Despite the recent public relations setback by Republicans in the Senate, Democrats there remain concerned about the coming election cycle. More Democratic senators are up for re-election in 2004 than Republicans, and the thinking is they will face stiffer competition from Republicans this time around, as the GOP tries to broaden its margin of majority.
With that in mind, Democrats were alarmed when they heard rumors after election day that California Sen. Barbara Boxer was mulling retirement from the Senate in 2004 in order to focus on a run for governor back home.
"She may still run for governor," says a Senate Democratic leadership source. "But if she does, it's going to be from the position of a sitting senator, not a civilian."
That's because the Senate leadership -- Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. Harry Reid -- went to Boxer and made it clear the party could not afford to run a new candidate in California in 2004 if it expected to have any chance of re-taking the Senate.
"Building up a new candidate in California would just put us in too deep a hole. We'd be sunk," says a staffer on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Boxer has stated publicly that she has no interest in running for governor, and that the country needs her in the Senate. But financial backers in California report back to Washington that Boxer was mulling retirement in order to run for the gubernatorial position, and that she had contacted her big money men about how they could best help her.
"Now she's going to have to do both," says a Los Angeles based donor. "She'll easily win re-election in 2004, then she'll run for governor two years later and get to appoint her replacement. She gets the best of both worlds."
Democrats in the Senate expect former majority leader Tom Daschle to announce at least an exploratory committee for a possible bid for the party presidential nomination in 2004. Daschle has met privately over the past month or so with board members of the Democratic National Committee, including several get-togethers with party chief Terry McAuliffe.
One impediment to Daschle's running was thought to be his wife, Linda, who is a prominent lobbyist in Washington. In the past, Daschle has privately told supporters that she did not support a presidential run.
But as recently as the week before Christmas, Daschle indicated to supporters that his family was now fully behind a run should he decide to dip his toe into the pool.
Daschle's Senate colleagues are already lining up to challenge for what is now the minority leader slot. Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who is expected to be a target for Republicans in his re-election bid in 2004, is considered the frontrunner. For the past several years he has served as Daschle's No. 2. But Reid doesn't have anything in the bag. Chris Dodd, a media favorite, is making loud noises about challenging for the job.
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