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Nebraska: Johanns to Formally Kick Off Senate Bid on Oct. 10

Recently resigned Agriculture Secretary and former Gov. Mike Johanns (R) is set to announce his Senate candidacy Oct. 10-12 with a fly-around across the Cornhusker State, according to Republican insiders.

Meanwhile, hopeful Democrats still are awaiting word from former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D). The popular Vietnam War hero, who has lived in New York since retiring from the Senate in 2001, is considering running for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel (R).

Kerrey “has spent time talking to Nebraskans, to his family and to individuals whose opinion he values in an attempt to make a decision that is complicated by the same sort of stuff you and I face whenever we contemplate changing jobs,” said one Kerrey confidant.

“On the one hand you have a compelling desire to serve your nation and help address many of the issues we face as a nation — like the war on terror, Iraq, health care, etc. On the other hand, you have to weigh the impact that making a change has on your family and your current employers.”

Kerrey is president of New York’s New School. His entrance into the Nebraska Senate race could put Hagel’s seat in play, despite the state’s strong Republican bent.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Hal Daub dropped out of the GOP primary race last week and endorsed Johanns, leaving the ex-governor to battle with state Attorney General Jon Bruning for the Republican nomination. Bruning has been campaigning since the spring.

— David M. Drucker

Olson Shows Fundraising Prowess of His Ex-Bosses

Pete Olson, running in the 22nd district Republican primary, raised $211,000 in the third quarter and banked $180,000 — despite jumping into the race just 45 days ago.

Olson recently left his job as Sen. John Cornyn’s (R) chief of staff and moved back to the Houston suburbs to run for the seat currently held by Rep. Nick Lampson (D). Former Sen. Phil Gramm (R), whom Olson also has worked for, is scheduled to headline a fundraiser for him on Oct. 28.

“I like our numbers this quarter,” Olson said this week during a telephone interview.

Olson said his donors represented a cross-section of his existing contacts and came from the district, Texas generally, Washington, D.C., and such states as California, New York, Oregon and Vermont.

The 22nd district leans Republican, and the March 4 primary is shaping up as a crowded affair, with more than a half-dozen Republicans either running or examining a bid.

— D.M.D.

With Self-Funder as Foe, Noriega Raises $570K

State Rep. Rick Noriega, running for the Democratic Senate nomination against wealthy attorney Mikal Watts, raised $570,000 in the third quarter and expects to report about $500,000 in cash on hand, his campaign revealed this week.

That total leaves him significantly behind Watts, who has performed well on the fundraising circuit and loaned a healthy chunk of his own fortune to his Senate campaign.

Watts’ third-quarter numbers were unavailable at press time Wednesday, but the San Antonio trial attorney announced in mid-September that he had loaned another $3.69 million to his primary campaign account, bringing the total he has loaned himself thus far to $7.5 million.

However, the Noriega campaign remains pleased with its effort.

“Rick Noriega’s strength is his story,” campaign manager Sue Schechter said in a statement.

According to Noriega’s campaign, the $570,000 he raised in the third quarter is better than three of the Democratic challengers who went on to beat Senate Republican incumbents in the 2006 elections — including now-Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Jim Webb (Va.).

In September, when Watts announced he was loaning his campaign another $3.69 million, he pledged that all funds he raised in the future would go to his general election account and be reserved for battling incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R).

“Mikal proved his fundraising ability when he raised raised over a million dollars in the first 30 days of his campaign,” campaign spokeswoman Kim Devlin said. “We’re very confident we’ll have the resources necessary to run an aggressive, modern campaign, and tell the people of Texas about the kind of positive change Mikal Watts will bring to Washington as Texas’ next United States Senator.”

— D.M.D.

DCCC Gets Its Woman in Race for Weller’s Seat

Debbie Halvorson, the popular Majority Leader of the Illinois state Senate, confirmed Tuesday that she will make an open-seat run and attempt to replace retiring Rep. Jerry Weller (R) in the Land of Lincoln’s 11th district.

Halvorson’s decision to run is a major recruiting victory for House Democrats, who claim the district is trending in their direction — even though they only have had one tight challenge against Weller since he took office in 1994.

