Senate races

Senate races

Missouri Rep. Graves calls Sen. McCaskill challenge 'a great opportunity'

A senior House Republican in the Missouri congressional delegation is considering a challenge to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.).

Rep. Sam Graves (R) told The Ballot Box he's "looking at" running against McCaskill in 2012.

"I certainly wouldn't want to close the door on it. It's something that I look at and kind of evaluate and we'll see what happens," he said in an interview. "There's a great opportunity to take back that Senate seat."

Graves said he's weighing a myriad of factors, including whether to leave his position as chairman of the House Small Business Committee.

"There's some things that I really want to accomplish there," he said.

McCaskill won her first term in 2006 by fewer than 50,000 votes, and observers believe she'll face another close race next year.

The Republican primary field already includes former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and is expected to grow, especially if the national environment remains favorable to the GOP. Republicans also took heart when Republican Roy Blunt won the state's open Senate seat last year.


Democratic senator marks first trip to Afghanistan

Ahead of what's expected to be a tough reelection race, Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) is set to make his first visit to Afghanistan this week.

Tester was in Iraq Tuesday, where he met with Montanan soldiers, military commanders and Iraqi government leaders.

"The best way to get a picture of what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan is to go there myself and talk with the folks making decisions and the folks with boots on the ground,” Tester said in a statement posted on his Facebook page. 

It was Tester's second trip to Iraq. His initial visit came in November 2007, almost a year into his first term.

"Our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are the smartest, toughest and strongest in the world, and I look forward to hearing directly from them in order to make the best decisions I can back in the Senate," Tester said.

He's expected to arrive in Afghanistan for his first official visit there later this week. The trip could help burnish Tester's foreign policy credentials as he shapes his 2012 reelection effort.


Lieberman exit likely to set off spirited primary contests

Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-Conn.) decision not to seek reelection next year sets up another open-seat Senate contest in 2012 — one political insiders in the state expect to lead to spirited primaries on both sides of the aisle.  

Facing what would have been a tough road to another term, Lieberman is set to officially announce his decision to bow out at an event in Stamford, Conn., early Wednesday afternoon. 

It's partially a relief for Democrats, eager to move past the man who has been a perennial irritant for the party of late.

Despite caucusing with Democrats in the Senate, the gulf between Lieberman and his former party only grew following his reelection in 2006 and after he endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president in 2008. 

Given Connecticut's blue tinge, Democrats are hopeful Lieberman's decision paves the way for a much more reliable Democrat to capture the seat in 2012. 

Former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) has already jumped into the race, announcing her candidacy Monday, with others expected to follow. 


Connecticut Dems weighing Senate run huddle on House floor

After Tuesday's news that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will not seek reelection in 2012, two House Democrats considering a run for the seat next year huddled on the House floor.  

Democratic Reps. Joe Courtney (Conn.) and Chris Murphy (Conn.) spoke for close to 15 minutes Tuesday, with both Democrats telling reporters afterwards they're still contemplating the contest. 

"It's something we're looking at and we're going to keep looking at it," Courtney told The Hill. The Democrat said he and Murphy are friends, but that ultimately his decision on whether to enter the race won't hinge on who else jumps in.  

"People are gonna do what they're gonna do, but we'll keep it civil and friendly no matter what," Courtney said, noting that with Lieberman bowing out the race, the contest is likely to attract a sizable field on both sides. 

"This is a tectonic shift in New England politics," he said. "The Senator's been part of the political landscape since the 70's." 

Murphy, who also said he's still deciding on the race, warned Democrats not to take Connecticut for granted in 2012, calling it a "purple" state. 

"A lot of Connecticut voters, especially up in my neck of the woods wind up splitting their tickets," said Murphy. Ultimately, though, the Democrat said given that it's a presidential year, he expects 2012 to be a good one for Democrats statewide. 

"If we have the right candidate on the Democratic line we will absolutely take the seat," he said. 

