Senate races

Senate races

Rep. Rehberg ups the ante on Montana outside-spending ban

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) upped the ante on his opponent, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), expanding a proposed agreement to ban outside money in their race.

Tester sent Rehberg a letter on Wednesday calling for a ban on most forms of outside spending in the campaign, including from super-PACs, interest groups and the state parties. Rehberg's counter-offer expands that to include a ban on all donations from political action committees and lobbyists — as well as anyone not living in Montana.

{mosads}Rehberg sent a letter ripping Tester for his "newfound concern" about the issue, and pointed out that outside groups had spent heavily to help Tester win his election in 2006. 

"Because your concern is so newfound, you will understand if Montanans are rightly skeptical about its authenticity," Rehberg writes, describing Tester's "nascent concern [as] a self-serving political ploy."

Rehberg then blasts Tester for being the "number one recipient of lobbyist contributions in the entire United States Congress this election cycle."

Tester's offered agreement would have given him an edge in the race because of his strong cash on hand advantage and Rehberg's weak fundraising so far. Rehberg's calls for a return of lobbyist contributions would give him a relative edge in the race.

Tester's campaign responded quickly. "Jon is reviewing Congressman Rehberg's response, which reads like the attack ads we're trying to keep out of this race," Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy emailed The Hill. "The bottom line is that he rejected Jon’s simple proposal to give Montanans the transparency and accountability they deserve.  Saying no to transparency and accountability comes as no surprise from Congressman Rehberg, who just got caught hiding tens of thousands of dollars he took from out-of-state lobbyists."

The two campaigns seem happy to take potshots at each other for now, and it is unclear if they will be able to reach an agreement. But a similar scenario played out in Massachusetts, with Sen. Scott Brown (R) and Democrat Elizabeth Warren scoring political points off each other on the issue. The two eventually came to an enforceable agreement by which they are now both legally bound.

The state has seen a high level of third-party spending. Outside groups have already spent more than $1 million on television and radio ads — which is a lot of money in the small state.

This post was updated at 7:36 p.m.

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Republican gets clear shot at New Mexico Senate nomination

Former Rep. Heather Wilson's (R-N.M.) Senate campaign got a big boost in New Mexico when her main primary rival dropped out.

New Mexico Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R), who was running to the right of the centrist former congresswoman, announced Wednesday that he would drop his bid. His move leaves her with only nominal primary competition and gives Republicans a better chance at the seat, which is held by retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

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Hoekstra's primary foe attacks 'demeaning' ad

Clark Durant, the well-connected conservative who is challenging former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) in the state's Senate GOP primary, is going on the attack just days after Hoekstra launched a controversial TV ad that featured an Asian actress speaking in broken English that has been criticized by some as racist.

The two are vying to run against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

Durant held a Thursday morning press conference with Washtenaw County Commissioner Alicia Ping, an Asian-American Republican who switched her support from Hoekstra to Durant over the ad. She'd previously blasted Hoekstra's ad as "offensive and racist."

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Lugar's foes on left and right hit him for living in Washington

Indiana Democrats gave Fox News a detailed list of Sen. Dick Lugar's (R-Ind.) travel accounts on Wednesday, slamming him for spending taxpayer dollars on hotels since he doesn't have a home in the state.

The papers suggest that Lugar's time in the state has been limited to less than a year over the last two decades, which the Lugar campaign says is completely false."[Lugar] spends a quarter of the year, every year in the state," Lugar spokesman David Wilkie told Fox, and pointed out that Lugar still owns a farm in Indiana and has spent 89 days in the state in the last year.

National Democrats pounced on the story. "If there were still any doubts about how badly Dick Lugar has turned his back on Indiana, this report removes them entirely," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Shripal Shah. "It's bad enough that Dick Lugar has completely neglected Indiana since coming to Washington decades ago, but it's even worse for him to make tax payers pay for him to sporadically visit the state at his own convenience."

Lugar's primary challenger, Tea Party favorite and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R), has been hitting him on the issue for some time.