Halvorson’s entry into the race almost certainly is going to clear the Democratic field. More than a half-dozen Republicans, meanwhile, are considering whether to enter the GOP primary.

— Matthew Murray

Buehrer Gets Backing of Two Conservative Groups

State Sen. Steve Buehrer (R), one of two leading candidates in the special election to replace the late Rep. Paul Gillmor (R), received endorsements from two groups this week, including the Club for Growth.

The club cited Buehrer’s vote against former Republican Gov. Bob Taft’s budget a few years back, which included the largest tax hike in state history, as a primary reason for backing Buehrer. His chief opponent, state Rep. Bob Latta (R), voted for the tax hike, according to the club.

“Unfortunately, Bob Latta is trying to sell himself as an economic conservative, hoping he can paper over his tax-happy record during the short five weeks until he primary special election,” Club for Growth President Pat Toomey wrote.

Buehrer also was endorsed by Ohio-based group The Liberty Committee, which according to its Web site, seeks to “recruit, train and support principled conservative candidates for public office.”

Latta’s campaign responded that he is not concerned about the outside group and touted his recent announcement that he had raised more than $150,000 from individuals since he announced his candidacy in mid-September. Latta campaign manager Matt Parker also said former Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) will host a fundraiser for his boss in the coming weeks in Washington, D.C.

The special election primary, which likely will decide the next Member representing the heavily Republican district, will be held on Nov. 6. The general election is scheduled for Dec. 11.

The winner will replace Gillmor, who died in early September after holding the seat since narrowly defeating Latta in the 1988 GOP primary. Latta’s father held the seat before Gillmor.

— Shira Toeplitz

O’Neill Claims Record for Novice Fundraising

Former Ohio Appeals Court Judge Bill O’Neill (D) announced Wednesday that he raised more than $100,000 in the third quarter of the year, a number his campaign says is a record for first-time candidates in Ohio’s 14th district. O’Neill’s campaign said the former judge will report having about $78,000 in cash on hand through Sept. 30.

The only Democrat to file thus far for the race, O’Neill is seen by many party leaders as the likely challenger to Rep. Steven LaTourette (R), whose campaign said it still is calculating his third-quarter financial report.

O’Neill campaign manager Toby Fallsgraff said the Democrat’s financial showing “casts aside any doubt that Bill O’Neill can raise the kind of money needed to win in a competitive Congressional race.”

A former appeals court judge, O’Neill refused to take any financial contribution in his 2006 race for the Ohio Supreme Court, saying “money and judges don’t mix.”

O’Neill does not yet have any competition for the nod.

— S.T.

Hafer Gets Key Union Support Against Murphy

Government affairs consultant Beth Hafer has received the endorsement of the Communication Workers of America in her bid for the Democratic nomination in the 18th Congressional district. Hafer is the daughter of former state Auditor Barbara Hafer (D).

“A union member herself, Beth Hafer is a passionate and tenacious advocate for Pennsylvania’s families,” said Jim Short, the union’s district vice president, in a statement. The union’s 13th district represents approximately 10,000 workers in the greater Pittsburgh area.

Hafer will face Pittsburgh seafood market owner Dan Wholey, businessman Steve O’Donnell and Brien Wall, who works in the insurance industry, among others, for the Democratic nomination.

The winner will face Rep. Tim Murphy (R), a three-term Member who won his district with 58 percent of the vote in 2006. In the past Democrats have not targeted the 18th district, but as Pennsylvania — and Pittsburgh in particular — consistently vote more Democratic, more attention has been placed on Murphy’s suburban district.

— S.T.

Challenger Cranking Up Fundraising for Primary

Jeff Crank, who is challenging freshman Rep. Doug Lamborn in next year’s 5th district Republican primary, reported raising $77,000 since jumping into the race seven weeks ago.

Crank finished the third-quarter reporting period with more than $70,000 in cash on hand, according to a campaign aide, although the exact figure was unavailable Wednesday.

“The outpouring of support is gratifying and motivating,” Crank said in a statement. “We are humbled by the many new people who have joined our team and we are particularly proud to see many familiar names on our supporter rolls.”

