Senate races

Senate races

Dems will aim to use Senate spotlight against Heller

If Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) gets appointed to Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) seat, as appears more and more likely, the 2012 Senate race becomes a tougher task for Democrats.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said Friday he will make the appointment before May 3, the date Ensign's resignation becomes effective. But he didn't give any hints as to who will get the job. Most insiders expect it to go to Heller, who had already announced his Senate candidacy.

{mosads}Some of the advantages for Heller are obvious. Being elevated to the Senate now translates to an immediate bump in name ID, and it gives him a year and a half in a statewide post to further build his profile.

He'd also enjoy some of the traditional advantages of Senate incumbency, particularly when it comes to fundraising.   

Still, in the wake of Ensign's abrupt resignation announcement, Democratic Party strategists argue the 2012 implications aren't so clear-cut. An early Senate appointment for Heller, Dems argue, offers his opposition a chance to capitalize on his higher profile.

As a sitting senator, Heller's public statements and, more importantly, his votes will bring added scrutiny, say Democrats, arguing it's far from a net positive for Heller.

"He would have preferred to sit back, raise money and not be noticed for a while longer," said one Democrat in the state. "He can't do that now. We'll shine a light on every wrong move he makes."

Rep. Shelley Berkley's (D-Nev.) camp hasn't released a statement on the likelihood of a Heller Senate appointment, but a source close to the Nevada Democrat made the case that she will run the same race against Heller regardless.

Berkley has announced her Senate candidacy but has to get through a Democratic primary, which she is expected to win.

She has already highlighted Heller's vote in favor of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget plan and is hammering an economic message. She will also get all the help she needs from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is holding a Washington fundraiser for Berkley next week.  

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, meanwhile, reiterated its intention on Thursday to aggressively contest the seat next year. Last week, Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) pegged the race as one of six pickup opportunities for the party next year, even as it struggles to hang on to a slim majority in the upper chamber.  

-- This post was updated at 2:39 p.m.


Senate Ethics Committee says it will 'complete its work' on Ensign

The chairmen of the Senate Ethics Committee put out a statement late Thursday night indicating their investigators had uncovered some improprieties on the part of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

Ensign announced Thursday he would resign his seat effective May 3, prompting speculation the committee was preparing to close in on the two-term senator.

Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) put out a short, terse statement saying the committee would "complete its work."

“The Senate Ethics Committee has worked diligently for 22 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion. Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision," the statement said.

Despite Ensign's resignation, the committee could still issue a public statement on its investigation.

In February, the Ethics Committee ramped up its investigation of the senator over claims he violated ethics rules in the aftermath of an affair with Cynthia Hampton, the wife of former aide Doug Hampton, whom he then helped to obtain a lucrative lobbying job. The committee named a special counsel to the case.

The Department of Justice and the FBI dropped their respective probes of the senator last year.

Ensign cited the committee's work in his resignation statement Thursday.

"I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings. For my family and me, this continued personal cost is simply too great," he said.

—Shane D'Aprile contributed.


Ron Paul's son unlikely to launch Texas Senate bid

The chances that a third member of the Paul clan will seek a spot in Congress next year appear slim.

Robert Paul, the son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and brother of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said Thursday that a 2012 Senate run "probably is not going to happen."

It comes just a week after Paul said he was thinking about a run for the seat of retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) given concern over the national debt. 

"I'm honored that people think I'm ready to run, but I think they want me to run because I'm related to Ron Paul," he said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I'm never going to say I won't ever run for office, but I think running for Senate probably is not going to happen this time."

Had Paul jumped into the Senate race, he would have joined a crowded field of Republican hopefuls who are already building campaign war chests.

Former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Secretary of State Roger Williams, former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones are already in the race on the Republican side.


Club for Growth to Sen. Lugar: Retire

The president of the Club for Growth encouraged longtime Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) to retire Tuesday rather than seek another term in 2012, warning that the group could get involved in the effort to oust Lugar in a primary.

In an interview on ABC's "Top Line" webcast, Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said while no decisions have been made as to whether the club will officially weigh in on the race between Lugar and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R), "we do have some concerns about Sen. Lugar and his service."

"We think it would probably be best if he would retire at this point," Chocola said of Lugar, who has vowed to beat back a primary challenge and win another term in 2012. "We haven't made any decisions at this point, but we are looking at it very closely, and it's one of the races very high on our radar."

