Senate races

Senate races

Potential Senate primary rival blasts ex-N.M. Rep. Wilson as 'moderate-type'

New Mexico Lt. Gov. John Sanchez dismissed his potential rival for the GOP Senate nomination as a centrist has-been who would be unable to excite Republican voters.

Sanchez was in Washington Thursday for the National Lieutenant Governors Association's winter meeting as he explores a possible Senate bid.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) announced last month he wouldn't seek reelection in 2012, prompting several candidates to surge into the GOP primary for the open seat. The field now includes former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), businessman and former congressional candidate Greg Sowards and Bill English. 

Sanchez, who has yet to declare his intentions, said Wilson's time has passed.  

"I think Heather served honorably," he said in an interview. "But if we consider the choices that were made by former establishment candidates, I think it's clear the choices will be very easy for the people of New Mexico.

"Do they want a return back to the days of moderate-type leaders [whose] conservative compasses [weren’t] pointed in the right direction? Or are they looking for somebody who doesn't have to reinvent himself?" he said. "I think the choice for U.S. Senate is abundantly clear."

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Biden: If Bill Nelson loses Senate race, Obama won't win Florida in 2012

Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that if Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) loses his reelection race next year, it means President Obama and the Democratic presidential ticket won't win the key battleground state, either. 

Headlining a fundraiser for the Democratic senator in Florida Wednesday, the vice president said the success of the presidential ticket in 2012 is directly linked to Nelson, telling supporters "as goes Bill Nelson in Florida, so go Barack Obama and Joe Biden in Florida," according to a pool report. 

Biden was in the state to attend two events for Nelson on Wednesday, the first of which was a $500 per plate lunch attended by an estimated 150 donors.  

"He's a truly, truly decent guy who has the absolute respect of his colleagues, and I've heard that from both sides of the aisle," Biden said of his former Senate colleague.

The vice president's visit marks the second high-profile event to benefit Nelson already this year. The Democratic is a top GOP target in 2012.   

Earlier this month, Obama headlined a joint fundraiser in Florida, benefiting both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Nelson's 2012 campaign.

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Missouri Sen. McCaskill sees tax bill increase

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill's tax bill continues to grow, much to the delight of Republicans.

The first-term Democrat will likely have to pay close to an additional $40,000 to St. Louis County to cover interest and penalties related to her failure to pay personal property taxes on a private plane stored at the Spirit of St. Louis airport.

McCaskill has already sent the county's Department of Revenue checks for more than $287,000 to cover the personal property taxes owed on the plane for 2007 to 2010.

That left her with an outstanding balance of $32,000, although that could change, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

The senator has yet to receive a final tax bill and has been making payments proactively to rectify the matter, according to her office.

During a conference call on Monday, McCaskill said she wasn't making any attempt to avoid paying taxes on the aircraft and noted that the parent company that owns the plane, Timesaver LLC, had consistently paid sales taxes on it.

"Nobody's trying to evade taxes here," said McCaskill, a former state auditor. "That's why the sales tax was paid 55 months in a row."

On Wednesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) weighed in on McCaskill's ongoing tax trouble with some "perspective."

The amount McCaskill owes St. Louis County "is roughly [three times] more than what former Sen. Tom Daschle owed in back taxes before being forced to withdraw his name for HHS Secretary in 2009, and roughly [10 times] the amount U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel [D-N.Y.] was said to have owed in back taxes before he was censored by the U.S. House last year," an NRSC spokesman said in a statement.

--Updated at 8:27 p.m.

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New Mexico Republican positions himself as 'true alternative' to ex-Rep. Heather Wilson

New Mexico Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) is yet to officially join the GOP Senate primary against former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), but one Republican hopeful is already running to the right of both.

Greg Sowards, who jumped in the race for the seat of retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) late last year, said conservatives looking for a Wilson alternative should take a cautious approach to Sanchez, who most observers expect to enter the race. 

"Heather Wilson is staking her position as a moderate, and John Sanchez, if he comes in, will share that moderate base with her," Sowards said in an interview. "Conservatives will be looking for a true alternative. That's me." 

The state's lieutenant governor, Sowards noted, "is a nice guy, but he has ulterior motives to run, and I think those are apparent. He just got elected lieutenant governor."

After the centrist Wilson entered the race earlier this month, attention focused on Sanchez, a Hispanic statewide officeholder who is an attractive prospect to many New Mexico Republicans.

