Senate races

Senate races

Ben Nelson pushes healthcare changes ahead of tough election

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is pushing two bills changing portions of the health insurance overhaul he helped Democrats pass in early 2010 ahead of what will likely be a competitive reelection campaign next fall, tweaking a law Republicans hope will sink his campaign.
 
Nelson introduced two bills last week. One would fix a glitch in the new law that could allow middle-class Americans to receive Medicaid benefits designed for the poor. The other would repeal a part of the law that requires those with Health Savings Accounts to get a doctor’s note to spend any of the money they have saved.
 
Nelson will need to create distance between himself and his party in order to win in a state that gave President Obama just 42 percent of its vote in 2008, and these bills could be seen as a way to do that. He was the final Democrat to back the health insurance overhaul. He said in late 2009 that while he supported the bill, it was “not perfect,” and voted in early 2010 to allow a vote on the bill but voted against it because of added provisions unrelated to healthcare. Since then, he has backed a number of changes to the law.

Republicans were quick to jump on Nelson for introducing the bills: They agree with him on the policy changes but said he should have fought for them before agreeing to support the overhaul in the first place.
 
“Sen. Ben Nelson was literally the man who made government-run healthcare the law of the land, so it’s interesting that he’s working so hard to repeal portions of the bill,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Jahan Wilcox. “This legislation is proof that Nelson should have never voted for the bill and instead he should have joined the rest of Nebraska’s congressional delegation in voting no on government-run healthcare.”
 
Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson denied any political motivation for the bills.
 
"He has continued to look for and is continuing to look for ways to improve this bill — the things he is working on are policy issues to be addressed,” said Thompson. “It’s not an attempt to distance [himself from Obama] — it’s an attempt to improve the law.”
 
Nelson is a top Republican target in next fall’s elections. Announced Republican opponents include Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg, whom Nelson beat by a narrow margin in 2000.

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Hoekstra could face tough GOP Senate primary in Michigan

Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) became the instant front-runner in the GOP to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) when he entered the race on Wednesday. But another serious candidate could join him soon: Clark Durant, who helped create a network of private Christian schools for low-income students in Detroit, is seriously considering a race and will make a decision by the end of July, he told top Michigan Republican official Saul Anuzis on Wednesday.

Hoekstra had initially resisted running, but when it seemed like the GOP couldn't find anyone else to challenge Stabenow he changed his mind. He is and will likely remain the front-runner for the nomination, with high name recognition among the state's conservatives after a second-place finish in the 2010 gubernatorial primary and a strong base of support in western Michigan.

But Durant could shake up the race. He is well-known around the state from his work with the Cornerstone Schools and has a deep donor network he has cultivated for the program, which could make the race competitive. Of the current candidates, only Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCullough is viewed as a credible challenger to Hoekstra.

"Clark is one of the best fundraisers in the state, he's well respected in metro Detroit, and has a great story with the Cornerstone Foundation," said Anuzis.

Hoekstra will be a formidable candidate because he is well-known and well-respected by Republicans in the state, but the primary won't be an "easy ride" for him, according to Anuzis.

Durant has run unsuccessfully for office before, finishing second in a 1990 GOP Senate primary and losing a run for the state's Supreme Court. But Durant's base of support in Detroit's wealthy suburbs could match up favorably against Hoekstra's western Michigan base: If he can unite local Republicans around his candidacy, he could have the money to win the primary.

Republicans are hopeful they can knock off Stabenow, a two-term incumbent who won reelection with 57 percent of the vote in 2006. A poll released Tuesday indicated she could be in trouble: 38 percent of voters approve of the job she's doing while 51 percent disapprove, according to Lansing-based pollster EPIC-MRA. Stabenow remains relatively popular personally, however: 47 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of her, while 35 percent have an unfavorable opinion.

Part of Stabenow's problems stem from the local economic climate: Michigan has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation and the economic downturn has soured voters on President Obama. He won the state with 57 percent of the vote in 2008, but only 47 percent of voters approved of him in the poll.

Stabenow also faces demographic challenges: Detroit, the state's treasure trove of Democratic votes, has seen its population plummet by 25 percent in the last decade.

This post was updated at 3:40pm to include the EPIC-MRA poll information.

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Report: Hoekstra to challenge Stabenow in Michigan Senate race

Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) will run against incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), according to Michigan-based news service MIRS News.

The official announcement is scheduled for Wednesday.

Hoekstra had initially said he didn't want to run a statewide race this election after finishing second to now-Gov. Rick Snyder in last year's Republican gubernatorial primary. But when no other strong candidate emerged to run against Stabenow, whose recent poll numbers are less than ideal for an incumbent, Republicans asked him again.

