Ballot Box

Russ Feingold makes first House endorsement: Ilya Sheyman in Illinois

Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) has endorsed Ilya Sheyman in his Illinois House primary, making him the first House candidate to receive Feingold's support this election.

"Just like you and me, Ilya is a progressive who's grown frustrated with the way Washington is no longer supporting America's working families," Feingold, a favorite of liberals, said in a statement sent to supporters. "Fortunately for us, he's putting his values into action by running for office, where he can be a forceful voice for the policies that will help the majority of Americans... As politician after politician caves to the wishes of Wall Street and corporate lobbyists, we need to focus more than ever on making sure we're there to support courageous activists like Ilya."

Sheyman is in a competitive primary against Democrat Brad Schneider, a more centrist candidate backed by the New Democratic Coalition. The two are vying to take on freshman Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) in a newly redrawn district designed to give Democrats the edge.

Feingold is not the only big-name liberal to help Sheyman: Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), who Sheyman used to work for, has endorsed him and will visit the district for a fundraiser soon.

Schneider's campaign has circulated an internal poll showing him with a 29 percent to 14 percent edge over Sheyman, but local observers say that Sheyman has had a more energetic campaign to date, and that he is popular with grassroots activists in the district. Schneider has the cash advantage so far in the race, and has raised more money in-district than Sheyman.

Early voting has already began in the race, and both candidates are on television. The primary is in March 20, just two weeks away.

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GOP candidates tout support in Nebraska Senate race

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey's (D-Neb.) announcement last week that he will run for his old seat has brought renewed Republican attention to a race the GOP expected was safely in the bag.

Front-running Republican Jon Bruning, Nebraska's attorney general, released an internal poll Tuesday showing him up 33 points on state Treasurer Don Stenberg, who is challenging Bruning from the right. The poll also showed Bruning winning more than half of self-identified "very conservative" Republicans, and 54 percent said Bruning stood the best chance to defeat Kerrey.

The Bruning poll of likely GOP voters, conducted for his campaign by Republican polling firm Tarrance Group, was conducted March 4-5 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. It was released one month after a poll from Stenberg backer Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) that showed Stenberg gaining on Bruning and just 6 points behind.

Adding to Stenberg's support from fiscal conservatives Tuesday was an endorsement from the Club for Growth, a conservative group that frequently targets Republicans it considers not far enough to the right on federal debt and spending.

“Don will fight to repeal ObamaCare and cut spending, and he’ll oppose the bailout culture in Washington that is bankrupting America," Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement. "Nebraska Republicans looking to send a pro-growth voice to the Senate should rally behind Don Stenberg."

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Graham says Romney must win in South to end primary

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Mitt Romney needs to win a southern state on Super Tuesday to end the GOP primary, and that a win in Ohio wouldn't be enough to force his opponents out of the race.

"Ohio is not the only state — if he wins in Ohio that'd be good for the narrative that [the primary] needs to end, but you have to look at Tennessee too, it's not just Ohio... If you win Ohio and Tennessee then you've got a pretty good narrative going," Graham told The Hill Tuesday afternoon. "He needs to perform in places where people thought he would not do well." 

Romney lost badly in South Carolina and while he won Florida's primary that state is culturally different from the rest of the South. He has struggled with Tea Party supporters, very conservative voters and Evangelical Christians, three groups that have large sway over GOP primaries in many southern states.

Graham said that a win in Oklahoma would do the same thing for Romney as one in Tennessee, but that Romney's opponents would have plenty of reason to keep running if if he doesn't.

"If he has a good Super Tuesday there'll be momentum to bring this thing to a conclusion," he said. "If it's a mixed decision, it goes on."

Graham has not endorsed any of the Republican candidates.

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Payne seat could stay vacant until November

It will be New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) job to pick a date for a special election to replace Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), who died Tuesday of colon cancer, but that election may not take place until November.

Under New Jersey law, the governor can choose any date for a special congressional election, including the date of the next regularly scheduled election. Historically, New Jersey has chosen that option to cut down on the cost and logistical challenges of holding elections on multiple days.

{mosads}Under that scenario, voters participating in the state's June 5 primary and Nov. 6 general election would choose two candidates: one to complete Payne's term, and another for the full term starting in 2013. Candidates could run for both terms at the same time.

Another option for Christie is to schedule a special primary in the near future and use June 5 to hold the special general election to select a placeholder representative, said Ben Dworkin, a political scientist at Rider University. That person could serve the remainder of Payne's term and then call it quits, or pursue a full term at the same time.

Payne represented a safely Democratic seat in the Newark, N.J. area, and the election to replace him is unlikely to affect the balance of power. The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to easily win the general election.

Christie issued a statement calling Payne a leader, a role model and a friend, and issued an executive order to have flags lowered in his honor. But Christie did not mention the process to replace Payne, and a spokesman for the governor said he did not expect that issue to be addressed Tuesday.

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National Rifle Association will endorse Lugar challenger Wednesday

The National Rifle Association will endorse Sen. Dick Lugar's (R-Ind.) Tea Party-backed primary opponent Wednesday morning, sources with knowledge of the endorsement told The Hill.

Their endorsement of Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) over Lugar could be a body blow to the longtime senator. The NRA is a powerful group popular in Indiana, a state where many Democrats also support the group's policy goals. By making Lugar a target, they could contribute to his downfall.

{mosads}Lugar has already had a rough few weeks, after struggling to handle questions on whether he lives in Indiana or Virginia. Lugar has not owned a home in Indiana for decades, and while he survived a legal challenge to his residency, the optics of the fight have done damage to his campaign. He failed in a TV interview to remember what address is on his driver's license, and both Mourdock and Democrats have hammered him on the issue.

Mourdock already has the backing of many fiscally conservative outside groups, including the deep-pocketed Club for Growth, but the NRA's endorsement will give him added support from a new group of conservatives.

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