Senate races

Senate races

Thompson edges towards Wisconsin Senate run

Tommy Thompson, a former Republican governor of Wisconsin, seems almost ready to annouce a Senate run.

Thompson told a Milwaukee NBC affiliate on Wednesday that he thinks he would be the strongest candidate in the race.

You cant take over the Senate without having a Republican senator from Wisconsin,” he saidWho is the strongest candidate to win that seat? I believe it's myself.

The former governor would likely enter the race to replace retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D) as the Republican front-runner. Former Rep. Mark Neumann (R), who ran against Gov. Scott Walker (R) in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary, is also considering a bid.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Tammy Baldwin is the most discussed likely candidate. Rep. Ron Kind and former Sen. Russ Feingold have also been mentioned as possible Democratic candidates, although Feingold seems to be more interested in running against Walker in a recall election than running to rejoin the Senate.

Wisconsin has voted for Democrats at the presidential level in every election since 1984, but Republicans have often run close races and had a banner year in 2010, picking up the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat and two U.S. House seats, as well as total control of the state legislature.

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Citizens United endorses Lugar challenger

The conservative group Citizens United endorsed Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock in his primary against Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) on Wednesday following Lugars vote to raise the debt ceiling.

Dick Lugar could have showed some spine in the recent debt vote and followed the junior senator from Indiana, Dan Coats, in voting no on a piece of legislation that does not solve our nation’s debt crisis, said David Bossie, president of Citizens United. Richard Mourdock is the only true conservative in the race for U.S. Senate, and he will stand up against the failed policies of Barack Obama. At the end of the day, Dick Lugar just wants to be Barack Obama’s friend.

The group gave $5,000 each to Mourdock’s primary and general election funds.

Lugar has come under fire from conservative groups including the Club for Growth, which accuse him of being too willing to work with Democrats and not standing up for conservative principles.

Lugar’s campaign released an internal poll Friday evening that showed him leading Mourdock 45 percent to 31 percent among likely GOP primary voters, with 23 percent undecided.

Those numbers indicate Lugar has the upper hand in the primary but is not guaranteed a victory. Generally, any incumbent who polls less than 50 percent should be concerned about a challenge.

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Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity endorses Sen. Hatch

Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity endorsed Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on his radio show Tuesday, giving a boost to the lawmaker, who could face a primary challenge from the right next year.

During an appearance by Hatch on his show, Hannity praised the senator for "holding true to [his] principles."

Hatch's campaign blasted out the endorsement, sending the audio of the interview to reporters.

The six-term senator will likely face a primary challenge from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who has said he'll make a decision on a Senate bid later this year. Hatch also has come under fire from the Tea Party-affiliated FreedomWorks and the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, groups who consider him a top target in 2012.

The Republican nomination process in Utah is a closed process completed by party insiders, the balance of whom are more conservative than GOP primary voters. They refused to re-nominate then-Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) by a wide margin last year even though polls showed him competitive in the GOP primary.

Hatch has sought to shore up his conservative credentials since Bennett's ouster. Hannity's endorsement is one step toward doing this.

"I'm a little bit frustrated that you've been under fire lately," Hannity told Hatch. "It's frustrating to me because during these tough debates people take the fact that you're a gentleman ... they forget all of the times that you have been fighting for these balanced budgets over the years and they forget what you have done to our Supreme Court which is impacting this country literally now for generations and decades."

Hatch also has the backing of conservative pundits Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin. He returned Hannity's praise on the show. "You mean a lot to America — you mean a lot to me," Hatch told Hannity.

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Lugar will back debt-ceiling increase

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) will vote for the compromise reached by President Obama and congressional leaders to increase the debt ceiling, his office announced shortly before the vote on Tuesday.

"Though the bill isn’t everything we wanted, it's still a victory for conservatives over President Obama's out-of-control spending and big government policies," Lugar said in the statement, which pointed out that Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a favorite of Indiana conservatives, also voted for the final bill.

Lugar will likely face a tough challenge from Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who has stayed quiet on the debt-ceiling deal -- his campaign told The Hill that he was "still reviewing" the legislation late last night.

