Senate races

Senate races

Democratic Senate recruit asks Obama to backpedal on Keystone pipeline

A top Democratic recruit for the Senate is drawing a line in the sand on the Keystone XL pipeline, separating herself from President Obama in a state where the president’s favorability is underwater.

Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota’s former attorney general and the presumed Democratic nominee to replace retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), sent a letter to Obama on Friday asking him to reverse course on the pipeline, which Obama announced Wednesday that he will block.

“The Keystone pipeline would mean billions of dollars invested in our economy when we need it most, and tens of thousands of well-paid construction jobs at a time when too many Americans are out of work,” Heitkamp wrote. “It would bring new business opportunities for small businesses that would support this huge construction project, from gravel pits to Main Street diners.”

The move by Heitkamp reflected the most palpable and clear-cut attempt by a major Democratic candidate to publicly create distance from Obama since the debate over healthcare reform.

And it’s good politics in North Dakota, a major oil-producing state where opposition to the pipeline is a hard sell for Democrats. When Gallup polled the state in August, Obama’s approval rating stood at 37 percent, among the 10 states where Obama fared the worst.

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GOP Gov. Corbett backs former Dem in Pa. Senate race

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is backing entrepreneur Steve Welch in the Republican primary to take on Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.).

Corbett has been calling Republican leaders in southeast Pennsylvania to ask them to support Welch, the PoliticsPA blog reported.

Welch, a business developer, has had a difficult challenge to secure the trust of many in the state’s GOP establishment due to his brief foray into being a Democrat in 2008, when he temporarily switched parties to vote for then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the primary.

He faces Tim Burns, Tom Smith and a handful of other candidates in the crowded GOP primary.

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NJ state Senate leader to challenge Democratic Sen. Menendez

New Jersey state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R), a top ally of Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), will mount a challenge against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

Kyrillos formed an exploratory committee during the summer of 2011 and started raising money for a possible bid. He will now convert that to an official campaign account, he announced on Thursday.

"Our country is in trouble and Washington is failing us. Americans have seen their neighbors lose their jobs, their home values fall, their savings shrink, and their economic horizon darkened by a record $15 trillion national debt," Kyrillos said in a statement. "Washington has responded with nothing but partisan squabbling and reckless spending, and now Bob Menendez is seeking reelection to deliver more of the same."

Kyrillos told The Hill in December that he felt “a strong calling” to run for Senate.

State Sen. Mike Doherty (R), another Christie ally and a friend of Kyrillos, had also been floated as a likely candidate, but a Republican source said he no longer expects Doherty will run.

Menendez has a 46-35 lead over a generic Republican in a Quinnipiac University poll of New Jersey voters released Thursday

—This post was updated at 10:46 a.m.

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Democratic Senate hopeful knocks Obama on pipeline

Republican Senate candidates have been blasting President Obama's decision to reject the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline — no surprise — but they were joined on Wednesday by a Democrat.

Former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic recruit in the race to replace retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), criticized Obama's decision to block the pipeline, which would connect to oil fields in North Dakota through feeder pipes.

"The President’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline was the wrong one, plain and simple," Heitkamp said in a statement. "Building the Keystone Pipeline will create North Dakota jobs as well as drive down costs of fuel for small businesses and North Dakota families."

Heitkamp's rejection of the president's decision reflected a realization that Democrats in conservative states may have to run against Obama if they hope to establish the independence they'll need to win over voters in November.

It also may mean embracing some of the ideas touted by Republicans — especially in a state like North Dakota, where Obama's poll numbers are underwater.

"As North Dakota’s United States senator, I will fight alongside [Republican Sen. John] Hoeven to reverse this wrong-headed decision and put building the Keystone pipeline on the fast track – even if it means upsetting members of my own party," Heitkamp wrote.

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Former surgeon general raises half-million in 6 weeks for Ariz. Senate bid

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona raised $570,000 for his campaign for the Senate in Arizona in the first six weeks after jumping in the race.

Carmona, who is running as a Democrat despite serving in Republican President George W. Bush's administration, launched his campaign in November, leaving him only a month and a half to raise funds before the first reporting deadline at the end of 2011.

Carmona's campaign told the AP that more than 300 donors had contributed to his campaign.

Carmona faces a primary challenge from Don Bivens, a former chairman of the state's Democratic Party, but has yet to make public appearances or fully roll out his Senate campaign. The two are competing for the nomination to replace the retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). The winner is expected to face Republican Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) in the general election.

The Army veteran and former law-enforcement official also announced kick-off events Tuesday in Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., giving him his first major opportunity to personally introduce himself to voters.

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Lugar up with major Indiana ad buy

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) is up with a major, six-figure ad buy in Indiana touting his opposition to many of President Obama's policies and fight to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

"Jobs — private sector jobs — are Senator Lugar’s number one priority," said David W. Willkie, political director for Lugar’s reelection efforts. "A dozen Indiana companies would be direct suppliers to the 20,000-job Keystone XL pipeline. Industry experts estimate 100 more Hoosier employers would directly benefit. That’s why Dick Lugar has taken the Congressional lead on forcing President Obama to move forward on this vital project."

Lugar is facing a potentially tough Tea Party challenge from Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who released his own ad on Monday hitting Lugar on his support of Obama's Supreme Court nominees, gun-control legislation and the Troubled Asset Relief Program, among other things.

But the size of the two ad buys are night and day. While Willkie would not divulge the exact ad buy size, he said the ad will air on cable and radio for two weeks statewide as well as some on network television. Mourdock's buy is for just $4,000 and will run only twice, during the upcoming Republican debates.

"We are just buying TV ads during the Republican presidential debates statewide on cable for under a little $4,000," said Mourdock spokesman Chris Conner. "Lugar's poor voting record and his relationship with Obama has caused Lugar to buy TV and radio in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. We got the better deal!"

Mourdock has struggled in fundraising so far, and has not yet released his end of the year fundraising totals. Lugar's campaign recently announced it raised $750,000 for the quarter and has $4 million in the bank for the race. The quarterly sum is unimpressive, but the total haul will be tough to match for Mourdock.

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