Run-off Roundup

Strama Prepares to Face Fleece – and Leininger

Freshman Democratic Rep. Mark Strama had right-wing millionaire James Leininger on his mind Wednesday morning, the day after drawing Republican Jeff Fleece as his November challenger for the HD 50 seat. Fleece, a rookie candidate with little history in the Republican Party, knocked GOP rival Don Zimmerman out of the running in Tuesday's run-off election, capturing 53% of the vote to Zimmerman's 47%. Fleece had the support of party establishment leaders as well as the local religious-right crowd. He's a clean-cut West Point graduate, plus he's a strong opponent of abortion rights and a big supporter of private school vouchers.

In other words, Fleece is the kind of candidate that Leininger might be dropping some money on in the not too distant future. So it's understandable why Strama would wake up Wednesday morning thinking about Leininger. "If James Leininger decides to write a check for $1 million to try to defeat me," he said, "then that will make this a competitive race." That's a backhanded way of saying that Fleece, for now, is a relative nobody who did not show a whole lot of fundraising ability during the primary. "Leininger is literally single-handedly financing campaigns around the state," Strama said. "Frankly, it's just obscene." Still, even after Leininger pumped more than $2 million into five House races in the March primary, only two of his favored newbie candidates succeeded in taking out two of the five targeted incumbents – Republicans who voted against school vouchers in the 2005 session. If Strama wins re-election in the fall, one of the first things he'll do is file a bill that would limit individual contributors to $100,000 per election cycle. This will make his second effort to pass such legislation. The race between Fleece and Zimmerman largely turned on which candidate was the "true" Republican. As expected, Fleece attacked Zimmerman's Libertarian streak, pointing to his independence as disloyal to the party, George Bush, and the American flag. Before Tuesday's election, Zimmerman consultant Royal Masset surmised that his client's independence could be his undoing in the run-off. "Don is a true idealist who believes that if he fights for conservative causes he'll be supported by conservatives," Masset said at the time. "But the secret to winning this group's support is being a member of their tribe. Don has difficulty paying homage to different groups and self-appointed leaders."

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