Senate races

Senate races

Dems up in 2012 largely united on DREAM Act, 'Don't ask, don't tell' repeal

The vast majority of Senate Democrats facing reelection in 2012 voted in favor of the DREAM Act and the repeal of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy over the weekend. 

Just two Senate Democrats who will likely face tough reelection contests in 2012 voted against the DREAM Act, a measure that is derided as amnesty for illegal immigrants by many Republican critics and on Saturday fell short of the votes needed in the Senate. 

Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), both top GOP targets in 2012, were the lone Democratic "no" votes. Tester's vote prompted a scathing rebuke over at Daily Kos, where Markos Moulitsas labeled him "the Blanche Lincoln of 2012 — the Democrat I will be most happy to see go down in defeat."   

The third "no" vote among Democrats would have been Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), but he missed Saturday's votes to attend a Christmas party, for which he was skewered by critics.

The Democrat, who will face voters again in 2012 for the right to serve a full six-year term, released statements Saturday that made clear he would have voted against the DREAM Act and "Don't ask, don't tell" repeal. 

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who could also be in the electoral crosshairs of the Tea Party in 2012, was likewise a no-show Saturday. He was attending his grandson's college graduation, but made it clear he would have been a "no" vote on the DREAM Act if he were in Washington. 

Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.) was one of just three Senate Republicans who voted in favor of the DREAM Act. The longtime Republican senator is staring down a potential Tea Party-backed challenge from the right in 2012. 

The other two Republicans senators who voted in favor of the measure have no electoral calculations at the moment — Bob Bennett (R-Utah) couldn't get past a GOP primary this past cycle, and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) just survived a tough race against Tea Party-backed Joe Miller, but has yet to be certified the winner due to Miller's legal challenge. 

On repeal of "Don't ask," which passed easily, not a single Senate Democrat up in 2012 voted against it. Among the yes votes expected to be top GOP targets next cycle: Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson (Fla.), Tester and Jim Webb (Va.).  

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), whose decisions on whether to run for another term in 2012 and how exactly he'd do it are eagerly awaited by both parties, led the "Don't ask, don't tell" repeal charge in the Senate. 

On the Republican side, eight senators voted for repeal, including two potential 2012 Tea Party targets, Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

One notable exception was Lugar, who was originally thought to be a yes vote but has expressed reservations about repeal over the past couple weeks.   

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Tea Party-backed DeVore hints at 2012 Feinstein challenge

Former California State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R), who waged a failed primary challenge to Republican Carly Fiorina from the right this past cycle, told supporters Thursday that he fully intends to be a candidate again in 2012.

According to the Los Angeles Times, DeVore sent out a fundraising appeal to backers in which he promised a return to the 2012 ballot — he's just not sure for what. 

"I'm considering a number of interesting opportunities right now, with an eye towards continuing to impact public policy," DeVore wrote in the e-mail, which asked for help retiring some $40,000 of debt remaining from his 2010 run. "But in the long run, I remain passionately committed to returning our government to its founding principles. To that end, I expect to run for office in 2012 — what office remains a question."

Despite finishing third in the GOP primary, which was won by Fiorina, DeVore garnered significant attention from conservatives nationwide and an endorsement from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). 

DeVore doesn't have too many options in 2012. Feinstein's seat is the only statewide election in California in 2012. Plus, Fiorina fell far short of defeating a weak incumbent in Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in 2010, despite a terrific national environment for Republicans.  

Republican strategist Fred Davis, who served as a top adviser to Fiorina's Senate bid against Boxer in 2010, recently told The Ballot Box that Feinstein is one of the safest Democratic Senate incumbents in the country next cycle.

“I don’t know anyone in their right mind who would run against Dianne Feinstein and think they could win,” he said.

(h/t Swing State Project)

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Sen. Corker: No talk of Tea Party challenge back home

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who was derided as "Bailout Bob" by one Tea Party group earlier this year, says he sees no sign of a Tea Party-backed primary challenge to him in 2012. 

"Much of that talk emanates from Washington, but back home I don't hear so much talk in that way," Corker told The Ballot Box of the potential for Tea Party activists gunning for him in a Republican primary in 2012.

The first-term senator said, "Back home the numbers indicate that I'm more popular among Tea Party folks than I am even with Republicans."   

Corker earned the scorn of some Tea Party groups during his work with Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) on the financial reform bill, and is a rumored target largely thanks to his vote in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Earlier this year, RedState's Erick Erickson included Corker on a list of Republican senators who might make good primary targets for the Tea Party movement in 2012.  

But Corker is talking tough on the deficit and already labeling the upcoming vote on increasing the debt ceiling "the next line in the sand."

