Senate races

Senate races

Ex-Rep. Simmons to decide on Senate run in March

Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) will decide whether to make another Senate run in March. 

Simmons, who lost out on his party's nomination for retiring Sen. Chris Dodd's (D-Conn.) seat this past cycle to former World Wrestling CEO Linda McMahon, said in an interview with a Connecticut TV station that he's still weighing his options.  

During a taping of "Face the State with Dennis House," set to air this Sunday in Connecticut, Simmons was critical of the state's current GOP Chairman Chris Healy, suggesting the state party needs new leadership. 

In the aftermath of his loss to McMahon at the party's state convention last cycle, Simmons has been critical of GOP leadership at the both the state and national level, suggesting party leaders should have been more forceful in backing him throughout the process. 

In a recent interview with The Ballot Box, Simmons also laced into his former rival McMahon, making it clear he doesn't think another McMahon Senate run would give his party the best shot of winning the seat of retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). 

"Are we looking for a candidate who has actually won races, a person who's committed to public service?" asked Simmons. "Or are we still looking for a multi-millionaire?" 

Two Democrats are already in the race for Lieberman's seat: Rep. Chris Murphy and former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz.


Virginia Republican raises $100K in bid for Webb's Senate seat

Virginia Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke has raised just over $100,000 for her 2012 Senate bid since entering the race in December. 

It's a good start for Radtke, who raised the cash in just three weeks, according to her spokesman. Radtke faces a strong fundraiser in former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in the GOP primary. 

Allen jumped into the race in late January, so he has yet to file a fundraising report. 

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) hasn't yet announced his 2012 plans and has said he won't kick his fundraising into high gear until he makes an official decision. Still, his end-of-the-year numbers didn't ease the minds of some Democrats worried Webb will opt against running again next year. 

He raised just $12,000 during the final three months of 2010 and reported $444,000 cash on hand. 

The Republican primary for Webb's seat could be a crowded one, placing an added emphasis on early fundraising totals. The chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, Corey Stewart, is expected to get in the race, and Virginia Del. Bob Marshall is weighing a bid. 

Radtke recently told The Ballot Box that no matter how large the primary field is, she fully expects Tea Party activists to unite behind one George Allen alternative ahead of the primary. 


Rep. Graves won't challenge Sen. McCaskill

Missouri Rep. Sam Graves (R) passed on challenging Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) next year.

Graves thanked his supporters and called it an "agonizing decision." 

"I believe it is a winnable race for me. However, I also believe that I can have a greater impact on federal policy in the next six years as a Chairman in the House. I am the first chairman in the history of the sixth congressional district and there is much I still want to accomplish in Washington," he said in statement Thursday. "I love representing the Sixth District because I understand it in and out."

Graves declined to endorse a candidate for the GOP nomination.

"It is important to me that Republicans nominate the best possible candidate in 2012. For that reason, I intend to let the field fully form before I issue any endorsement," he said.

Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and attorney Ed Martin are the only declared candidates in the GOP field.

In January, Graves told The Ballot Box he was "looking at" running against McCaskill in 2012.

"I certainly wouldn't want to close the door on it. It's something that I look at and kind of evaluate and we'll see what happens," he said in an interview. "There's a great opportunity to take back that Senate seat."

But he noted a myriad of factors were on his mind, including whether to leave his position as chairman of the House Small Business Committee.

"There's some things that I really want to accomplish there," he said.

House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) applauded Graves' decision.

"I am glad Sam has decided to continue his service in the House," said Boehner.

--Updated at 5:48 p.m.


Editorial: Let voters decide on Sen. Ensign

Some Nevadans are unimpressed with the decision by the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate whether Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) violated rules by trying to help the husband of his former mistress find lobbying work.

The committee on Monday announced the appointment of a special counsel who will conduct an inquiry that experts say could last through 2012.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal editorialized that that decision could hamper voters' ability to weigh Ensign's record.

"This is the first time in two decades the Senate ethics panel has elected to name a special prosecutor, which may mean the panel is about to enter an adjudicatory review phrase [sic] that could lead to public hearings," the editorial board wrote. "The question is whether this move will in fact expedite or simply further drag out the matter.

"Although the Constitution gives both the House and the Senate the power to punish or expel members for disorderly behavior, the voters of Nevada would be better served if the veil of ongoing secrecy in this grand jury-like preliminary inquiry could be lifted and the facts laid out prior to the start of election season. It is unfair to the voters, not to mention Sen. Ensign, to have this matter dally behind closed doors."

Voters are capable of deciding whether Ensign should stay in the Senate, according to the paper, "if they can simply be handed the unvarnished facts."

— Jordy Yager and Alexander Bolton contributed.


McCaskill challenger blames computer problems for erroneous fundraising report

Missouri Senate candidate Ed Martin (R) blamed computer problems for his campaign filing an erroneous campaign finance report that showed him outraising Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in the last quarter of 2010.

According to the year-end report his campaign committee filed with the Federal Election Commission, Martin has $175,514 cash on hand after raising $229,275 from Nov. 23 to Dec. 31. Some outlets noted Martin's reported total and measured it against McCaskill's haul of $134,742 in the final quarter of the year.

