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New Mexico: Sheriff Untouchable in First Poll on House Race

Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White (R) blew away the competition — Republicans and Democrats — in the race to replace Rep. Heather Wilson (R) in the 1st district, according to a poll conducted for his campaign.

The survey showed White with an 18-point lead over Democratic primary favorite Martin Heinrich, and with a 55-point lead over his closest GOP primary challenger. The Public Opinion Strategies poll of 400 likely voters was conducted Oct. 8-9, and had a margin of error of 4.9 points.

“The numbers don’t lie,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said. “Darren White is a political heavyweight with widespread appeal and if these numbers mean anything, it is that any Democrat — currently or considering running — might want to think twice about getting into this race.”

Democrats countered that voters will abandon White once they learn more about his support for Republican Party policies, specifically those championed by President Bush.

“As voters in this Democratic-leaning district learn more about White’s longtime support of George Bush’s disastrous policies, they’ll see he is the person least capable of providing real change for America,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Doug Thornell said.

Among the survey’s key findings:

• White’s name identification registered at 74 percent, with 51 percent of respondents saying their impression of him was favorable, and 15 percent saying it was unfavorable.

• Sixty-one percent of Republican primary voters said they were committed to voting for White, with state Sen. Joe Carraro, another possible GOP candidate coming in a distant second at 6 percent.

• White led former state Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D) 51-39 percent, and held a 49-35 percent lead over her among independent voters and 48-40 percent advantage over her among soft Democratic voters. Madrid narrowly lost to Wilson in last year’s 1st district race, and is contemplating running again.

• White led Heinrich, an Albuquerque city councilor, 51-33 percent. That lead was 47-29 percent among independent voters and 45-36 percent among soft Democratic voters.

— David M. Drucker

Pearce Signals He’ll Force Senate GOP Showdown

Rep. Steve Pearce (R) is planning to vacate his 2nd district seat to run for Senate, setting up a brawl to replace Sen. Pete Domenici (R) with Rep. Heather Wilson (R), who is vacating her 1st district seat to do the same.

Pearce is expected to formally announce his candidacy in the next couple weeks, according to those familiar with his plans. Pearce will spend the time until then assembling his campaign team and putting together the necessary campaign infrastructure.

Pearce’s departure from his Las Cruces-area seat has created another opportunity for Democrats in New Mexico, often a swing state in presidential cycles. However, Republicans are confident that the conservative district will remain in their hands come Election Day 2008.

Those candidates running to replace Pearce or considering a bid include state Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson (R), state Rep. Dan Foley (R), 2002 2nd district candidate Earl Greer (R), 2002 2nd district candidate Ed Tinsley (R), Las Cruces Mayor Bill Mattiace, former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague (D), Doña Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley (D), state Rep. Joseph Cervantes (D) and 2006 Democratic nominee Al Kissling.

— D.M.D.

Ex-Pickering Aide Has D.C. Event Scheduled

John Rounsaville (R), a former staffer for retiring Rep. Chip Pickering (R) who is eyeing his former boss’s open 3rd district seat, will be in Washington, D.C., on Monday for a “meet and greet” reception on K Street.

Rounsaville, 32, is considered by state political insiders as an up-and-comer in Mississippi politics.

After leaving Pickering’s office in 2004, where he served as deputy chief of staff, Rounsaville worked as a policy adviser to Gov. Haley Barbour (R). In 2006, he was appointed as a Mississippi state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rounsaville resigned his Department of Agriculture post last month in order to prepare for his campaign.

Though Pickering is not expected to attend the event, the host committee for Monday’s “meet and greet” reception includes John Keast, a former chief of staff for 1st district Rep. Roger Wicker (R) who now works at the Cornerstone Group and John Scofield, a former Republican spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee who now works at the Podesta Group.

Two other Washington, D.C., lobbyists on the event’s host committee are Marty Fuller and Loren Monroe. As part of his work for Federal Solutions, Fuller looks out for Mississippi State University’s lobbying interests while Monroe represents the University of Mississippi for Barbour Griffith & Rogers — a firm founded by the governor.

Other potential GOP candidates to replace Pickering in the 3rd district include state Sens. Charlie Ross (R) and Walter Michel (R), Rankin County GOP Chairman Gregg Harper (R), state Development Authority Deputy Director Whit Hughes (R) and state Treasurer Tate Reeves (R).

While the Republican primary winner likely will carry the heavily GOP district, ex-Rep. Ronnie Shows (D) could make the general election interesting if he decides to run.

— John McArdle

Davis Uses Campaign Funds to Help His Wife

From July to September, Rep. Tom Davis (R), who is considered a top Republican candidate in the race to replace retiring Sen. John Warner (R), gave more than $14,000 in in-kind contributions from his “Tom Davis for Congress” political action committee to the re-election campaign of his wife, state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R).

Davis’ donations to his wife’s campaign — which is shaping up to be a competitive battle — came in a quarter where the Congressman’s disbursement total was $200 higher than his $222,700 in receipts.

Meanwhile popular former Gov. Mark Warner, the only Democrat in the race to replace Sen. Warner, raised more than $1 million in less than three weeks after announcing his candidacy last month.

Davis has not officially declared his intention to run for Warner’s seat. He has repeatedly said that his focus currently is concentrated on the re-election of his wife, and that an announcement about the Senate campaign would come sometime after Virginia’s legislative election in November.

But some state political observers say Davis’ Senate aspirations were dealt a setback when Virginia’s GOP central committee decided over the weekend that the Republican nominee for the race would be decided at a convention. Davis, with his more moderate social views, was expected to fare better in a primary contest than a convention, which is a smaller forum dominated by more conservative views.

