Washington Prowler

Marking Minnesota

Clearing the field for a GOP winner. Plus: Social Security specifics from the White House.

By 3.8.05

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KENNEDY COUNTRY
Could a "Draft Al Franken" movement be far behind? Rep. Betty McCollum, thought to be one of the stronger Democratic options to fill the seat of retiring one-term Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton, announced that she would not seek the DFL nomination in 2006.

McCollum was considered one of the stronger potential challengers to Rep. Mark Kennedy, who is quickly solidifying his position as the presumptive Republican nominee. Former Sen. Rod Grams is also seeking the Republican nomination, but according to a Republican National Committee aide, there are ongoing discussions within the party of how to clear for field for Kennedy.

Already, Sen. Norm Coleman and Gov. Tim Pawlenty have endorsed Kennedy. Pawlenty was expected to reach out to Grams at some point in the near future to discuss what could be done to draw out of the race the man who lost to Dayton four plus years ago.

"Grams may have his back up now that what he views as the state party establishment has backed Kennedy," says the RNC source. "He felt that this was an opportunity to regain what he had lost. But Kennedy is just a stronger candidate this time around."

As for the Democrats, there appears to be nothing left but second-tier candidates, unless current state attorney general Mike Hatch throws his hat in the ring. Hatch had let it be know that he had his eye on the governor's race, but given Pawlenty's strong position, most Minnesota political observers believe Hatch might opt for the seemingly more competitive Senate race.

Either way, Republicans are feeling good about their prospects of taking yet another Democratic seat on what they hope will be the cheap. "We know Pennsylvania and probably Tennessee are going to be highly competitive for us, and we're going to be putting a lot of resources there," says a Republican Senate staffer. "That's why a situation like Minnesota that can cleared up quickly is helpful to us."

SOCIAL SPECIFICS
There is speculation among some Senate Republicans that the White House and President Bush may be tweaking their message on Social Security just as they are beginning the critical 60-day national lobbying and education effort across America.

"We're hearing different things coming out of their legislative affairs shop," says an outside lobbyist. "We hear there may be more specifics to call the Democrats' bluff, or there may not be. There is some uncertainty there."

Up until now, it appeared the White House was willing to sit back a bit, push the issue of the need to reform Social Security, and firm up public opinion on the need to make major changes to save the system. Now it appears the White House is thinking that there needs to be more of a stated plan or at least some focused details to go along with the broader message.

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