Shurtleff aims to Cannon-ize Bennett

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R) finally made it official on Wednesday: He’s challenging Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) in a primary next year.

Before I get breathless e-mails reminding me that Utah has nominating conventions before primaries, let me repeat: Shurtleff is challenging Bennett in a primary next year.

Some may recall last year when Republican Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzLawmakers contemplate a tough political sell: Raising their pay Top Utah paper knocks Chaffetz as he mulls run for governor: ‘His political career should be over’ Boehner working on memoir: report MORE narrowly missed nabbing the GOP nomination over Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) at a convention of delegates. And truth is, Shurtleff could wrap things up at the convention, too.
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But my money is on him having to survive the convention, versus him winning outright at it. The most likely scenario: Shurtleff will hope to do well enough to get to the primary, decided by voters, and win the nomination there, as Chaffetz did.

Here’s why:

Whatever you can say about Bennett, he’s not nearly as unpopular as Cannon. In fact, he has extremely good numbers.

Even a Shurtleff campaign poll leaked to The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday showed Bennett with a 71 percent favorable rating among delegates to the nominating convention. Among those delegates, Bennett holds a 38-31 lead.

To secure the nomination at the convention, Shurtleff would have to get 60 percent of them to support him. That would mean he would effectively get all of the undecided delegates from his own poll.

Shurtleff’s poll also showed a much closer primary election, with Bennett ahead 40-37 among primary voters. This comes after a Research 2000 poll for the liberal website Daily Kos showed Bennett ahead 46-20 in February.

But even if the latter hews closer to reality, the primary is still Shurtleff’s best chance; he has an incumbent under 50 percent, and he only needs to beat him by one vote there.

The good news for Shurtleff is that a third candidate won’t mess things up by stealing anti-incumbent votes.

Even if former state party Chairman Tim Bridgewater follows through and runs for the seat, whoever comes up third at the nominating convention will be instantly out of the race. That would pave the way for a head-to-head Bennett-Shurtleff match-up at the convention; if neither gets 60 percent, the GOP primary electorate decides.

— A.B.

NRSC helps Coleman keep up the fight

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is taking care of its own, extending what is, in essence, a $750,000 line of credit to former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) to help him pay legal bills.

It’s not exactly a direct cash transfer — the NRSC will pay some of the bills Coleman’s recount fund has incurred — but the money won’t leave NRSC coffers before attorneys are paid.

On June 1, eight months after Minnesota voters cast ballots, attorneys for Coleman and Democrat Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenGillibrand defends her call for Franken to resign Gillibrand: Aide who claimed sexual harassment was 'believed' Kirsten Gillibrand officially announces White House run MORE will begin making oral arguments before the state Supreme Court. Both sides have incurred huge debts, and both parties have aided their guy.

The NRSC has helped Coleman to the tune of more than $1 million. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has helped Franken with fundraising events, but hasn’t cut any direct checks.

Democrats are keeping a close eye on Republicans’ spending, which they maintain amounts to a commitment to continue the case in federal court if, as expected, the Supreme Court doesn’t break Coleman’s way.

Indeed, Republicans have a vested interest in keeping the court case going. If, despite trailing Franken by 312 votes, Coleman can drag the case out, he will deprive Democrats of a 60th vote in the Senate.

GOP strategists have acknowledged the side benefit, but the NRSC says it is focusing on the state’s highest court and isn’t looking beyond the early June arguments.

“The NRSC continues to stand behind Sen. Coleman as he seeks a full and fair resolution of this election,” NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. “Legitimate issues have been raised about voter disenfranchisement.”

The NRSC’s money will not be used for any legal bills Coleman himself incurs. Last month, Coleman’s campaign fund — an account separate from the recount fund — sought an advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission as to whether it could use its money to help Coleman with legal bills he must pay in conjunction with lawsuits involving one of his major contributors.

— R.W.

Another Kennedy for the Senate?

Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy (D) is set to jump into the race for Sen. Roland Burris’s (D-Ill.) seat in short order, according to sources and media reports.

The eighth son of Robert F. Kennedy is off to a fast start, having already hired two top Democratic strategists, and is reportedly cutting his first ad.

Though he has no electoral experience himself, Kennedy is sure to be well-funded; over the years, he has been a top fundraiser for other politically driven members of the Kennedy clan.
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Kennedy will kick off his campaign with the help of AKPD Message and Media, the advertising firm founded by President Obama’s political guru, David Axelrod (Axelrod divested himself of the firm when he took a job in the White House). The new Senate candidate has also brought on board Anzalone Liszt Research, an Alabama-based polling firm that also worked on Obama’s campaign and recently helped Rep. Mike Quigley (D) win a special election in Illinois.

Anzalone had been set to join former Commerce Secretary William Daley’s Senate campaign before Daley demurred.

Many see the involvement of two former players in the Obama campaign as a signal from the White House that they prefer someone other than state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D), who announced his plans to run for the seat in March.

Giannoulias is close to Obama, though national Republicans are licking their chops at the prospect of running against a candidate with ties — however tenuous — to convicted businessman Tony Rezko.

Burris, meanwhile, has not said whether he will run for the seat, despite telling The Hill in a recent interview that he would make his plans public in the “very, very near future.”

— R.W.