Senate races

Senate races

Poll: Sen. Nelson leads GOP field but is under 50-percent mark

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) leads his three potential Republican challengers, but doesn't garner more than 50 percent of the vote against any one, according to a Quinnipiac survey released Thursday.

Former Sen. George LeMieux leads the GOP primary field with 14 percent, and Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos follows with 13 percent. Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, who, like LeMieux, is based in South Florida, trails with 4 percent.

Most voters, 64 percent, said they don't know who they'd vote for.

Peter Brown of Quinnipiac University described the GOP race as "wide open."

“At this point there is no real separation among the Republican candidates in terms of running against Nelson or in a primary matchup. They are all pretty far back,” he said.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Jahan Wilcox said he expected the race to be "one of the most competitive in the country next year."

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Nevada Dems: Sen. Heller 'doubled down' on Medicare

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) has the distinction of taking a second vote in support of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget plan.

Heller was one of 40 Republicans who voted for the Ryan budget plan in the Senate on Wednesday. He also voted for it last month when he was still a member of the House. Heller was sworn in to replace former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) in early May. The House had voted on Ryan's plan in April.

The Nevada Democrats quickly sent out a release that foreshadows the attacks likely to come in next year's Senate race: "Unelected senator doubles down on plan to end Medicare."

Fifty-two Democrats voted against the budget. They were joined by four centrist Republicans: Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who wanted deeper budget cuts than Ryan's budget proposed, was the fifth "no" vote, making the final count 40-57.

-- This post was updated at 10:13 a.m.

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Huckabee endorses in Nebraska Senate race

Despite passing on a presidential run, Mike Huckabee remains politically active on the national scene. He endorsed another GOP Senate candidate in a competitive primary on Wednesday.

Huckabee, who backed state Sen. Mike Haridopolos (R) in the Florida Senate race earlier this month, has also endorsed Nebraska Republican Jon Brunning for the upper chamber.

"I'm proud to endorse my good friend Attorney General Jon Bruning," the former Arkansas governor said in a statement. "I know he has the conservative record and proven leadership that Nebraskans need in the United States Senate. I'm confident that he’ll be a strong voice in the fight to balance the federal budget, eliminate the deficit, and repeal the federal takeover of health care."

Brunning faces investment adviser Pat Flynn and state Treasurer Don Stenberg for the GOP nod to take on Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). State Sen. Deb Fischer is also mulling a bid.

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NM GOP Senate primary gets off to rough start

The top two contenders for the GOP's Senate nomination in New Mexico both ran into trouble this week.

State Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R), who made his candidacy official Tuesday, received what was interpreted as a veiled slap from his boss when announcing his run only months after winning his current position.

"I wish all of the candidates for the U.S. Senate well and do not intend to make an endorsement in the Republican primary at this time," New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) said in a statement released by her office Tuesday.

"It is Lt. Governor Sanchez's decision to pursue what he believes is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run for the Senate. However, it is my responsibility to keep my word to the people of New Mexico by pursuing the reform agenda I promised and delivering the results they deserve. To prevent this race from becoming a distraction, Lt. Governor Sanchez will not be given responsibilities in my administration beyond the select few provided for in the state Constitution."

Former Rep. Heather Wilson's (R-N.M.) campaign sent out a release Wednesday with a collection of headlines noting Sanchez's "bumpy start."

Asked on Tuesday if his official duties would hinder his ability to campaign, Sanchez was adamant. 

"Not at all," he said. "After today we look forward to getting on a statewide announcement tour. We look forward to spending quite a bit of windshield time across New Mexico."

Meanwhile, Wilson's Senate campaign had its own problems this week.

Last Friday, her campaign issued statement saying Wilson had been endorsed by Belen Mayor Rudy Jaramillo, a Democrat.

But according to the Albuquerque Journal, there was no endorsement. "I haven't endorsed anybody. I have made no endorsement of Heather Wilson," Jaramillo told the paper on Monday. "I don't even know where that came from at all."

Wilson subsequently issued a statement saying there was a "miscommunication" with Jaramillo.

"We are removing his name from our list of endorsers," Wilson said.

In addition to Sanchez and Wilson, businessman and former congressional candidate Greg Sowards and Bill English are also in the hunt for the GOP nod.

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Sen. Murray: NY-26 shows Dems can play 'offense' in '12

Senate Democrats have taken heart from their party's win in the House special election in New York on Tuesday.

Democrat Kathy Hochul won an upset victory in the heavily Republican 26th district, giving party strategists hope they can successfully defend their 23 Senate seats up this cycle.

"The election last night showed that Democrats have the keys to drive the budget debate and play offense in 2012," Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement.
 
Tuesday's race, she said, had national implications.

"The results provide clear evidence that Democratic senators and Senate candidates will be able to play offense across the country by remaining focused on the Republican effort to end Medicare and force seniors to pay thousands more for healthcare costs," Murray said.

