Senate races

Senate races

Hatch teams up with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a Tea Party target who's expected to face a tough primary next year, will host a discussion on social media with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The event will take place at Brigham Young University on Friday at 11 a.m., according to a release from Hatch's office.

Hatch has Facebook and Twitter accounts, although Zuckerberg's Facebook account easily beats the senator's in popularity. Zuckerberg, who became a national figure thanks to the movie "The Social Network," has around 3.5 million fans while Hatch's only has a little more than 5,000. (A note: Zuckerberg's dog, Beast, has his own Facebook page and also tops Hatch, having almost 45,000 fans).

The senator, who chairs the Senate Republican High Tech Task Force, will discuss the value of innovation to the economy, the emergence of social media and its importance from a public policy perspective while Zuckerberg will provide an innovator’s point of view, according to the release.

Hatch, a six-term senator, is facing one of the toughest reelection campaigns of his career. The conservative Tea Party movement has named him one of their top 2012 targets and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is considering a primary challenge.

The Tea Party took out Hatch's fellow Republican senator, former Sen. Bob Bennett, at the 2010 state convention. Republican Mike Lee won Bennett's seat. Lee has said he won't endorse in the 2012 primary.

-- This post was updated 3:05 p.m.

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Dem leader ducks question on whether Sen. Kohl will retire

The Democratic leader tasked with retaining the party's majority in the Senate refused to answer a question about the potential retirement of Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.).

Asked on Tuesday if she has talked to Kohl about whether he will run for reelection, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) would only say, "Herb's just great."

Political operatives on both sides of the aisle are watching Kohl's every move, especially after five other Democrats have announced they will not run for reelection next year.

Murray and other Democratic leaders have been urging Democratic senators to make up their minds early this cycle about their political futures. Republicans will be playing offense in 2012, having to only defend 10 seats while Democrats will be looking to save 23.

There has been some chatter that Kohl, 76, will not seek a fifth term.

The wealthy Kohl, who owns the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise, loaned his campaign account $1 million at the start of the year. That move was seen as a good sign for Democrats, but he's since remained quiet about his intentions. 
 
If Kohl doesn't seek reelection in 2012, it's possible that former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) will make a bid. Feingold has remained politically active since his defeat to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in November.

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Joe Kennedy won't challenge Sen. Scott Brown in 2012

Ex-Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) said he won't challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) next year.

“I start to feel ill all of the sudden,” Kennedy said when asked if he’s thinking of challenging Brown, according to the Boston Herald.

Kennedy considered running for his late uncle Sen. Ted Kennedy's (D-Mass.) Senate seat in 2008 but opted not to make the bid. He admitted after Brown’s victory that he wished he’d jumped ran.

“I spent 12 years in Washington D.C. and it was a great experience ... but I enjoy very much the work that I do and want to continue doing it,” Kennedy said Tuesday at a Boston protest against President Obama's proposal to cut federal heating assistance.

Joining Kennedy at the press conference were Democratic Reps. Michael Capuano and James McGovern, according to the Herald. Kennedy said of them: "There’s two congressman back here who would do a great job at running against Scott Brown.”

Capuano won Kennedy's House seat after Kennedy retired. The seven-term lawmaker ran in the Senate special election but lost in the Democratic primary. He's said to be mulling another Senate run.

McGovern was mentioned as a possible candidate in the special election but declined to run.

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Sen. Cornyn unfazed by looming GOP Senate primaries

The Republican tasked with helping his party capture the Senate majority said he's unconcerned with the growing list of competitive GOP primaries.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) called it a "healthy" sign. Republicans need a net gain of at least three seats next year in order to retake control of the upper chamber.

But targeted states like Florida, Nebraska, Virginia and Missouri are expected to see tough GOP Senate primaries as candidates compete to challenge seemingly vulnerable Democratic incumbents. And rough nomination contests also are expected in some of the 10 states where the GOP holds the Senate seat.

While Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) retirement on Monday was considered a helpful move, Cornyn is also expecting a vigorous contest in that race.
 
Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) is expected to be the front-runner if he runs, but he's sure to face competition. Republican Sharron Angle, who came up short in her challenge to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) in 2010, said she's open to a run and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) has said he would decide in "the coming days" whether to mount a campaign.
 
"We always expected we'd have a primary there and I expect that's still true," Cornyn told The Ballot Box when asked about Ensign's retirement. "It's very early and I know we're all focused here in Washington on 2012, but it's still very early and we don't know who all the candidates will be."

Competitive primaries are helpful, the chairman insisted. "That means people are engaged in the process and that candidates come out tested and battled hardened and ready for the general election."

Asked about the spending bill before the Senate, the Texan said Democrats who vote against the House-approved budget measure, which cuts $57 billion in federal spending, "didn't get the message." 

