Senate races

Senate races

Dems mum on Ben Nelson plans

Democrats with an eye on holding on to the Senate know that if Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) decides not to run for reelection, their job becomes more difficult.

But one year out from the election, Nelson hasn't announced a decision, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says he hasn't told them either.

"The one thing I do know about Ben is he is a fighter," DSCC Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) told reporters on Tuesday. "I think he absolutely is the best candidate in the state."

Murray said Nelson had broad support from his caucus and would be making a decision within a few weeks.

If Nelson does run for reelection, it's uncertain whether he would win. Various polls show Nelson and Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, the front-runner in the hotly contested GOP primary, within a few points of each other. And Republicans in Washington are reportedly working to recruit Gov. Dave Heineman (R-Neb.) into the race, a game-changer that would likely imperil Nelson's chances.

If Nelson doesn't run for reelection, Democrats would have a major challenge identifying a candidate that could allow them to hold on to Nelson's seat.

But Murray dismissed the notion that a Nelson retirement would essentially cede the seat to Republicans.


Democrats counting on women, minorities to hold Senate

Democrats are counting on female and minority voters to keep control of the Senate, they repeatedly indicated at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Commitee event Tuesday afternoon.

The event showcased Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and DSCC Chair Patty Murray repeatedly emphasized the large number of Democratic women running this year and how important to her "changing the face of the Senate" was.

{mosads}Most of the Democrats in at-risk seats need to do well with women voters and drive up Hispanic and other minority vote totals in order to win. "When we talk about the American dream a lot of us are not far from the immigrant experience. I am an immigrant," said Hirono, who if she wins would become the first Asian-American woman ever elected to the Senate. 

Berkley, whose success depends heavily on turning out Nevada's large Hispanic population to vote, also emphasized her family's immigrant story. "I am the granddaughter of immigrants in this country who couldn't speak English. They came to this country in order to escape the Holocaust," she said. " I grew up hearing stories of what life was like for them before they came to the United States and what their dream was when they came to our shores. I often think of myself of my grandparents’ American dream."

The DSCC has been touting its success recruiting women this cycle for weeks, pointing out that they have six female incumbent senators running and five likely Democratic nominees — including the three congresswomen as well as Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp.

But one female Democrat was left off the list: Murray emphasized her support for Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) over former Connecticut Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz in that Sente contest.

Murray did not only tout women — she also mentioned former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona as top recruits.

Republicans fired back, attacking the candidates on economic issues. "Democrats lost seven Senate seats last cycle, and independent voters by wide margins, because their message and their candidates were to the far left of most voters in their states," said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh. "Whether it’s in Wisconsin, Nevada, North Dakota, or elsewhere, it’s remarkable to watch history already begin to repeat itself.  This election will be a referendum on the Democrats’ economy and every single Senate Democrat candidate is going to have a very tough time defending their record of 9% unemployment, a $15 trillion debt, and job-killing tax hikes on America’s small businesses."

The event was held at the Sewall-Belmont House, a museum for the women's suffrage movement.


EMILY's List ups support for Warren

One of the major driving forces behind Elizabeth Warren upped its support on Monday, signaling its intention to go on the air with ads promoting her Senate campaign in Massachusetts.

EMILY's List, a Democratic PAC that supports female candidates who favor abortion rights, sent a message to supporters asking for contributions to its Women Vote! program, the PAC's independent expenditure arm.

A new round of ads would add to what has already become one of the earliest Senate races of the 2012 cycle to become engulfed in an all-out air war.

"With the resources you provide, our Massachusetts WOMEN VOTE! program will reach key independent voters — in person, through TV and radio ads, on the phone, and online," wrote EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock. "We'll make sure they know the truth about Elizabeth Warren's story, how she has spent her life fighting for the middle class."

EMILY's List is not disclosing the timeframe or size of any upcoming ad buys. But the group warned Warren supporters that Crossroads GPS, a conservative outside group backed by Karl Rove, has already spent almost $600,000 on ads tying Warren to Occupy Wall Street.


Possible Sen. Casey challenger decides against campaign

A possible challenger to Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) has decided not to run.

Pennsylvania state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) announced on his Facebook page that he will not run, just one week after first floating his name.

"After a great deal of careful consideration, I have decided not to enter the race for the United States Senate," Pileggi said in a statement on Facebook. "I will continue to focus on my service as Senate majority leader, working for positive change in state government. I thank those who encouraged me to run, and everyone who has offered kind words of support."

Republicans have struggled to recruit a top-tier candidate in the Keystone State against Casey, who remains relatively popular in the state. Pileggi would have started out with more connections to the Republican establishment in the state, although Republicans in Washington said they had not talked with him about a campaign.

