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Democrats consider running against Sessions for Senate

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions has more than $2 million in his campaign chest after a fundraiser with the vice president, but it’s not keeping Democrats from considering a challenge.

State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks and state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, say they are giving it a serious look. And retired Jefferson County District Judge Pete Johnson may be a candidate.

Sessions, Alabama’s junior senator, will be seeking a third term during the 2008 presidential election. More than 500 people, including a who’s who of the Birmingham business community, paid $1,000 each to attend a fundraising luncheon last Monday with Vice President Dick Cheney. Those donations will be added to about $1.8 million Sessions expects to report in a few days on his new campaign finance form.

That’s a big start toward the $5.4 million that Sessions spent in 2002 to win re-election. But that was a different time politically. The Democratic nominee, then-State Auditor Susan Parker, got outspent 4-to-1 because the national Democratic Party largely wrote off Alabama as a red state that wasn’t likely to change senators.

Democratic Party officials, jubilant after their gains in the 2006 election, expect a much more lively race in 2008.

A new anti-Sessions Web site, www.sack, is early evidence of that.

“The national Democrats want someone to run, and they’ll have the strongest candidate they can find,” Sessions said.

Parker, who was elected to the Public Service Commission in November, said she’s busy learning her new job and has no interest in another Senate race next year.

Likewise, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who entered the Senate race in 2002 and then dropped out because of problems raising money, said he’s not considering it again.

‘No desire’ to run

Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., who narrowly lost a race for the U.S. Senate in 1980, laughs at speculation on political blogs that he might run.

“I have absolutely no desire and no plans to run,” he said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Artur Davis of Birmingham had considered the race, but announced in January that he wouldn’t run.

Sparks, who’s serving his second term as agriculture commissioner and can’t run again, said he’s received lots of encouragement to seek the office and is giving it serious thought.

Sparks said a review of Sessions’ voting record indicates there would be plenty for a Democrat to talk about, including Sessions’ push for a repeal of the estate tax.

“Only 1 percent of Americans would have benefited; 99 percent would not have,” Sparks said.

Figures, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee and well known for her efforts to restrict smoking in public places, said she’s receiving lots of encouragement to run and is praying about it.

“I’m continuing to be led by the Spirit on when the time is right to make a decision,” she said.

Neither Figures nor Sparks would have to give up their current offices to run.

Johnson is mentioned by some leading Democrats as a possible candidate. Johnson said he’s not ready to talk about the Senate seat now, but “I will be commenting within a month.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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