"They're listening to their party leadership here in Washington and they're not listening to their own constituents," he warned. "I think that's a guarantee to retirement of one's political career."
 

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Lugar primary challenger accuses senator of reversing position on House GOP budget

Sen. Dick Lugar's (R-Ind.) Republican primary challenger accused the longtime senator Tuesday of inconsistency in his position on the $57 billion in spending cuts passed by House Republicans.

Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock charged Lugar with his reversing initial opposition to the measure.

"Senator Lugar's vacillation betrays his liberal instincts," Mourdock said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Lugar indicated that he would vote against H.R. 1 when it came up for a vote in the Senate, but the Indiana Republican later rescinded that opposition, saying he simply misunderstood the question.

"I'm going to vote with the Republicans on the issue when H.R. 1 comes up," Lugar said. "It it's strictly an affirmative vote, I will be for H.R. 1 because all the Republicans will be voting for H.R. 1."

Lugar then apologized for the confusion.

"I'm sorry if I misled people," he said. "I'm going to vote for the Republican resolution, which is as clearly as I can say it."

Mourdock, though, said he wasn't buying it, calling Lugar out for "undercutting" House Republicans.

"Today, [Lugar] announced his intention to support the Obama position by undercutting the House Republicans only to reverse himself within minutes when the potential consequences sunk in," Mourdock said. "A consistent conservative position would be to reduce government spending now."


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Sen. Nelson opposes Nebraska electoral college reform

Sen. Ben Nelson (D) said he would like to "veto" the Republican-backed attempt to reform Nebraska's system of awarding presidential electoral votes by congressional district. 

Lawmakers are debating a bill state Sen. Beau McCoy (R) introduced to revert the state's current system to a winner-take-all allocation. Republicans hold 34 of the state's 49 seats in the nonpartisan, unicameral Legislature.

Nelson vetoed similar legislation when he was governor. "If I was governor, I'd veto it again," he told The Ballot Box. "I hope it doesn't pass."

Nelson is facing a tough reelection campaign and some observers believe that his prospects could take a hit if the reform goes through.

The state's liberal-leaning 2nd congressional district went for President Obama in 2008 after his campaign invested heavily in the Omaha region, driving up Democratic turnout. That investment is unlikely to be made if the state changes its current system.  

Nelson said his position had nothing to do with electoral politics.

"I certainly didn't focus on that when I vetoed it twice before," he said. "I wasn't in a campaign. I just happen to think [the current system] is the right way to do it.

"I think other states ought to consider doing it as well," he added. "Whether they do or not is their choice."

Maine is the only other state to divide its electoral college votes by congressional district. 

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Former Sen. Pete Domenici backs Wilson for Senate

Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) officially launched her Senate campaign Monday with the endorsement of former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the Republican whose seat she sought after his retirement back in 2008. 

After losing out to Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) in a Republican primary three years ago, Wilson is waging another campaign in 2012, this time for the seat of retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). 

In her Monday rollout, Wilson touted the endorsements of Domenici and dozens of other local GOP leaders from across the state.

"I have worked more closely with Heather Wilson than any other House member during my career in the Senate," Domenici said in endorsing Wilson. "Our nation faces some serious challenges -- a debt that is unsustainable, an economy that isn't creating enough jobs and instability in hot spots around the globe. We need her experience in the Senate to work for New Mexico."

So far, Wilson is the only big name Republican to jump in the race, but that's likely to change. Pearce hasn't ruled out another run and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) is weighing a bid, as well. 

While early polling shows Wilson ahead of Pearce in a potential Republican primary rematch, even if he opts not to run again, Wilson is sure to face a primary challenge from the right.  

Nationally, conservatives are already urging a challenge to the centrist Republican. Last week, conservative blogger Erick Erickson tweeted that keeping Wilson out of the Senate "will be the next great noble cause for conservatives."

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Nevada GOP contender pays respect to Sen. Ensign

Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) said he will consider in "the coming days" whether to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

Ensign announced Monday he wouldn't seek a third term. The GOP primary for the open seat is expected to be highly competitive, with Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), former Senate candidate Sharron Angle and others mulling runs.

Krolicki was considered a contender for the nomination to face Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) last cycle but decided against a bid. At the time, observers thought that was because he considered a challenge to Ensign to be more likely to succeed.

On Monday, Krolicki called Ensign "a respected conservative voice."

"Today is a day when all Nevadans should be grateful to Senator Ensign for his consistent and conservative votes in the United States Senate and thankful for his willingness to serve our state and our country," he said in a statement.

The release noted that "he and his family will consider opportunities to best serve the people of Nevada" in the coming days.

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