy Markey consolidate her support and possibly avoid a contentious primary. Eric Eidsness, a former Republican who garnered 11 percent of the vote last year running on the Reform Party line, is still in the Democratic race.

Markey, a former aide to Sen. Ken Salazar (D), was scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to raise money for her campaign.

Paccione lost to Musgrave last year by a narrow 2.5 points and with the help of Eidsness held the incumbent Republican to 45.6 percent of the vote.

Paccione said she has no plans to endorse either of the two Democrats who remain in the 2008 race.

— David M. Drucker

Iraq War Vet Challenging Sali for Republican Nod

Iraq War veteran Matt Salisbury is challenging freshman Rep. Bill Sali in the 2008 Republican primary, and has at least one prominent Idaho GOP hand on board his insurgent campaign.

Former Canyon County Republican Party Chairman Pat Takasugi, a farmer and the ex-director of the state Department of Agriculture under three governors, is chairing Salisbury’s campaign.

Salisbury has never run for elective office.

Despite representing a heavily Republican district, Sali limped to victory in the general election in November after winning just 26 percent of the vote in a crowded GOP primary.

— D.M.D.

Retired Army Gen. Clark Backs LaRocco for Senate

Former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D), running an uphill battle for Senate in the conservative Gem State, has been endorsed by retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark.

“Larry is a seasoned, experienced leader who will bring the change we need to the U.S. Senate,” said Clark, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. “He served with distinction, not only in our military but also in Congress, and he can win this race. It is wide open.”

The Republicans do not yet have an announced candidate in this race, but earlier this year, popular Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R) said he would run if Sen. Larry Craig (R) did not — which in light of the scandal surrounding Craig’s arrest in a Minnesota airport bathroom is now a certainty.

Risch, who has also served as acting governor, last year beat LaRocco by 19 points in the race for lieutenant governor.

— D.M.D.

Keenan Huddles With GOP Leaders on Senate

Former state Senate President Bob Keenan (R) was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) about the possibility of running against Sen. Max Baucus (D) in 2008.

Keenan, who unsuccessfully challenged then-Sen. Conrad Burns (R) in the 2006 GOP primary, also is pondering a gubernatorial bid, though he predicted that 2008 will be a difficult year for Republicans in Montana and nationwide.

“I’m pretty much just considering the possibility [of running for the Senate],” Keenan told The Associated Press this week. “I’m wide open. There’s a lot of pressure and assumption and expectation that I might run for governor of Montana as well. The third and most attractive option is to skip the ’08 cycle and go on with my life.”

At the outset of the 2008 cycle, national Republicans made denying Baucus a sixth term a top priority, but they have had some trouble finding a top-tier challenger. The only candidate so far is former state House Majority Leader Michael Lange (R), whose candidacy has been hampered by a profanity-laced tirade he issued earlier this year against popular Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D).

Keenan told the paper that by meeting with Senate Republican leaders, he hoped to gauge their commitment to the Montana race.

“Sen. Ensign is happy to speak with an experienced Montana Republican about ways to defeat Max Baucus next November,” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher told Roll Call on Wednesday.

— Josh Kurtz

Hastert Says He Won’t Force a Special Election

Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) is still uncertain whether he’ll serve out the remainder of his term ahead of next year’s election.

Illinois’ early February primary already has drawn two prominent Republican candidates into the race, dairy scion Jim Oberweis and state Sen. Chris Lauzen. Depending on when he leaves, an early departure by Hastert could force a special election to temporarily fill his seat, and some Republicans privately fear that a special election would jeopardize the GOP’s hold on the exurban Chicago seat.

But Hastert said this week that if he leaves before the end of 2008, he will time his exit so that a special election would not be necessary.

“I don’t see a primary before the primary,” Hastert told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Republicans gathered Wednesday night to honor Hastert at a fundraiser benefiting the National Republican Congressional Committee. The “Salute to Speaker Hastert” event was held at the Capitol Hill Club and was expected to raise around $500,000, a total far exceeding the initial goal.

The 32-Member host committee included Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.), NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) and Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), as well as members of Hastert’s former leadership team. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who often was a thorn in the side of GOP leaders during Hastert’s tenure, also was among the event hosts.

Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), who has led the committee’s debt retirement effort, said the response from Members for the Hastert event has been overwhelming.

“As receptions go at the Capitol Hill Club this has been a real blowout,” English said. “I really feel that Republicans in the House are fired up and I think that this is a very good indication of their commitment.”