Corker said he's planning on recruiting a group of senators who will demand tax and spending reforms before agreeing to a vote in favor of increasing the debt ceiling. 

"It seems to me that what we need to do is use this next episode as the moment in time that all of us come together to reduce spending," said Corker, who noted that he reluctantly went along with President Obama's tax-cut compromise.  

The senator also said he's confident that Tea Party backers will take notice of his focus on curbing spending and reducing the deficit in the Senate.

"I look at the issue the Tea Party members talk most about, which is spending — I couldn't agree more with them, nor could I focus more on that issue," said Corker.

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Alaska court could decide Joe Miller's lawsuit Friday

The Alaska Supreme Court is set to hear arguments later Friday in Republican Joe Miller's ongoing challenge to the outcome of his race against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). 

A ruling in the case could come as early as Friday afternoon, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

A state court judge has already rejected Miller's argument that Alaska elections officials applied a faulty voter intent standard to the counting of write-in ballots for Murkowski. Miller is trying to get thousands of write-in votes cast for the senator thrown out on the grounds that voters didn't spell her name correctly. 

The Tea Party-backed Republican also claims in his lawsuit that his legal team didn't have enough time to ready for the ballot review process, and Miller is still alleging vote fraud may have played a part in the results.

Murkowski was declared the winner over Miller last month, but official certification of the election results is still on hold thanks to an order from a federal judge. No matter the outcome in Alaska Supreme Court, though, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline has indicated he will move to lift the injunction on certification quickly after a decision is handed down. 

Murkowski's camp said earlier this week that it expected she would be officially certified the winner before the end of the month. 

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Sen. Bingaman gets a GOP challenger

New Mexico Republican Greg Sowards officially jumped into the 2012 race for Sen. Jeff Bingaman's (D-N.M.) seat Thursday. 

Sowards, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008, made the announcement on his website, where he declared, "Voters are ready for a positive change based on conservative principles." 

Sowards is far from the top choice for Republicans in the state, but the party is staring down a fairly thin statewide bench. Sowards lost a GOP primary in 2008 for the seat of Rep. Steve Pearce, who opted for a Senate run.  

Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) was also a rumored candidate for the seat, but she has poured cold water on that notion and it appears unlikely she will wage another Senate campaign in 2012. 

Bingaman's name isn't near the top of the priority list for national Republicans if he chooses to run for another term in 2012, but GOP interest in the seat has increased amid speculation he might retire.

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Sen. Brown slams 'outrageous and inappropriate' omnibus

Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) is the latest Republican facing reelection in 2012 to come out against the omnibus spending bill that's fueling GOP outrage on Capitol Hill.  

Brown, who was thought to be a potential swing vote on the measure, called the bill "outrageous" in a statement Thursday, announcing his intention to vote against it and demanding a veto from President Obama should the bill reach his desk.

"It is outrageous and inappropriate to jam a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill full of thousands of earmarks through a lame-duck Congress with almost no time to debate," Brown said. "Curbing out-of-control federal spending requires us to re-examine and re-evaluate our spending priorities and restore transparency and openness to the process by allowing full, fair and open debate on amendments. Unfortunately, this omnibus does neither and represents more of the business-as-usual mentality that was rejected by the American people last month."

Brown faces the prospect of a tough reelection contest in 2012 in a heavily Democratic state, but he also has to protect his right flank with some Tea Party activists warning of a primary challenge.

Other GOP senators up for reelection in 2012 have come out against the measure, which has generated scorn from many conservatives and Tea Party activists. 

GOP Sens. Roger Wicker (Miss.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), John Ensign (Nev.), Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.) have come out against the omnibus bill, as has Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who withdrew his earmark requests from the measure earlier this week.

GOP leaders in the Senate are largely united against the omnibus spending bill, even though several of them have millions of dollars in earmark requests of their own in the package.

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GOP still searching for Sen. Sherrod Brown challenger

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who was near the top of the list of potential challengers to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in 2012, said Wednesday he is leaning heavily against a run for the seat.

Jordan told Real Clear Politics that he's focused on his new role as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, and while he wouldn't completely rule out a run, he made a challenge sound unlikely. 

It leaves Republicans still searching for a top-tier candidate to run against Brown, whose approval rating stands at just 40 percent among Ohio voters. 

In a poll released Wednesday from Democratic-leaning Public Policy, Brown's support never reaches above 43 percent in hypothetical 2012 match-ups with former Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) or Jordan. DeWine, however, is also an unlikely candidate, given that he was just elected state attorney general last month. 

Other Republicans who have been mentioned as potential challengers include Lt. Gov.-elect Mary Taylor and Secretary of State-elect Jon Husted.

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