Chocola said the group is also waiting to see whether strong primary challenges to GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) develop ahead of next year.  

Backing from the Club for Growth could translate into a significant fundraising boon for Mourdock if the group endorsed in the primary and used its network to help raise money. 

Lugar is sitting on a $3 million war chest ahead of 2012.

In Arizona, the Club has already raised more than $350,000 for Republican Rep. Jeff Flake's 2012 Senate bid. An early favorite of the Club, Flake was endorsed by the group the same day he declared his intention to run for the upper chamber.

Flake brought in more than $1 million during the first quarter of the year — nearly 35 percent of those contributions were earmarked through the Club for Growth.  

Chocola also continued his group's battle with real estate mogul Donald Trump on Tuesday, telling "Top Line" that while Trump is a "great showman," he's no fiscal conservative. 

"We are not fearful of his candidacy at all, but he is not conservative, he is not pro-growth and he is not a good choice for economic conservatives," Chocola said of Trump.


Sen. Inouye has harsh words for Ed Case

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said he won't endorse in his state's Democratic Senate primary next year, but he had some harsh words for one candidate — former Rep. Ed Case.

Inouye, in a wide-ranging interview Monday with the Civil Beat, showed he's still unhappy that Case challenged Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) in the 2006 primary.

"Akaka was the incumbent. I had a good working relationship with him, and it was no secret. Mr. Case came to me, and I asked him, I said, ‘Are you running for the Senate?’ He says, ‘No.’ Forty-eight hours later, he announced, and in his headquarters were all [these] posters. And these posters are not made in 24 hours. It takes a little while to do this. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me. But on something like this, straight to my face," Inouye said.

The nine-term lawmaker endorsed Akaka in that race, but now that Akaka is retiring, Inouye said he won't be involved in the race for the Democratic nomination.

"I’m not going to be involved in the primary. That’s been my rule all along, with exceptions. … Obviously, I’ve got my own choice. I may not share it with you," he told the paper.

Case has declared his candidacy. Democratic Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie Hirono said they are considering running. Former Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann are also thought to be mulling bids.

Hanabusa echoed Inouye's remarks about the lingering resentment against Case from his 2006 Senate bid in an interview with The Ballot Box earlier this month.

"When you look at the multi-cultural base of the community that we have there, it's something that probably does linger with a good portion of the Democratic base," she said.

Inouye was asked if he and Case had made amends.

"Well he came to see me and, you know, I let bygones be bygones. But I said something like, ‘When I get agitated and irritated, I might act up.' After all, I’m human, right? I can take a few blows. I’ll turn the other cheek. But I always remind myself there was only person qualified to be strung up on the cross. And I’m not the one."


Former U.S. commander in Iraq poised to enter Texas Senate race

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is touting the likely candidacy of retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in the 2012 Texas Senate race.

The former top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq is poised to enter the race for retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's (R-Texas) seat — a major recruiting win for national Democrats, who have labeled the contest one of six potential Senate pickup oppportunities next year.

“Gen. Sanchez has spent his entire life serving our country, and there's no question he would be a strong candidate if he decides to continue to serve his country in the U.S. Senate," said DSCC communications director Matt Canter. "He has a tremendous life story, growing up poor, rising to the rank of general in the Army and bravely leading more than a hundred thousand troops in both Gulf wars. He would bring a new perspective to the Senate, as well as a proven commitment to our nation’s security and the men and women who fight to protect it. He’s exactly the kind of independent leader who can win in Texas.”  

In an interview with McClatchy, Sanchez described himself as "progressive" when it comes to social policy, but a "fiscal conservative."

"I would describe myself as — during my military career — as supporting the president and the Constitution," he said in the interview. "After the military, I decided that socially, I'm a progressive, a fiscal conservative and a strong supporter, obviously, of national defense."

Sanchez commanded U.S. forces in Iraq at the time of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and relinquished his command shortly after, but he wasn't implicated in any wrongdoing by Army investigators. 

Given the shifting demographics of the state, Democrats are convinced a strong Hispanic candidate can put the traditionally Republican state in play next year. They're also banking on a crowded Republican primary turning ugly. 

Last week, DSCC Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) told reporters that the committee was close to rolling out a top-tier Democratic recruit in Texas, listing the state as one of the committe's "6 in '12 campaign," targeting GOP-held Senate seats in 2012.