Lieberman will announce his decision not to seek another term Wednesday in Connecticut, a Democratic source told The Hill Tuesday. 

Former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) has already jumped into the 2012 race.


Tea Party activists vow for 'battle for control' of GOP in N.D.

Tea Party activists will launch a "battle for control of the party" during the North Dakota GOP Senate primary, according to a former senior official in the state Republican Party.

Sen. Kent Conrad's (D-N.D.) announcement Tuesday that he won't seek reelection is expected to touch off an intense competition to succeed him.

In a multi-person GOP field, the Tea Party-backed candidate would be favored to win the nomination, said Gary Emineth, who spent three years as chairman of the state GOP.

"I think there's going to be a battle for control of the party," he said.

North Dakota's nominating system is set up in a way that magnifies the influence of a small group of activists. There is a primary vote held in June, but the nomination is typically decided before then by delegates to the state party convention, who vote on an endorsement.

The party's backing will typically clear the field, making the primary vote merely ceremonial. A non-party endorsed candidate can still run in the primary, but is very rarely successful.

The 2012 convention starts March 30 in Bismarck. Needing only a majority of the some 2,000 convention delegates, a Tea Party-backed candidate could easily claim the party's endorsement, officials said, although they were quick to add that Tea Party support was not a litmus test for winning the nomination.


Rep. Pomeroy doesn't rule out Senate bid

In the wake of Sen. Kent Conrad's (D-N.D.) Tuesday announcement to retire at the end of his term, former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) said he has begun "a new career chapter," but declined to definitively rule out a run in 2012. 

Pomeroy, who lost his at-large congressional seat this past November to Republican Rick Berg, is already being floated by some Democratic strategists as a potential candidate for Conrad's seat.

Reached by e-mail Tuesday and asked whether he would consider a 2012 campaign, Pomeroy indicated he wasn't inclined toward a run, citing his new post at a Washington, D.C., law firm, but he said it was still too early for Senate speculation.   

"I have begun a new career chapter," Pomeroy told The Ballot Box. "Besides, this is a day to reflect on how much Kent Conrad's service has meant to North Dakota and the nation without speculating about what North Dakota will do to try and replace him."

He added: "While no one in politics is indispensable, Kent Conrad's shoes will be very hard for North Dakota to fill." 

After a string of victories in the state in 2010, Republicans see a prime pickup opportunity in 2012 with Conrad's retirement and Democrats staring down a fairly thin statewide bench.


Connecticut Dem jumps in race for Lieberman seat

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has his first Democratic challenger — former state Secretary Susan Bysiewicz.

The Democrat got an early jump on 2012 Tuesday, announcing her campaign for the seat after enduring a disastrous 2010 cycle.  

"We need a Senator who is 100% focused on helping our state, and Senator Joe Lieberman has been focused on everything but Connecticut," Bysiewicz said in an e-mail announcing her 2012 plans, according to the Connecticut Mirror

The announcement from Bysiewicz places some pressure on other Democrats who have expressed interest in the contest, particularly Connecticut Reps. Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy.

Still, Bysiewicz will have plenty to prove in a Democratic primary, and her entrance into the race certainly won't clear the field. Some Democrats have expressed worry that two failed campaigns in 2010 could hamper Bysiewicz in 2012. 

After mulling a run for governor in 2010, Bysiewicz abruptly decided to run for attorney general instead. That race resulted in disaster after a court ruled that she didn't meet the state's criteria for serving as attorney general, which ended her campaign.

As the Mirror details, management questions also arose toward the end of her tenure as secretary of state. 

Lieberman has not yet announced his 2012 plans, which has some political observers in the state thinking he will opt to not seek another term in 2012. The independent senator would have to again create a party line for his candidacy to get his name back on the ballot next year. 

While unlikely, it's also possible that Lieberman could run under the banner of one of the major parties in 2012. Lieberman told The Ballot Box in December that he has received plenty of encouragement from Democratic colleagues and that he expects to make a final decision on 2012 early this year.