Supporters for former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R), who is also expected to run for Senate, say the Congressman would be hard pressed to win the vote of party activists at a convention but Davis officials have brushed off mounting speculation that Davis is rethinking his Senate bid.

In the meantime, it appears that Republicans in Davis’ district are operating under the assumption that the Congressman will not be returning to the House in 2009. Keith Fimian, a businessman based in Oakton, has formed an exploratory committee for the race and reported more than $433,000 in cash on hand at the end of the third quarter, according to his Federal Election Commission filing.

— J.M.

Skinner Causing Static for DCCC Choice Peters

Former radio talk-show host Nancy Skinner (D) has decided to go for it a second time in the 9th district, creating a Democratic primary between herself and former state Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters.

With almost no money or help from national Democrats, Skinner came within 5 points of defeating Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R) in 2006.

Peters, who was courted by Washington, D.C., Democrats to run for the seat this cycle, raised more than $217,000 in the past financial reporting period covering the first six weeks of his campaign.

Skinner — who made her announcement last week on radio ads on her former station — said her name identification from the previous cycle and her gender are both a plus for her campaign.

“We hear often that ‘we can’t afford a primary,’” Skinner said. “But I think given the divide in the party … I think we cannot afford not to have one because this is our chance, the Democrats’ chance, to decide where we want our party to go.”

Bill Ballenger, publisher of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, said Peters ought to be able to win the primary.

“They consider Gary Peters the kind of candidate the party would put up against any Republican incumbent that Democrats believe they could take out,” said Ballenger.

The general election, however, against the eight-term Congressman might be in a challenge for the Democrats in what Ballenger called a “marginally Republican seat.”

“And Knollenberg was a pretty popular, has been a pretty popular incumbent, almost his entire tenure,” he added.

— Shira Toeplitz

Anti-Nuke Group, Mayor Back Merkley Senate Bid

State Assembly Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) has some work to do to catch up to Sen. Gordon Smith (R) on the fundraising front — but he does have some new endorsements to crow about.

The Council for a Livable World, which bills itself as a nonpartisan organization focused on reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation and international conflict, is backing the Democratic Senate candidate in his bid to oust Smith. Portland Mayor Tom Potter (D) also announced this week that he is endorsing Merkley.

“Jeff is the kind of Senator Oregon needs — one who is sincere in his opposition to the Iraq War and dedicated to finding a workable solution,” former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), a Council board member, said in a statement.

Merkley, who jumped into the Senate race midway through the third quarter, finished the period with just $211,000 in cash on hand, compared to $4 million for Smith.

— D.M.D.

Gramm, Archer Helping Olson at D.C. Fundraiser

Pete Olson (R), a former Congressional aide running in the 22nd district Republican primary, is scheduled to hold an Oct. 28 fundraiser in Houston, being headlined by former Sen. Phil Gramm (R).

The late October event also features former Rep. Bill Archer (R).

Olson, a former Gramm aide, recently resigned as Sen. John Cornyn’s (R) chief of staff and returned to Houston to seek the seat formerly held by Tom DeLay (R).

The 22nd district was won last year by now-Rep. Nick Lampson (D). Several Republicans are running in the GOP primary, believing the strong Republican makeup of the district gives them a great chance to oust Lampson next November.

Lampson won his seat last year partly because his GOP opponent, Shelley Sekula Gibbs, was forced to run as a write-in candidate. Sekula Gibbs, who is running again this cycle, recently dumped more than $200,000 into her campaign fund.

— D.M.D.

Harris Launches TV Blitz in Race Against Gilchrest

Just days after yet another Republican challenger entered the primary race against moderate 1st district Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R), state Sen. Andy Harris launched the first television ad of his campaign on Wednesday.

According to a news release from Harris’ campaign manager Chris Meekings, the ad contrasts the state Senator’s “record of fiscal responsibility, opposition to illegal immigration, and his commitment to winning the War on Terror with Gilchrest’s support for higher taxes and amnesty for illegal immigration.”

Harris raised about $350,000 in the third quarter of the year, which greatly outpaced Gilchrest, who does not accept money from political action committees. As of Sept. 30, both Harris and Gilchrest had about $400,000 in cash on hand.

New to the race is Robert Joseph (R), a businessman and former appointee of then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) to the state Department of Transportation and Baltimore’s Orphans’ Court. Joseph’s entry into the race could put Ehrlich in an interesting position as he already has helped Harris at fundraising events, but has stopped short of outright endorsing him in the race against Gilchrest.

As far as endorsements go, Gilchrest appears to have the backing of the National Republican Congressional Committee — in spirit if not in campaign funding.

NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.), who has said the campaign committee would not get involved in primary races this cycle, said in a press briefing Wednesday that he is personally partial to Gilchrest in the looming primary battle.

— J.M.

Report: McKinney Shifts Her Voter Registration

In a move that might signal she is again considering seeking the Green Party nomination for president, outspoken former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D) has registered to vote in California, the state with the largest concentration of registered Green Party members in the country, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday.

The move suggests that she will not try to reclaim the Georgia House seat she twice held before losing Democratic primary contests.

Though McKinney sent a letter to the Green Party last month withdrawing her name from consideration for the party’s presidential nominee, she has appeared at several fundraisers in California this month, where a group, Run! Cynthia! Run!, is trying to draft her as the party’s candidate, the AJC reported.

McKinney appeared at an anti-war rally in San Francisco earlier this month where anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan — who is running against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as an Independent candidate next year — told the crowd that the former Georgia Congresswoman would be running for president. At that event, McKinney indicated that there was a reason she wore green to the rally. McKinney’s name already is on the presidential primary ballot in California as a Green Party candidate after she and six other Green candidates were nominated at a state party convention in September.

— J.M.

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