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Divest and Invest: Frist Puts Money Where Republicans Are

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By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, October 9, 2005

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) isn't letting the controversy surrounding a stock sale that drew ethical questions get in the way of his typically torrid fundraising schedule.

In October alone, Frist is scheduled to travel to six states to raise dollars for fellow Republicans. Last week, Frist was in New Jersey for wealthy businessman Doug Forrester (R), who will face off against Sen. Jon Corzine (D) Nov. 8 for the open New Jersey governorship.

On Monday, Frist will make stops in Canton and Cincinnati to raise money for Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine (R), a major target of Democrats in 2006. He will also stop in Texas next week for events to benefit home-state Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) and John Cornyn (R), and drop by Key Biscayne to collect campaign cash for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Since becoming the Senate's top-ranking Republican in late 2002, Frist has been a fundraising titan for the party and its candidates. In the first six months of this year, he raised nearly $2 million through his leadership political action committee -- Volunteer PAC -- and so-called bundled contributions totaling nearly $500,000 to 13 GOP Senate candidates.

As a result of that fundraising prowess and his prominent spot in Republican leadership, Frist began 2005 as one of the leading candidates for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. The year has brought a series of mishaps, however, the most recent being a federal investigation into the sale of stock in HCA Inc., a health care company founded by Frist's father. Investigators are examining whether Frist had any inside knowledge that the stock, which was held in a blind trust, would drop in value just days after the sale formally went through. Frist has denied any wrongdoing, insisting that his sole reason for divesting the stock was to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Eyes on Florida

Former Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox ended his candidacy for governor Friday amid faltering fundraising and declining poll numbers. Maddox cited a need for party unity as his motivating factor in leaving the race; he endorsed U.S. Rep. Jim Davis (D) and called on state Sen. Rod Smith, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination, to do the same. Smith rejected the idea. Maddox's campaign never recovered from revelations this summer that the state party's finances had been mismanaged when he was chairman.

Maddox did not deny his responsibility for the problems but insisted they had nothing to do with his decision to leave the contest. With Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) term-limited out of office in 2006, both national parties are expected to play heavily in the open-seat race.

Davis is the ostensible Democratic front-runner, though polls show most voters are not familiar with him or Smith. Republicans have two well-financed and high-profile candidates in the contest: state Attorney General Charlie Crist and state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.

Defense Posture

For years, polls have shown Democrats running at a disadvantage to Republicans on national security issues, and many strategists believe this was the biggest factor behind presidential nominee John F. Kerry's loss to President Bush last November.

Last week, a new political action committee was launched with the aim of bolstering Democratic credibility on defense debates. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) is forming SecureUSPAC, designed partly as a fundraising group but also as a mechanism to sharpen the party's message on national security issues and train candidates to speak more effectively about them.

Harman is the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and has recruited as board members for her PAC such prominent Democrats as Richard C. Holbrooke, former U.S ambassador to the United Nations. At today's formal announcement of the PAC, pollster Mark Mellman will present research on where the party stands with the electorate on security questions.

A Half-Million Calls

True political junkies woke up this morning with red-rimmed eyes and hoarse throats following a 25-hour, call-in marathon to celebrate the 25th anniversary of C-SPAN.

The network, which was created in 1979 by the nation's cable companies as a public service, kicked off the gab-a-thon Friday night at 8 p.m. with special guest Phil Donahue, an avowed C-SPAN addict.

On Saturday, C-SPAN's Brian Lamb shared the anchor desk with 17-year-old Erika Barger, who claimed the honor by winning an essay contest explaining why she watched call-in shows. She apparently is not alone. C-SPAN has aired more than 500,000 calls since its first broadcast. Many happy returns.

Cillizza is a staff writer for washingtonpost.com and the author "The Fix," a political news column available at www.washingtonpost.com/thefix.


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