The fiscally conservative Club for Growth ran television ads earlier this month warning Lugar to vote against increasing the debt ceiling unless the includes a balanced-budget amendment and warned on Monday that the it would include the vote on its congressional scorecard. The group will likely step in against Lugar after this vote.

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House Democrats running for Senate back debt-ceiling increase

Most House Democrats who might run for the Senate next year voted Monday night for the debt-ceiling increase that President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other congressional leaders crafted.

Reps. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah), both members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, voted to support the deal. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) also voted for the deal.

Matheson and Donnelly have similar political motivations at this point, including the fear that redistricting will push them from the House, and an opportunity for the Senate created by Tea Party challenges to popular long-term Republican senators in their states.

Donnelly decided to run for the Senate after Republicans made his already-marginal district more conservative in the redistricting process last spring and it became clear that Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) would face a primary challenge from Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

Matheson's very conservative district could become even more conservative if the state's legislative Republicans decide to target him. This, and a likely challenge to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), have led to him consider a run for the Senate.

Hatch has said he will oppose the debt deal, as Chaffetz did Monday night.

Lugar's spokesman told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette Monday that he would support it. Sources from Mourdock's campaign told The Hill that, as of the time of the vote, they were "still reviewing the legislation."

Berkley will likely face Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who was appointed to the Senate earlier this year after former Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) resignation. Heller will vote against the debt increase, according to The Las Vegas Sun's Jon Ralston.

Other Democrats who are or may be running for Senate that supported the bill include Reps. Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Colleen Hanabusa (Hawaii), and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii).

One Democrat eyeing a Senate run opposed the bill, however. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) voted against the bill from the left. She might decide to run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.).


This story was updated at 11:58am to include Heller's position.

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Flake greets Giffords on House floor

Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) returned to the House floor for her first vote in months to applause and warm greetings from members of both parties. One of the lawmakers, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), could be facing her in an election soon.

While Giffords is still recovering from a failed assassination attempt that took place last winter, some Democrats in Arizona retain hope she could run for the state's open Senate seat. Flake, who is already in the race, approached her to wish her well on the floor.

"Just greeted Gabby Giffords on the House floor," he tweeted shortly after the vote. "'Great to be here!' she said. I couldn't agree more."

Giffords's return to the House was a bipartisan moment in an otherwise strife-filled week. She returned to vote for the compromise legislation to raise the debt ceiling; Flake voted against it.

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Club for Growth: Debt deal vote won't be litmus test

The conservative Club for Growth will not oppose incumbents next year solely for voting in favor of the debt-ceiling deal, the group's president told The Hill.  

Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said that, while his group doesn't add congressional votes to their annual scorecard "unless we think it's a serious vote," the debt ceiling is not the only issue that will determine which incumbents face the group's wrath at the ballot box.

The deep-pocketed group was a major player in the last election, spending heavily to defeat a handful of incumbents of both parties it deemed not fiscally conservative enough. It will likely do the same this election, and some congressional Republicans have been nervous that supporting the bill could lead the group to back challengers in the primary. 

But Chocola said his group will take a more big-picture approach in choosing which members to support or oppose.

"This is a big vote, and I don't want to be squishy here, but we don't want to give this too much weight," Chocola said. "If a guy has voted with us all the time and for some reason they feel they have to vote for this, while we'll encourage them not to, they're still going to have a 99 percent [score]."

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Tea Party Patriots leader warns of primaries against debt-deal supporters

Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler warned he was "not finding a lot of people who are happy" with the bipartisan debt-ceiling deal, and that the local groups he helps coordinate might go after incumbents who vote for it.

"When it comes time to decide whether to primary folks this will be a factor," Meckler told The Hill Monday afternoon.

The Tea Party Patriots is an umbrella organization for more than 3,500 local Tea Party groups around the country. While the larger organization does not raise or spend money on campaigns, where it stands is a good indicator of how vociferous local grassroots organizers will be on a given issue — and whether local candidates might get fired up enough to run against an incumbent.

Meckler says his members are paying close attention to the debt-ceiling debate. "People on the ground, in the individual districts, are keeping track of this like never before," he said.

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