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New Mexico: Domenici Fears Primary Will Drain GOP Finances

Sen. Pete Domenici (R) said in an interview late last week that he is not taking sides in the Republican primary to replace him, and he added that he is worried about the effect the June 3 intraparty contest will have on the GOP’s chances of holding the seat in the general election.

Domenici said he would not involve himself in the GOP Senate primary between 1st district Rep. Heather Wilson and 2nd district Rep. Steve Pearce. Domenici’s neutrality is notable, as he has long been Wilson’s political patron, going back to her first House race in a 1998 special election.

Domenici expects both Wilson and Pearce to be well-funded in the primary. But he is concerned that the contest will eat up the financial resources the GOP is going to need to hold his seat against what is likely to be stiff competition in the general election.

“The tougher question for Republicans is, what effect does all of that have on the ability to raise a lot of money for the general. That’s a very tough one for them, and for those of us who are trying to be their helpers,” Domenici said. “The fact that they’re going to spend so much money [on the primary], that doesn’t make the next step very easy.”

“It’s going to be harder,” Domenici continued, “because they’re going to have lots of resources tied up because they’re fighting each other. I hope that doesn’t hurt them in the general.”

A concern for Republicans in a swing state like New Mexico is that Democrats could capture Domenici’s seat on the strength of national discontent with the GOP and access to campaign cash that could favor the Democrats.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee banked $22.9 million to close September, compared with just $8.3 million on hand for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Although the Democrats also are facing a primary situation, the DSCC’s cash advantage over the NRSC — if it were to continue at this pace heading into fall 2008 — could allow the Democrats to more easily weather the depletion of resources caused by the primary.

The Democratic field is still fluid.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez is running, as is wealthy developer Don Wiviott, who has pledged to spend $2 million of his own money to win the primary. Meanwhile, DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) is aggressively trying to convince Lt. Gov. Diane Denish to run.

Schumer has a record of intervening in primaries to clear the field for his preferred candidate, as he did last year in Pennsylvania for now-Sen. Bob Casey (D). The DSCC declined to comment on Schumer’s role in the New Mexico primary — but committee spokesman Matthew Miller made clear that winning the Domenici seat is at the top of his boss’s list.

“This will be one of the most important races in the country,” Miller said. “And with New Mexico Democrats’ strong electoral history, we feel very good about our chances to pick up this seat.”

The Republicans also are promising to vigorously contest for the seat, and NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher on Monday expressed confidence that the GOP would hold Domenici’s seat regardless of who emerges from the party’s primary.

Although Schumer is heavily courting Denish, she has indicated she would prefer running for governor in 2010 over seeking the Senate in 2008. If she stays out of the race and Chavez were to end up as the Democratic nominee, Domenici said he would be formidable competition for the Republicans.

“Marty Chavez is a very known commodity. He’ll be a good advocate — a strong candidate,” Domenici said.

— David M. Drucker

Republicans Hope to Get Mariannette on a String

Ophthalmologist Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) is preparing to challenge freshman Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) in the 2nd district, according to the Des Moines Register.

Miller-Meeks, the first female president of the Iowa Medical Society, said her planned entry into the race is an outgrowth of her desire to reform health care. It would be her first bid for political office if she runs.

“It’s a new kind of endeavor, one born out of frustration neither party is getting the job done,” she said.

Even though Jim Leach (R) represented the Cedar Rapids-area 2nd district for 15 terms until being ousted by Loebsack last year, the seat leans Democratic. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won the district with 55 percent of the vote in the 2004 presidential election, and as such Loebsack is well-positioned to hold the seat.

Loebsack banked more than $301,000 at the close of the third-quarter fundraising period. The Republicans have yet to field an official candidate in this race.

— D.M.D.

Ensign Praises Estabrook for Launching Senate Bid

Businesswoman Anne Estabrook (R), a former chairwoman of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, officially filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday to take on Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) in 2008.

In a statement, Estabrook said she is running in part because New Jersey is facing “a true affordability crisis.”

“Whether it is young families unable to buy a first home, working families struggling to make ends meet, or seniors who are selling their lifelong homes because they can’t afford the tax bills — New Jersey is simply becoming unaffordable,” she said. “Frank Lautenberg would make it worse by raising taxes again. That is the wrong direction. I will oppose higher taxes and take a businesslike approach to appropriations — cut the waste, demand results, and only support programs we can afford.”

Although Estabrook isn’t the only Republican who has expressed interest in challenging Lautenberg — state Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio opened an exploratory committee a month ago — her entry into the race was hailed by National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.).

“I am excited that people like Anne step forward and agree to run for public office,” Ensign said in Estabrook’s news release. “She is a business leader who knows how to get things done and to make a difference. This is a race we can win.”

