Senate races

Senate races

Ex-Rep. Heather Wilson to make 2012 Senate run

Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) will make another run for Senate next year, officially jumping into the race for the seat of retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M).

Wilson will make it official next week, according to a Republican source with knowledge of her plans. Her entrance into the race was first reported by Politico.  

Wilson's decision to jump in gives the GOP another solid candidate in an open-seat race next year as the party tries to regain the Senate majority. Republicans need a net gain of at least three seats to win back control of the Senate in 2012. 

Wilson, who lost a Senate primary to Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) in 2008, could face him again next year. Pearce hasn't ruled out another run for the seat, but early polling shows he could face an uphill climb against Wilson in a primary. 

National Democrats have expressed confidence that the seat will remain in the Democratic column, but Bingaman's retirement means the party can't take the seat for granted. Numbers from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) released last month showed Bingaman nearly a lock for reelection had he decided to run for another term. 

Topping the early list of Democratic prospects is Rep. Martin Heinrich, who would start out with a sizable lead in a general-election match with Wilson, according to PPP — 50 percent to 39. 

The only Republican prospect who held a lead over Heinrich in the poll was former Gov. Gary Johnson, but he's mulling a bid for the GOP nomination for president and recently told The Ballot Box he has no interest in serving in the Senate. 

It's also doubtful Johnson would ever make it through a Republican primary. 

Even if Pearce decides not to wage another bid, Wilson will likely face a contested primary with Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R), another potential candidate. 


Sen. Tester targets eight-year-old earmark

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who is staring down a tough reelection race next year, wants to rescind a nearly $600,000 earmark secured for his state by former Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) back in 2003. 

The Democrat said the money was intended for sewer improvements in the town of Evergreen, Mont., but has gone unused. Tester introduced a bill Thursday that would mandate the return of the money so it could be used "to help pay down the national debt." 

The earmark was valued at $578,000. The national debt is currently more than $14 trillion. 

A spokesman for Tester's likely Republican opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg, responded to Tester's bill by slamming his Wednesday vote against a balanced budget amendment.   


Former Rep. Djou will weigh 2012 Senate bid

Former Rep. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii) isn't ruling out a bid for the seat of retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) in 2012, saying he hopes to make a return to public service "at some point in the future."  

Akaka announced Wednesday that he won't seek reelection next year, becoming the fifth member of the Senate Democratic Caucus to announce his retirement this year and creating yet another open seat Senate contest in 2012.

While the state is heavily Democratic and the only in the nation where President Obama currently enjoys an approval rating greater than 60 percent, an open seat race offers Republicans a better shot at making the contest competitive. 

Former Gov. Linda Lingle (R) is the top choice for most Republicans next year, but Djou is in the Senate mix, as well. He told The Ballot Box late Wednesday that he's not ruling anything out. 

"As of now, I am not currently a candidate for any office," Djou said. "I do hope to get back into public service at some point, but it's still way too early to say whether that will be in 2012 and whether it will be the Senate race."  

Djou said Lingle, who happens to be his next-door neighbor, is "a very close friend," and indicated that her decision on whether or not wage a 2012 bid would have some bearing on his own. 

"I have a very good relationship with her and I look forward to working with her in the future and to seeing what she decides to do," he said.  

Djou won a special election to Congress in May of last year to fill the seat of former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), who resigned to run for governor. He lost his bid for a full term this past fall to Democrat Colleen Hanabusa.

The Republican said he expects a crowded and potentially nasty Democratic Senate primary, which he said could ease the path for the eventual Republican nominee. Potential Democratic candidates include the state's two congresswomen Mazie Hirono and Hanabusa. 

Djou didn't offer a timetable for his own decision on a Senate contest, but said the 2012 environment will play a role in the process. 

"The environment will be challenging, there's no doubt," Djou said. "President Obama continues to enjoy stratospheric approval ratings here. That is clearly going to be part of the consideration for Gov. Lingle and for myself."


Kaine-Allen Senate matchup would start in a dead heat

A 2012 Senate race between Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine (D) and former Sen. George Allen (R) would start in a dead heat, according to a new poll.

Numbers from Democratic leaning Public Policy Polling show the two deadlocked at 47 percent. That's actually a slight drop for Kaine, who previously led Allen 50 percent to 44 percent.

While Kaine's favorables have improved since November — he now is seen favorably by 46 percent of Virginia voters — the poll found Allen with a sizable lead among independent voters, 50 percent to 41 percent.