Guy Cecil, executive director of the DSCC, also released a strategy memo calling Medicare "the single most influential issue in the public debate."

"Democrats lost seniors by 21 points in 2010. What is clear from the results of last night's special election is that the Republican effort to end Medicare will enable Democrats to close that gap in 2012," he wrote. "As this week's vote on the Republican budget plan approaches, Republican senators and Senate candidates will face more scrutiny on the issue."

During the New York race, the emergence of Medicare reform as an issue "changed the climate," presenting Democrats with an opportunity to capture the heavily Republican district, according to Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The race was about three issues, he said: "Medicare, Medicare and Medicare.

"The fact that Republicans had to put in three and a half million dollars in one of the most Republican districts in the country doesn't bode well for Republicans in better districts in the country," Israel said.

--Updated at 10:07 a.m.

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Webb enters the fray for Kaine in Virginia Senate race

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb wasn't interested in another term in the Senate, but he's growing increasingly active in helping the Democrats retain his seat.

altThe one-term Democrat, who announced in February he wouldn't run again in 2012, sent a fundraising plea to supporters Monday on behalf of former Gov. Tim Kaine, who is expected to be the Democratic Senate nominee next year. 

"In 2006, you joined me in our long-shot campaign to recapture this seat from the United States Senate and to bring affirmative, bold leadership to the challenges facing our nation," Webb wrote, asking for his supporters to now "harness that same spirit and determination" in supporting Kaine. 

It was the first email Webb has sent on Kaine's behalf, and is one part of his stepped up involvement in what's expected to be a competitive race, the senator's camp told The Ballot Box.

Kaine is expected for face former Sen. George Allen (R) in the general.

In the note, Webb billed Kaine, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, as someone committed to working across the aisle with Republicans. 

"Overcoming the pettiness and partisanship that are so common in Washington is vitally important during these difficult times, and it is one of the reasons I am so proud to support Tim Kaine for Senate in 2012," Webb wrote.

The note included a photo (at right) of the two men in a friendly half-embrace. The image clicked through to the donation page of Born Fighting, Webb's political action committee.

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GOP regains fundraising edge as Dem Senate retirements mount

The National Republican Senatorial Committee won the April fundraising battle, pulling in $3.43 million last month. The Republicans' haul bested their Democratic rivals by some $600,000. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which outraised the NRSC in the first quarter, brought in $2.8 million in April and now has some $6 million cash on hand and $4.3 million in debt. 

The NRSC has less money in the bank, but is less in the red. It's carrying only $1 million in debt, down from $2.75 million in March. But the NRSC had only $1.38 million banked at the end of last month.

Overall, the Republicans are ahead in fundraising, having brought in $14.65 million this cycle compared with $14.52 million for the Democrats. 

But the DSCC noted that nearly every incumbent senator up for reelection has raised over $1 million in the first quarter of 2011.

The Democrats are defending 23 seats this cycle, of which six (not counting Connecticut) are open-seat races. Republicans, who need a net gain of four seats if President Obama wins reelection, are defending 10.

"Given the expanding Senate map and the increasing number of Democrat retirements, including most recently in Wisconsin, it's more important than ever for Senate Republicans to be on solid financial footing," Rob Jesmer, the NRSC's executive director, said in a statement. 

"Fortunately, the NRSC's fundraising is almost 60 percent ahead of where we were at this point in the last presidential cycle."

--Updatd at 7:34 p.m.

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Club for Growth urges Wisconsin Republicans to reject Thompson

The Club for Growth is taking aim at former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R), labeling the likely Senate candidate a "big-government pro-tax Republican." 

In a scathing statement released Wednesday, just a day after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) decided against a 2012 Senate bid, the Club urged Wisconsin Republicans to "recruit a pro-growth conservative" to run for the seat of retiring Democrat Sen. Herb Kohl next year. 

"Tommy Thompson raised taxes as Governor, supported ObamaCare, and now he wants to run for the United States Senate? April Fools was weeks ago," Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement. "Wisconsin Republicans should recruit a pro-growth conservative to run, not recall some big-government pro-tax Republican whose time has come and gone. Club members are watching Wisconsin’s Senate race closely."

Thompson is currently traveling in Japan and a spokesman said Wednesday he isn't reachable for comment.

Should he run, Thompson will likely face opposition from conservatives, sure to highlight his posture during the healthcare reform debate. Back in 2009, Thompson praised the Senate Finance Committee's efforts on health reform in a joint statement with former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.).  

Thompson had told party officials in Wisconsin he would run for the GOP Senate nomination should Ryan pass on a bid, but he has yet to make a formal announcement.

In 2010, Thompson was considered such a strong contender against former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) that National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) spoke to him about running. But despite poll numbers showing he'd be competitive, Thompson opted not to run against Feingold, who was subsequently defeated by Sen. Ron Johnson (R).

-- Updated at 4:50 p.m.

-- Sean J. Miller contributed to this report.

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