Sowards is making the rounds in Washington this week to talk up his campaign, while Sanchez is also in town ahead of a possible run.  

If Sanchez gets in, most observers don't expect Sowards to pose a real threat, but in a three-way Republican primary, Sanchez would at least have to battle him for the ear of Tea Party activists in the state.

In 2008, Sowards finished fourth in a GOP primary for the congressional seat now held by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.).

"I believe that I will be recognized as the Tea Party candidate," said Sowards. "If I'm not, I would be totally crushed."

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Rep. Flake focuses on border as Senate primary looms

After years of supporting immigration reform, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has started emphasizing a border-security-first approach as he makes a run for Senate. 

Flake's views on a guest-worker program and other immigration issues were considered his main vulnerability in a GOP Senate primary. But after watching Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) successfully tack to the right during his primary fight last year, Flake is now following that playbook.

"In the past I have supported a broad approach to immigration reform — increased border security coupled with a temporary worker program. I no longer do," Flake said in a statement published by the Arizona Republic.

"I've been down that road, and it is a dead end. The political realities in Washington are such that a comprehensive solution is not possible, or even desirable given the current leadership. Border security must be addressed before other reforms are tackled."

The congressman made similar remarks to The Ballot Box when asked about the immigration issue.

"You've got to have some mechanism that deals with those who are here illegally," he said in February. "We dealt with it before with a provision that required them to go home and register. But everything like that is on hold until we have better border security."

Flake could face former Rep. J.D. Hayworth or Rep. Trent Franks in the GOP primary, both of whom would look for space on the lawmaker's right flank.

During McCain's primary against Hayworth last year, the senator parried attacks on his past support for immigration reform by repositioning himself as a border hawk.

The senator even released a widely mocked TV ad wherein he walked along a border fence. In McCain's "danged fence" ad, as it became known, he called for the completion of a border barrier that he had previously criticized.

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Poll: Dem Rep. Murphy holds slight edge in Connecticut Senate primary

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) holds a slight edge over former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz for the Democratic nomination in the race for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman's (D-Conn.) seat. 

Murphy leads Bysiewicz 40 percent to 38 percent, according to a survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, which was commissioned by Daily Kos.

Another 21 percent of voters said they were undecided. 

The primary is a long way off, but Connecticut Democrats are anticipating a tough fight for the nomination with Murphy and Bysiewicz already sparring over early endorsements. 

Last week, four Democratic members of the state's Congressional delegation — Reps. Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes and John Larson backed Murphy's bid for the nomination. 

Bysiewicz's camp called the endorsements a sign that Murphy is the Washington-establishment pick and highlighted her support from local elected officials across the state.    

The poll shows both Murphy and Bysiewicz easily besting Republican Linda McMahon in hypothetical general election match-ups. But against former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), both Democrats are less than 50 percent with a much larger pool of undecided voters. 

Neither McMahon nor Simmons have made an official decision on a 2012 run, but both are considering bids.

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GOP Senate candidate slams 'Libya intervention'

Virginia Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke, one of three Republicans vying for the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), came out in opposition to U.S. action against Libya on Monday, slamming President Obama for not seeking the approval of Congress.

Radtke, who will try to run to the right of former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in the Republican primary, said in a statement that "Libya does not present a security threat to the United States, and we have no business being part of this military intervention." 

Radtke's position actually echoes that of Webb and several other congressional Democrats who are expressing concern over the action and demanding that Obama seek the input of lawmakers. In an interview on MSNBC Monday, Webb called on Obama to clearly define the endgame in Libya for members of Congress.     

"We have not had a debate and I know that there was some justification put into place because of concern for civilian casualties, but this isn't the way our system is supposed to work," Webb said, lamenting the fact that the president didn't seek congressional approval. 

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Sen. Sherrod Brown on Afghanistan: 'I think we've been there too long'

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) says opposition to the war in the Afghanistan is increasing among Democrats in the Senate and predicts a major push in the upper chamber to force a U.S. withdrawal to begin in earnest by this summer. 

In an interview with ABC's Jonathan Karl, Brown said he will pressure President Obama to remove a sizable number of American troops from Afghanistan starting, as promised, in July. 

"One of the most important things is staying on schedule starting in July on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, because, one, it's not working so well, and second, because of the cost of that to American taxpayers," Brown said. "I think the withdrawal begins in earnest, and a systematic withdrawal of troops out of Afghanistan. I think we've been there too long." 

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