The poll surveyed 524 Virginia voters and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

If Kaine does not run, the advantage would shift to Allen and Republicans.

In the absence of Kaine, Allen leads two former Democratic representatives who are rumored challengers. Allen leads former Rep. Tom Perriello 48 percent to 41 percent, and former Rep. Rick Boucher 47 percent to 42 percent.

Kaine is widely seen as the best option for Virginia Democrats, and is expected to make a decision in the coming days on whether or not to launch a bid.

Allen still faces a potentially competitive and crowded Republican primary. But Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke, who was the first Republican to jump in the race, trails all potential Democratic challengers and is an unknown commodity to the vast majority of Virginia voters — 82 percent of voters don't know her.

Pollster Tom Jensen also teased numbers set for release Wednesday on the 2012 presidential race that he said show President Obama in "very solid position" to win the state again next year.


Virginia Republican Stewart still weighing run for Webb seat

The Republican primary in the race for the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) could become even more crowded in the coming months. 

Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors Corey Stewart (R) announced plans Tuesday to run for reelection to his current post, but said a 2012 Senate bid may still be in his future.  

"I have not ruled it out," Stewart said of a Senate race at his campaign announcement Tuesday, according to the Washington Times.

Should Stewart jump into the race, the GOP field would stand at four candidates and likely ease the path to the Republican nomination for former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). Currently, the field is Allen, Virginia Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke and attorney David McCormick. 

Virginia Del. Bob Marshall is also still weighing a Senate run.

Radtke recently said she fully expects the field to clear before the primary and Tea Party activists to coalesce around one Allen alternative.

Stewart has been mulling a bid for months and hasn't shied away from public criticism of Allen, labeling his one term in the Senate as "mediocre."

On the Democratic side, the party is anxiously awaiting a decision from Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, who is expected to announce his 2012 intentions in the coming days.


Nebraska GOP Senate primary field grows

Nebraska Treasurer Don Stenberg (R) is set to enter the GOP Senate primary Tuesday and he's already making a play for the conservative mantle. 

"Nebraska's next United States senator needs to be a genuine lifelong conservative," he writes on his campaign website.

Stenberg will announce his candidacy at a morning news conference in downtown Lincoln, according to a press release. His decision to enter the race came after he reportedly sought to convince Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) to run for Senate.

Stenberg joins state Attorney General Jon Bruning in the GOP primary field vying to face Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

Bruning has already indicated he intends to brand himself as the candidate capable of bringing "conservative change to Washington."

"Americans simply can't afford for Ben Nelson to be re-elected," he wrote in a fundraising pitch to his supporters on Monday. "That's why I'm reaching out to you today. In order to take back this seat next year, we need the early support of conservatives across the country."

Businessman Pat Flynn and state Sen. Deb Fischer (R) are also thought to be mulling runs, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.


Ranks of potential Scott Brown challengers swell

The list of Massachusetts Democrats officially weighing bids against Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) next year has swelled thanks to an interview in which Gov. Deval Patrick (D) rattled off several hopefuls he has already spoken with about the Senate seat.  

In an interview with National Journal, Patrick named names, identifying several potential Democratic candidates who have contacted him about the possibility of waging a campaign against Brown in 2012. 

Among them are businessman Alan Khazei, Newton Mayor Setti Warren, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and activist Robert Massie. 

Khazei, who finished third in the Democratic Senate primary in 2009, has already expressed an interest in running. Another potential candidate is businessman Robert Pozen, who Patrick indicated was interested but said he has not spoken to personally. 

Patrick's name dropping caught some potential candidates off guard Monday, particularly Warren and Driscoll, who didn't appear ready for their Senate deliberations to be made public. 


Republicans hit Kaine as 'cheerleader in chief'

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is keeping up its assault on Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, launching a new microsite and web video Tuesday that labels him the administration's "cheerleader in chief" as he weighs a 2012 Senate run. 

It's a preview of the primary line of attack Republicans would take against Kaine should he opt for a bid for retiring Sen. Jim Webb's (D-Va.) Senate seat. 

The video features clips of Kaine touting the passage of healthcare reform and the stimulus package in TV interviews, followed by a group of pom pom waving Kaines dressed as cheerleaders dancing on the lawn of the White House. 

"Hey Obama, Tim's cheering for you," the video's narrator chants as a shot of a dancing Obama flashes on screen. "'Cause spending all our money is all that you do."