The Democratic presidential candidates have just about used up their time in the national political spotlight. Assuming we get a nominee soon, he’ll start engaging the president and Bush’s bulging campaign treasury will start to play a role. But another thing that will happen is that politicos will return some of their attention to critical races for Senate, House, and state offices. Two quick developments on the Senate front. Down in Florida, the sprawling GOP primary field for the seat being vacated by Bill Graham is probably about to shrink. One of the nine(!) Republicans in the race, Speaker of the House Johnnie Byrd, hasn’t been showing up at candidate forums and has closed his Senate campaign office in the state capital. Word is he may run for Congress or not at all. Similarly, the deliciously named (state) Sen. Daniel Webster isn’t raising any money and could pull out soon. That would leave former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum and Bush HUD Secretary Mel Martinez as leaders of a field that also includes Judicial Watch’s Larry Klayman and repatriated former Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina the Democrats seem to be catching a break. Filing for all elective offices was supposed to start next week, but it looks like the Bush Justice Department will object to yet another set of state legislative districts on Voting Rights Act grounds. This will delay all of the state’s primaries from May until sometime late in the summer, which will have the effect of eliminating Erskine Bowles’ primary opposition for the nomination to succeed John Edwards. Bowles’ likely foe, former state House Speaker Dan Blue, tells me he won’t run in an elongated primary. The primary delay also helps Democratic incumbent Gov. Mike Easley because a crowded GOP primary field won’t be winnowed until the summer or, given a runoff, until September. Ironically, the fight against the legislative districts is being led by state Republicans, including two of the gubernatorial candidates who admit the delay won’t help their bids but also strongly object to the districts.