- - Monday, June 7, 2010

SENATE

Poll: Rossi leads Washington’s Murray

Republican candidate Dino Rossi now leads incumbent Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, in the Senate race in Washington, according to a poll released Monday by the University of Washington.

Mr. Rossi pulled ahead 42 percent to 39 percent in the final week of the May poll - the same week he announced his much-expected candidacy.

The GOP establishment-backed candidate trailed 40 percent to 44 percent in the preceding three weeks, which leads pollster and professor Matt Barreto to conclude Mr. Rossi’s surge was the result of widespread news coverage about his candidacy.

“It was akin to mini-political convention when you can expect a bump in mostly positive news about a candidate,” said Mr. Barreto, who suspected the surge, then extracted the final week of polling numbers.

Mr. Rossi, a former state senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate, officially entered the race May 26. However, he orchestrated almost a week of coverage by leaking news he had hired a campaign manager, announcing his run two days later, then conducting interviews the following day, Mr. Barreto said.

Republicans need to pick up 10 seats in the midterm elections to retake control of the Senate, but did not target Mrs. Murray, 59, early in the election cycle.

An averaging of major polls by the website Real Clear Politics still has Mrs. Murray, a three-term incumbent and member of the Senate Democratic leadership, leading Mr. Rossi by 3 percentage points, but has now declared the race a tossup.

RHODE ISLAND

Cicilline begins bid to succeed Kennedy

WOONSOCKET | Providence Mayor David Cicilline is calling for a moratorium on offshore oil drilling, no-interest students loans for middle-income families and a lifetime ban on lobbying by former members of Congress in his bid to succeed Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress.

The two-term Demcoratic mayor on Monday officially kicked off his campaign with a stop in Woonsocket, where he also called for a New Deal-style investment in things such as bridges and roads as a way to get people working and improve infrastructure.

Mr. Cicilline faces at least two other Democrats in the September primary - former party Chairman Bill Lynch and former state Rep. David Segal. The winner will likely face Republican John Loughlin, a state representative.

MICHIGAN

Two charged with threatening Stupak

TRAVERSE CITY | A father and son have been charged with conspiring to threaten U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak and his family because of the Michigan Democrat’s crucial vote for the health care overhaul, federal authorities said.

The charges announced Monday followed an FBI investigation of a letter that said the writer would “paint” a Michigan bridge with the blood of Mr. Stupak and his family.

Federal prosecutors identify the suspects as Russell Hesch, 73, of West Branch, Mich., and David Hesch, 50, of Loveland, Colo.

Russell Hesch is being held in Michigan pending a detention hearing. Court-appointed attorney Robert Dunn said his client is “absolutely not guilty.”

Authorities plan to appoint an attorney for David Hesch, who appeared Monday in federal court in Denver.

MAINE

No clear front-runners in governor primaries

AUGUSTA | No decided front-runners have emerged in Tuesday’s primary races for governor, leaving the candidates scrapping for every last vote in elections that could turn on tiny margins.

Polling within the past week showed that half of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats were undecided. The candidates vying for the position - seven Republicans and four Democrats - tried to make the best of their own polling to build momentum as the election drew closer.

“I have yet to meet a gubernatorial candidate whose polling numbers don’t tell them they’re first or second in the polls,” said Republican activist Eric Lusk, as a survey came out last week.

Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who is completing his second four-year term, is constitutionally barred from seeking a consecutive third term.

CIA

Ex-official pleads guilty to sex abuse

A former CIA station chief in Algeria pleaded guilty Monday to sex abuse stemming from a 2008 incident in Algiers and to cocaine use, the U.S. Justice Department said.

It said Andrew Warren, 42, admitted he committed illegal sexual contact with a female after rendering her unconscious on Feb. 17, 2008, while on U.S. Embassy property in Algiers.

Warren was charged a year ago with sexually assaulting the woman, who was not named. He was fired from the CIA last year before being charged.

The State Department last year said the United States was investigating allegations that the CIA station chief in Algeria had raped at least two Muslim women after lacing their drinks with a drug.

KENTUCKY

Paul breaks silence with radio interview

FRANKFORT | Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul has broken his recent silence with a friendly interview on conservative talk radio, weeks after his comments about the U.S. Civil Rights Act set off a political firestorm.

Mr. Paul did not discuss that controversy with George Mason University economics professor Walter E. Williams, who served as guest host Monday on “The Rush Limbaugh Show.” They talked about the need to rein in Washington spending.

The libertarian-leaning Mr. Paul had retreated from the national scene after his May 18 Kentucky GOP primary victory, when he suggested government should not require private businesses to serve minorities.

Campaign manager Jesse Benton said Mr. Paul has been preparing for a tough general campaign and tending to his ophthalmology practice.

WHITE HOUSE

Feds offer grants for rate oversight

The Obama administration announced Monday it’s making $51 million available to states that want to beef up oversight of health insurance rate increases.

Outrage over premium increases was a turning point in the national health care debate earlier this year, after Anthem Blue Cross proposed hikes of up to 39 percent in California. The company ultimately withdrew the plan, but not before President Obama used it to help revive his stalled legislation.

The $51 million announced Monday is the first installment of a five-year, $250 million grant program created under the health care overhaul law to help state regulators challenge what they regard as unreasonable rate hikes. The Health and Human Services Department said states can get $1 million each this year.

Small businesses and consumers who buy their policies directly are likely to be the main beneficiaries of stronger oversight. Many states currently require insurers to obtain prior approval for increases, but some do not. Under the new federal law, insurers will be required to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on health care.