— Matthew Murray and Lauren W. Whittington

Generic GOPer Is Close to Lautenberg in Poll

Not that it will matter on Election Day next year, but a statewide poll shows potential trouble on the horizon for Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D) presumed 2008 re-election bid.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll showed Lautenberg narrowly in front of an un-named Republican challenger, 39 percent to 36 percent, as 54 percent of voters said the 83- year-old incumbent is too old to “effectively” serve another term.

According to the survey, 42 percent of voters approved of Lautenberg’s job performance, with 34 percent disapproving. The poll of 1,230 New Jersey voters was conducted Sept. 18-23, and had a margin of error of 2.8 points.

Statewide polls of New Jersey voters often show soft support for Democratic incumbents, giving Republicans what turns out on Election Day to be false hope that victory might be attainable.

Two Republicans, real estate developer Anne Evans Estabrook and state Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio, are considering running against Lautenberg next year. Lautenberg has yet to formally announce his candidacy but has said repeatedly that he intends to seek another term in 2008.

Most New Jersey voters believe government corruption is a serious problem, and they blame Democrats for the corruption more than Republicans. But those same voters still prefer Democrats over Republicans in state and federal office by healthy margins, the Quinnipiac poll found.

Even U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie (R), who receives high marks in the survey for his efforts to stamp out government corruption in New Jersey, is not a preferred candidate for governor or Senator. The poll showed that voters by a 30 percent to 24 percent margin, with 46 percent undecided, would prefer Christie not run for Senate in 2008.

This survey was taken on the heels of 10 local Democratic officials being indicted on corruption charges.

— D.M.D.

Without Top Challenger, Democrats Touting Poll

The latest SurveyUSA automated telephone poll showed Sen. Pete Domenici’s (R) approval rating to be upside down, with 41 percent approving and 54 percent disapproving.

Just a month earlier, Domenici had a 52 percent approval rating.

The poll of 600 adults was conducted Sept. 14-16 and had a margin of error of 4.1 points. In the same survey, Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D) approval rating was at 58 percent, with 34 percent disapproving.

Democrats were buoyed by the results and believe the polls proves that Domenici, currently serving his sixth term, is in trouble next year.

“The people of New Mexico are clearly unhappy that Pete Domenici is more loyal to George Bush and his failed policies than to the families of New Mexico,” Brian Colón, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said in a statement.

But Democrats have had trouble recruiting a top-tier — or even a second-tier — challenger into the race. Some hold out hope that Gov. Bill Richardson (D) will decide to launch a last-minute Senate bid, assuming his presidential campaign fizzles. New Mexico’s filing deadline is in mid-February, just days after the “Tsunami Tuesday” presidential primaries and caucuses of Feb. 5.

Domenici has not won an election with less than 65 percent of the vote since 1978. Republicans, while acknowledging the results of the new poll, countered that Domenici would have no problem on Election Day.

“Sen. Domenici’s approval ratings have fluctuated over the past months but have always returned to high approval levels,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said. “We have no doubt that the people of New Mexico overwhelmingly support the Senator and all he does for the state.”

— D.M.D.

Ex-Governor’s Son Eyes Challenge to Alexander

Businessman Mike McWherter (D), the son of former Gov. Ned McWherter (D), announced this week that he has formed an exploratory committee to consider whether to challenge Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) in 2008.

“I’ve been honored to hear encouragement from Tennesseans in all parts of the state — East, Middle and West — who say they’re ready for a positive change in Washington, D.C.,” McWherter told The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. “I want to continue the dialogue on how we change the direction in our country for the future of our kids and grandkids.”

McWherter, 51, practiced law until his father was elected governor in 1986, then took over the family’s liquor distribution business in Jackson. The elder McWherter remains a popular figure in the Volunteer State, and voter goodwill toward him could boost his son’s candidacy.

But Alexander, who also served as governor and as secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, has been a fixture in Tennessee politics for ages and must be considered the heavy favorite.

Although McWherter hasn’t formally committed to entering the race — he said his decision would be “brief, but deliberate” — former state Democratic Party Chairman Bob Tuke, a Nashville lawyer who also was contemplating a Senate bid, has decided to defer to him.

“I’m going to help him,” Tuke told the paper. “I always thought that if Mike really wanted to do it, I’d step aside.”

— J.K.

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