While the Garden State remains a Democratic stronghold, some recent polling has indicated that, at 83, Lautenberg’s age is becoming more of a factor in the minds of New Jersey voters. But despite those polls, any Republican would face an uphill battle against a well-known and well-funded Democratic commodity like Lautenberg. The last time a Republican was elected to the Senate from the Garden State was in the early 1970s.

Meanwhile, the 2008 fundraising battle between the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and and NRSC has not gone well for the GOP. That means the GOP committee likely will have little money to spare on a long-shot bid in the state.

— John McArdle

Latta Poll Shows Him With Edge in Special

A new poll on the 5th district special election Republican primary showed state Rep. Bob Latta with 40 percent of the vote and state Sen. Steve Buehrer with 21 percent of the vote.

The poll, which was commissioned by the Latta campaign and executed by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 300 likely Republican primary voters on Oct. 16-17 and had a margin of error of 5.66 points.

“With just three weeks to go until the special Republican primary elections, Bob Latta is in a very strong opposition in this race,” pollster Neil Newhouse said in the polling memo. “Latta is the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.”

The special general election to replace the late Rep. Paul Gillmor (R) is scheduled for Dec. 11. However, the special primary is set for Nov. 6 and is widely viewed as the election that will decide the next Member in the heavily Republican district.

Latta’s father held the seat before Gillmor, giving him a name-identification edge in the district. However, Buehrer’s state Senate district makes up a large portion of the Congressional district.

In other campaign news, Buehrer made his first advertisement buy last week. The Club for Growth, which supports Buehrer, has sponsored a couple of ads already.

Buehrer’s campaign also announced that he raised more than $260,000 in the report ending on Oct. 17. Latta’s campaign said they raised more than $240,000 in the same time period, which they say does not include a $50,000 loan the candidate made to his own campaign since the filing.

— Shira Toeplitz

Bush, Reds Owner to Aid Chabot With Fundraising

Rep. Steve Chabot (R) will get a fundraising boost from President Bush next Monday. The president will appear with Chabot at the home of Cincinnati Reds owner Bob Castellini, according to a report from The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Chabot narrowly won re-election in 2006 and will likely face state Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) in 2008.

“I think the Congressman has been a loyal follower of the president and it doesn’t surprise me that the president is coming in town to support his re-election efforts,” Driehaus said.

Chabot’s campaign referred all inquiries about the event to the White House Media Affairs Office, which has a policy not to release details on the president’s schedule until the week of travel.

Driehaus raised $287,844 for his campaign through Sept. 30 and had $251,000 in cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission records. Chabot finished September with $535,000 in the bank.

The president won Ohio’s 1st district with 51 percent in 2004, and Chabot won re-election in 2006 with 52 percent of the vote in the district that includes most of Cincinnati.

Also according to the Enquirer, Bush came to the Cincinnati area twice to help Republicans last year, once for then-Sen. Mike DeWine’s (R) failed re-election bid and another time to raise money to help Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) win re-election.

— S.T.

Reichert Raised Less in Quarter Than He Said

Friends of Dave Reichert (R) has corrected its initial fundraising report to the media for the third-quarter reporting period. The Congressman’s campaign raised $294,888 in the third quarter, bringing its grand total this cycle to $766,703 with $339,460 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30.

The two-term Member’s likely general election opponent, 2006 nominee Darcy Burner (D), raised $304,901 in the third quarter and $518,630 so far this cycle. According to federal election records, Burner had $370,228 in cash on hand at the end of last month.

In a statement to the media, Reichert campaign spokesperson Mike Shields said he “made a mistake in representing the amount of money” the campaign raised to the tune of about $47,100.

The incident was first reported by The Associated Press and local news outlets last week.

“I apologize for the mistake and for any incorrect stories that were written or broadcast because of it,” he said. “I encourage media outlets to correct the record.”

Shields also explained that the discrepancy occurred because the campaign committee used a “credit card application” that mistakenly put money in the wrong account, resulting in $47,100 in electronic overpayments that were refunded under FEC law.

Burner campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik said that after examining Reichert’s filing, “it seems that the Reichert camp has seriously misled, if not outright lied, to both the public and FEC about their fundraising during the third quarter.”

“Substantial questions still remain unanswered,” Kaushik said. “The recent filing itself appears to be a mess, particularly with respect to the [President] Bush event. Tens of thousands of dollars that should have gone to a joint account created for the Bush visit looks like it was deposited directly into the Reichert campaign’s account, which if true is a serious violation of FEC rules.”

Kaushik added that the Burner campaign is considering seeking further action on the matter “as appropriate.”

— S.T.

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