Crank finished a close second to Lamborn in the 2006 Republican primary, a crowded, mud-slinging affair that left Crank itching for a rematch. Crank was a one-time aide to popular former Rep. Joel Hefley (R), the popular former Member who retired last year after two decades of service and withheld his endorsement of Lamborn in the general election after backing Crank in the primary.

This time around, Crank’s effort could be aided by the fact that the primary is likely to be less crowded, although retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn (R), who also ran in 2006, is poised to announce his 2008 candidacy.

— D.M.D.

His Eidsness Wide Open, Candidate Drops Out

Eric Eidsness became the second Democrat in two weeks to drop out of the 4th district primary — and in doing so appears to have cleared Betsy Markey’s path to the Democratic nomination.

Markey, a former member of Sen. Ken Salazar’s (D) staff, is the choice of the Democratic establishment to take on Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R), who garnered less than 50 percent of the vote in November while barely defeating then-state Rep. Angie Paccione — despite the Republican bent of her Fort Collins-area district.

Paccione dropped out of the Democratic primary last week, citing a private-sector opportunity too good to pass up.

“While my populist message appeals to a broad range of voters, particularly in the more rural areas, I do not have the support I will need here in Larimer County to win the Democratic nomination,” Eidsness, a former Republican, told The Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper.

Eidsness won 11 percent of the vote last year running on the Reform Party slate.

— D.M.D.

GOP’s Robocalls Blast Unannounced Contender

The Staten Island Republican Party has been paying for robocalls into voters’ homes, blasting Rep. Vito Fossella’s (R) likely Democratic challenger for not speaking out about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearances in New York last week.

Staten Island GOP Chairman John Friscia told the Staten Island Advance on Wednesday that he arranged for the calls to random telephones in the Staten Island and Brooklyn Congressional district, which targeted New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia (D), who is exploring a bid against Fossella.

“You haven’t heard anything from him,” Friscia told the newspaper. “He wants to be a civil leader and he says nothing.”

Democrats took the robocalls as a sign that Republicans fear Recchia.

“I’m not even a candidate for Congress, and Fossella and the Republicans on Staten Island are extremely nervous about this,” Recchia said. “Just goes to show you I’m the candidate who could win.”

A council colleague told the Advance that the GOP calls were plain wrong, because Recchia had joined a statement issued by the council speaker condemning Ahmadinejad.

Recchia, who is term-limited in 2009, has formed an exploratory committee but has not yet formally entered the race. Lawyer Steve Harrison, the Democratic nominee in 2006, already is running.

— Josh Kurtz

LaRocco Banks $100K for ’08 Senate Campaign

Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco raised a little more than $100,000 in the third quarter to finish September with approximately $100,000 on hand.

LaRocco, a former Congressman, touts the fact that he remains the only announced Senate candidate for the seat that is being vacated by Sen. Larry Craig (R), whose career suffered a serious blow in late August after it was discovered he was arrested in an airport bathroom sex sting.

Although Craig has wavered on his late summer pledge to resign his seat by Sept. 30, he is holding firm to his commitment to not seek re-election in 2008. That means Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R), who announced he would run for Senate if Craig retired, is likely to launch a bid at some point.

Risch beat LaRocco by 20 points in last year’s contest for lieutenant governor, and Idaho’s strong Republican bent looks to protect whomever the GOP Senate nominee is from any fallout from the Craig affair — at least at this point.

— D.M.D.

Now a DCCC Target, Feeney Vacuums in Cash

Rep. Tom Feeney (R) will report within the next two weeks his largest one-quarter fundraising haul since his first run in 2002.

Feeney, who continues to be dogged by his alleged ties to jailed former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, mined 560 new donors and took in nearly $325,000 during this year’s third fundraising quarter that ended Sept. 30, according to a GOP insider.

Feeney also is expected to have $376,000 in the bank going into the final quarter of the year, the source said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which hopes to target Feeney next year but has not recruited a candidate, is running radio ads and robocalls in Feeney’s district this week, chiding him for his opposition to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program expansion.

— M.M.

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