Hoekstra is not known as a great fundraiser, which could be a problem in the expensive state. But the Wolverine State, a traditional bellwether, could be fertile ground for the GOP this year. The state's economy continues to suffer and there has been an exodus from Detroit, the state's major trove of Democratic votes. Stabenow could have a tough race on her hands.

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Liberal group raises money for Warren Senate run

A liberal group announced Tuesday that it has raised $30,000 in 24 hours to support a Senate run by Elizabeth Warren.

Warren, a liberal Democrat and the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has been widely touted as a candidate suited to oppose Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2012. Warren has said she will give a run some thought, but has not committed to being a candidate.

Warren was also favored by Democrats to run the new CFPB, but because so many Republicans strongly objected to her in that role and promised a filibuster if she were selected, the White House decided to nominate former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray (D), a Warren protégé, to lead the agency.

The CFPB, created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, goes into operation Thursday.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) had supported Warren to run the CFPB and is calling for her to run for the Senate against Brown. In a 24-hour period from Monday into Tuesday, PCCC reported collecting 24,000 signatures in support of a Warren Senate candidacy, as well as $30,000.

Warren on Monday said she would take a little vacation time from setting up the CFPB and then decide about the Senate race.

"When I go home, I’ll do more thinking then. But I need to do that thinking not from Washington," Warren told MSNBC.

If Warren decides to get into the race, she could face formidable opposition in Brown, who recently announced raising $2 million in the second quarter of 2011, bringing his political war chest to almost $10 million.

Still, liberals consider Warren a strong candidate against Brown.

“It would be a marquee race of 2012, potentially second only to the presidential race,” PCCC co-founder Adam Green said.

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Sen. Stabenow's job approval ratings down

Thirty-eight percent of Michigan voters approve of the job Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has done as senator, while 51 percent disapprove, the weakest job approval ratings the swing-state senator has seen this year in polls conducted by Lansing-based pollster EPIC-MRA.

Stabenow remains relatively popular personally, however: 47 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of her, while 35 percent have an unfavorable opinion.

The senator may have a tough reelection campaign on her hands, although Republicans have failed thus far to find a top-tier candidate to challenge her. Michigan has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation and the economic downturn has soured voters on President Obama. He won the state with 57 percent of the vote in 2008, but in this poll his favorable and unfavorable numbers are tied at 47 percent apiece.

Stabenow also faces demographic challenges: Detroit, the state's treasure trove of Democratic votes, has seen its population plummet by 25 percent in the last decade.

But so far, no top-notch Republicans have risen to the challenge. Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) is reconsidering a run after earlier saying he wouldn't challenge her. 

Hoekstra may not be a giant-killer; he finished second the 2010 gubernatorial primary to now-Gov. Rick Snyder and isn't known for his fundraising prowess. Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch is also running.

The poll of 600 likely voters was conducted from July 9 to July 11 has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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Internal GOP poll shows Scott Brown up big in Mass.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is widely popular and leads all possible Democratic opponents by big margins, according to a new survey from Republican pollster Neil Newhouse's Public Opinion Strategies, conducted for the Brown campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Two thirds of Bay Staters approve of the job Brown is doing while only 27 percent disapprove, according to the poll, and 56 percent believe he deserves to be reelected.

Brown is Democrats' top Senate target. He narrowly won his seat in a special election in early 2010 with 52 percent of the vote. The state is solidly Democratic, but Brown has sought to cultivate a centrist, populist image, and has voted with Democrats on such issues as financial regulation overhaul and allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military.

"Voters primarily view Scott Brown as a man of the people," writes Newhouse in the release. "He's a regular guy, a family man, not a politician, and not swayed by ideological pressure. ... While November 2012 is still over a year away, this poll makes it clear that Scott Brown is well-positioned for re-election."

Brown leads philanthropist Alan Khazei (D) 54 percent to 24 percent, and leads Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren (D), who helped spearhead the financial industry regulatory overhaul and is considering a Senate bid, 53 percent to 28 percent. Newton Mayor Setti Warren (D) also trails Brown, 21 percent to 57 percent.

Brown will also have the money to run: He has almost $10 million in the bank for his reelection effort thus far.

The poll's release does not say what the name-recognition levels are for the Democrats, but it is likely their low name recognition is a big part of Brown's wide margin in the poll. Its release is also selective, making it unclear whether it was crafted to inflate Brown's numbers or whether other indicators in the greater poll might not be as good for Brown. It was conducted in late June, when Warren was still working on setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and hadn't publicly discussed running.