Lugar will be the heavy favorite over Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) if he wins his primary, but while he has a major cash advantage over Mourdock, whose campaign has struggled with organization, he could face a tough primary race.

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Tester asks Rehberg for outside group ceasefire in Montana

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) sent a letter to Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) Wednesday afternoon requesting a ceasefire on outside groups' spending in the race.

The proposed agreement is similar to one already agreed to in Massachusetts between Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. It would force a campaign to donate to charity the amount of money spent on an ad by a third-party group, and includes a ban on super-PACs, issue advocacy groups, the state Democratic and Republican parties, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

"This is certainly an interesting proposal by Senator Tester," Rehberg Campaign Manager Erik Iverson responded. "We are going to give it a close look and we will respond in due course."

The deal would likely be advantageous to Tester, who has a large cash on hand advantage over Rehberg. Keeping the DSCC, NRSC and state parties out of the race is also an unusual move: Incumbents are often better-funded, and challengers are often buttressed by spending from their parties on their behalf.

The state has seen a high level of third-party spending — as Tester points out in the letter, outside groups have already spent more than $1 million on television and radio ads, which is a lot of money in the small state.

This post was updated at 6:10 p.m.

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Dems knock potential McCaskill rival’s hefty salary amid layoffs

Democrats in Missouri are knocking a Republican Senate candidate for taking a hefty salary from the family company he said he was no longer running at the same time that the company laid off workers.

John Brunner, one of three Republicans vying to take on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in November, officially entered the race in October — the same month that Vi-Jon, his family’s health and cosmetic products company, commissioned a round of layoffs that included 36 workers.

Brunner had stepped down as the company’s CEO at the end of 2009, then bowed out of his role as chairman of the board in September 2011, anticipating his entrance into the Senate race the next month. He still serves on the board of directors.

Brunner has used his more-limited role to argue he wasn’t intimately involved in day-to-day decisions at the time the company was letting go of employees. But Brunner’s financial disclosure, filed in early February, shows he took a salary of $372,000 for 2011, which Democrats say chips away at his ability to distance himself from the layoffs.

“If John Brunner was taking nearly $400,000 in salary and filming dishonest ‘job creator’ ads on Vi-Jon’s factory floor, Brunner clearly had to know what was going on with Vi-Jon’s recent lay-offs,” said Caitlin Legacki, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Democratic Party.

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Carmona bulks up his Senate campaign in Arizona

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona is staffing up ahead of the Democratic primary for Senate in Arizona, bringing on three new members to his team.

Carmona's campaign will be managed by Alexis Tameron, former Rep. Harry Mitchell's (D-Ariz.) chief of staff and a veteran of the Arizona Democratic Party. Tameron will be joined by Finance Director Andy Darkins, who helped Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D-W.V.) get elected in 2011. Andy Barr, a spokesman for the state party and former reporter for The Hill, will head Carmona's communications efforts.

Carmona announced in November he would run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). His early campaign efforts had been coordinated by Rodd McLeod, who ran former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's (D-Ariz.) congressional campaigns.

Carmona, who served as the nation's top physician under President George W. Bush, is competing in the Democratic primary with Don Bivens, a former chair of the state party. The winner of the primary is expected to face Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in November.

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Hoekstra fundraises off charges his Super Bowl ad was racist

Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) is fundraising off accusations that his first Senate ad is racist.

Hoekstra's ad, which aired Sunday, drew criticism from Democrats, Asian-American groups and some Republicans for featuring an Asian woman mockingly thanking his opponent, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), in broken English for shipping jobs to China.

After a day of controversy, Hoekstra sent out a fundraising plea. "We dared to take on Debbie Stabenow and China, and the liberals are doing what they always do — crying racism," Hoekstra writes before asking for donations.

Hoekstra's campaign spent $150,000 on the ad buy. It has garnered more media attention than most ads, but its message on debt and spending has been drowned out by the controversy over its racial overtones. Read a full account of Monday's back-and-forth here.

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