"I assure you, it's not two hundred grand, I wish it was," Martin said when asked about his campaign's fourth-quarter total. "What our report is showing is about forty grand cash on hand."

Martin's report, which is publicly available on the FEC website, shows tens of thousands of dollars in donations being recorded on Nov. 23, the first day of the reporting period, when he hadn't yet announced his Senate candidacy. 

"My understanding is it's all screwed up and we have to amend it," he said about the report. "I think we had a computer problem."

Martin ran against Rep. Russ Carnahan last cycle but narrowly lost to the Democrat. Martin's camp has since struggled to meet its financial reporting obligations.

He announced his Senate run on Jan. 31.

An official in the Senate Office of Public Records said that Martin has yet to transfer his House committee to a Senate committee. An FEC spokeswoman wouldn't comment on communications between their office and Martin's camp. A request for additional information from Martin may be posted in the coming weeks if an FEC analyst finds discrepancies in his report, the spokeswoman said.

Martin said he lost his House campaign's treasurer after the election and has since has to rely on accounting help from other staffers. "I've been unhappy with an employee who didn't get it done right and she's unhappy with the FEC," he said.

He said he plans to file an amended report but called the process "rocky."


Poll: Obama, Nelson approval below 50 percent in Fla.

A new poll out Thursday shows both President Obama and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) have some work to do ahead of 2012. 

While both Democrats get decent grades from Florida voters, Obama's approval rating stands at 47 percent in the state, and just 45 percent approve of Nelson's performance.  

In a state where Nelson's hopes for another term are very much tied to Obama's 2012 performance, 48 percent of voters told Quinnipiac University that Obama doesn't deserve to be reelected next year. And 43 percent of voters feel the same about Nelson. 

The poll didn't measure Obama or Nelson against any potential 2012 challengers, but the president garners just 40 percent of the vote against an unnamed GOP challenger, while Nelson would defeat a generic Republican, 41 percent to 36.  

The good news for Nelson is that only 21 percent of Florida voters disapprove of his performance in office and he's sitting on some $3 million heading into the 2012 cycle. 

The poll surveyed 1,160 registered voters in the state and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Nelson is certain to face a tough GOP challenge next year. Florida State Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) is already in the race against Nelson and Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), former Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) and state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner (R) are weighing bids.


Steelman outraises Sen. McCaskill at start of campaign

Missouri Republican Sarah Steelman raised more than $200,000 in the first month of her bid for the GOP nod to challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D).

Steelman, who announced her run on Dec. 1, bested McCaskill's fourth-quarter total by almost $70,000, a warning sign for the first-term Democrat.

Steelman's cash-on-hand figure also eclipses those of her rivals for the GOP Senate nomination. She has $188,867 banked whereas former House candidate Ed Martin has about $40,000 and Rep. Sam Graves, who has yet to announce his intentions, reported having less than $30,000 in the bank at the start of the year.

Steelman reported spending about $20,000 in the first month of her effort.

Still, McCaskill maintains a financial edge over the Republicans. She reported more than $900,000 banked as of Jan. 1. And she's clearly aware of the need to outpace her potential challengers as they battle for the nomination. McCaskill recently told Missouri reporters that one of the first staffers she hired for her campaign was a fundraiser.


Sen. McCaskill has financial edge over GOP challengers

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) started 2011 with a significant financial advantage over her potential Republican challengers.

She reported more than $900,000 banked as of Jan. 1, having raised $134,742 in the final quarter of the year. One of her two declared GOP rivals, Ed Martin, reported close to $40,000 in cash on hand, which he rolled over from his 2010 challenge to Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.). Martin raised close to $1.5 million for that race, which he lost by less than 5,000 votes. 

The latest campaign finance report for state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, the only other declared GOP candidate in the race, wasn't yet available Tuesday.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), who is considering a run against McCaskill, reported having less than $30,000 in the bank at the start of the year.

Meanwhile, McCaskill's delicate political situation — wherein she has to balance her appeal to Democrats and independents simultaneously — was on full display Tuesday.

She took to the Senate floor to join with Republicans in proposing deep budget cuts, which she said could cost her reelection.

"If this bill is distorted and twisted, it could cost me my Senate seat, but it's a price I am willing to pay," McCaskill said in a floor speech supporting the bill on Tuesday.

She also defended two controversial bills: the financial bailout and the Democrats' stimulus program, calling it "a bogeyman."

"I am so sick of that being blamed. It is so wrong. ... The stimulus was a one-time expenditure. It is not something that goes on; it has no tail. One-third of the stimulus was tax cuts ... and another third almost was unemployment benefits," she said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"TARP? Let's be honest. It was a genius decision in many ways and it stabilized our economy."

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that McCaskill told Democratic leaders that her reelection bid could be complicated if the party's 2012 convention were held in St. Louis.

The Democratic National Committee announced on Tuesday it chose Charlotte, N.C., to host the event. 

McCaskill apparently "took her concerns directly to the White House," which signed off on Charlotte.