Senator Don Nickles Silent About Re-Election Bid

Monday, April 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Politicians wondering whether Sen. Don Nickles will run for a record-setting fifth term are closely watching his bank account.

The Oklahoma Republican has raised just $53,600 so far this year, and his campaign has $437,750 in the bank.

The numbers are causing speculation among Democrats and Republicans about Nickles' future. He hasn't said yet whether he'll run again.

A Democratic aide told the Tulsa World's Washington bureau the low funds mean Nickles is thinking about calling it quits.

``It is indicative of the things we have been hearing,'' the aide said. ``He's leaning very much in the direction of retiring.''

A Republican aide, meanwhile, downplayed the meager fund-raising total.

``You have to realize how much money Don Nickles can raise if he decides to raise money,'' the Republican aide said. ``He raised and gave away more than $4 million in the last cycle. He is a fund-raising champion.''

In 1997, when Nickles was considering a run for his current term, his midyear campaign report to the Federal Election Commission listed $659,470 in contributions and $1.2 million in the bank.

Nickles' latest FEC report shows that more than half _ $31,000 _ of the money he raised in the first three months came from political action committees. He is expected to raise more at two out-of-state fund-raising events scheduled in the next two months.

A fund-raiser in Oklahoma might be a sign the veteran politician was going to run again.

Last year, Nickles said he wouldn't say until 2003 whether he would run again. Now he says a final decision might not come until early 2004.

Nickles' decision could hinge on President Bush's tax cut proposal.

As chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Nickles sponsored the $726 billion tax package only to watch as a couple of fellow Republicans derailed the package out of concern that wartime is no time for a major tax cut.

The possibility of an open Senate seat, the first in Oklahoma in a decade, is generating interest in both parties. One potential candidate is preparing already.

Republican Rep. Ernest Istook set the fund-raising pace during the first three months of the year. Istook's FEC report listed $98,374 in contributions with $51,000 of that coming from political action committees.

``It's no secret that if Nickles doesn't run, Istook will seriously look at the race,'' a Republican aide said.