"The only percentage that will matter to Bay Staters next November is that Scott Brown votes with extreme Republicans in Washington nearly 90 percent of the time," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director Matt Canter said in a statement. "Not only does this month-old poll contradict other polls that show Brown’s popularity slipping, but the simple fact that national Republicans feel the need to release it reeks of desperation and fear that Scott Brown is very vulnerable."

Liberal groups and Democratic insiders are pushing Warren hard to run. Democrats believe she could raise the money needed to raise her name recognition and attack Brown to drive his poll numbers down, and are still confident they can make the race a close one by going after his voting record. Still, Brown's atmospheric approval ratings will make him hard to beat in next fall's election.


—This post was updated at 12:16 p.m.

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Sanchez trails Wilson in fundraising for NM Senate seat

New Mexico's Republican Lieutenant Gov. John Sanchez trails former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) in the cash race despite loaning $200,000 to his campaign in the last three months. Sanchez raised $312,000 in that period, including the loan, and has $247,000 in the bank. Wilson raised $450,000 in the last fundraising quarter and has more than $600,000 cash on hand for the race.

Sanchez also trails self-funding businessman Greg Sowards in fundraising. Sowards, running to the right of the centrist Wilson and the conservative Sanchez, has $334,000 cash on hand after loaning his campaign more than $200,000.

This is the latest good news for Wilson. A late-June poll conducted by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm had her holding a wide lead in the primary, with 52 percent of likely Republican primary voters supporting her, 24 percent supporting Sanchez, 8 percent supporting Sowards and 4 percent supporting fringe candidate Bill English.

She is the preferred candidate of many establishment Republicans. Wilson is known to voters statewide after her 2008 Senate primary run, which she lost to Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), who went on to lose to Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). She also represented Albuquerque, the state's largest city, in Congress. But some conservatives believe she is too centrist. Erik Erickson, founder of the popular conservative blog RedState, tweeted when she announced that "Keeping Heather Wilson out of the Senate will be the next great noble cause for conservatives."

Doing so will be harder without a consensus conservative candidate. If Sanchez cannot raise the money to unite conservatives around him and Sowards spends enough to keep himself polling outside the margin of error, it will be hard for either candidate to catch Wilson.

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Haridopolos drops Senate bid in Fla.

Florida's Republican state Senate President Mike Haridopolos dropped his bid for the U.S. Senate Monday morning. 

"It became increasingly clear to me and those around me that the responsibilities I was managing on both fronts were in conflict," he said in an email to supporters. 

"I truly believed I could handle both jobs but I was wrong. Now, I'm determined to make it right."

Haridopolos had started out strong: He was the only candidate to outraise a sitting senator in the first quarter of this year, which he did by bringing in $2.6 million in three months. 

This quarter his fundraising dipped to $900,000, and on Friday, two key advisers resigned from his campaign.

He had also faced charges of ethics violations because a community college he worked at had paid him $150,000 to write a book, an unusual move.

With Haridopolos out of the race, former Sen. George LeMieux, former Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner and former Ruth's Chris Steakhouse CEO Craig Miller will vie for the Republican nomination to challenge longtime incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

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Steelman lags Akin in Missouri GOP Senate fundraising

Former Missouri State Treasurer Sarah Steelman spent more money than she raised for her Senate campaign, the second quarter in a row that the woman once considered a top recruit to challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has posted lackluster fundraising figures. Steelman finished the quarter with less than $200,000 cash on hand after raising $200,000 and spending more than that from April through June.

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) raised more than a half million dollars in the same period and has $1.2 million cash on hand for the race, putting him in the driver's seat for the primary. But his numbers aren't overwhelming: Ann Wagner, who is running for his House seat, raised about the same amount in slightly more than two months, although her numbers were very high for a non-incumbent House candidate.

McCaskill raised $1.4 million in the last quarter and has almost $3 million cash on hand to use against the eventual nominee. No matter who the GOP candidate is, she could face a tough race in the swing state. Her job approval numbers have been below 50 percent in polls conducted this year, and she admitted in March that she owed $300,000 in back taxes on a private plane she owned with her husband, and that she had used taxpayer money to fly the plane on a political trip. She tackled the issue head-on, apologizing to voters, paying the back taxes and selling the plane, but the issue will likely be raised by Republicans in the general election.

Akin may have his own troubles: he recently switched his voting registration the same day that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that he had been voting in a town where he no longer lived.

Some Democrats are privately rooting for Akin to win the primary — they believe his more conservative profile and long voting record in the House make him an easier opponent than Steelman would be, at least on paper. Businessman John Brunner is also considering entering the GOP primary field. Brunner would be able to self-fund, and Steelman's anemic numbers might encourage him to run.

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