Speculation about Nickles' future centers on fund-raising

Sunday, April 20th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Politicians wondering whether U.S. 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

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.