The other Republicans in the race include businessman and former House candidate Tim Burns, businessmen Steven Welch and Tom Smith, and attorney Marc Scaringi.


AFL-CIO running ads for Sen. Casey

The state affiliate of the AFL-CIO is going up with a small ad buy in Pennsylvania supporting Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D).

The ad has $170,000 behind it, not enough to make a big splash in the expensive state. But it is a sign that unions are solidly in his corner.

Casey is a blue-collar Democrat who is anti-abortion rights and anti-gun control. But he has a strongly pro-union record, and if he ends up in a competitive race the unions will likely be his most important sector of support.

He has so far appeared to be in good shape this cycle, and no strong Republican has emerged to clear the field against him. But President Obama's numbers in the state are very weak and could be a drag on his reelection campaign. Casey was criticized by some last week for skipping an event with Obama in his hometown of Scranton.


GOP leaders courting Gov. Heineman to run against Nelson

Republican leaders in the Senate are urging Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) to jump in the race to take on Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), according to a New York Times report.

Nelson already faces the real possibility of defeat by the GOP candidates currently in the primary. But a campaign by Heineman, a popular, heavy-hitting figure in Nebraska politics, would likely spell doom for Nelson.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) have both courted Heineman, according to the report, framing it as a choice to serve the nation at a crucial moment.

To the ire of Democrats, Nelson has yet to make a decision about whether he will seek another term and has talked openly about the prospect of retirement.

If Nelson does not run for reelection, Democrats face almost no prospect of holding on to the seat. Democrats have an empty bench of candidates to fill Nelson's shoes, and top Democrats in Washington have been appealing to him to stay in the Senate — or at least make up his mind quickly.

A loss by Democrats in Nebraska would put Republicans one notch closer to the four Democratic seats they need to flip to regain control of the Senate, if President Obama wins reelection.


Poll: Mack fading against Nelson in Fla. Senate race

After Rep. Connie Mack's (R-Fla.) entrance into Florida's Senate race one month ago looked like it could spell doom for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a new poll shows Nelson in much better shape.

Nelson is 11 points ahead of Mack, the GOP race's front-runner, in a poll released Friday by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.

A poll two weeks ago from a Republican firm showed Nelson just 6 points ahead. And a Quinnipiac University poll one week before that showed the two in a statistical tie.

Nelson's approval ratings remain weak — even within his own party. Just 38 percent say they approve, down from 40 percent in September.

But Nelson garners 14 percent of the Republican vote and has a solid lead against Mack among independent voters as well.


Poll: Rehberg maintains narrow lead over Tester in Montana

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) has maintained a narrow lead over Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in the battle for Tester’s seat, according to a new poll from the Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling.

Rehbergs lead over Tester is within the polls margin of error, at 47 percent to 45 percent. The 2-point Rehberg lead is the same as it has been in PPPs two earlier polls of the race, in June and one year ago.

Tester leads among independents and is better liked than Rehberg, but he draws little support from Republicans in the state. President Obama might be dragging Tester down: His favorable rating is at just 39 percent in the state.

Outside groups on both sides of the aisle have been spending heavily in the state, combining on $1.5 million on ads already this year and likely contributing to a decline in both candidates favorability numbers with voters. But the poll indicates that neither side has had success pushing the race their way.

The poll of 1,625 registered Montana voters was conducted from Nov. 28-30 with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points. 


Thompson officially announces Wisconsin Senate run

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) made it official Thursday and entered the Wisconsin Senate race.

"As governor, we built a strong economy by empowering people, not government, vetoing hundreds of millions of dollars of spending. We cut taxes 91 times. We ended welfare. We also reformed education," he said in a campaign video announcing his decision, which has been expected for months. "Innovative ideas, bold reforms, all based on conservative commonsense principles."

Thompson is facing a stiff primary challenge from former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-Wis.) and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R). He has come under fire from conservatives for backing early incarnations of President Obama's healthcare reform bill, and for increases in government spending while he was governor.

Both the conservative Club for Growth and Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund have endorsed Neumann. And on Thursday, the Club sent out an email blasting Thompson's past support of Obama's healthcare reforms and detailing his membership on the board of America's Agenda, a bipartisan group that backed the law from the start.

Thompson came out against the final bill but did support early incarnations of it. His campaign said he resigned from the board before the law was passed.

"Mark Neumann has used the Club before to spread his lies about Tommy Thompson and today is no different," said Thompson spokesperson Darrin Schmitz. "America's Agenda was set up with equal number of representatives from business and labor to develop bipartisan health care reform.  Thompson was a Republican representative advocating for reform from the business perspective. He resigned from the board after the bipartisan reforms veered left and evolved into Obamacare, which he has never supported."

In an interview, Neumann refused to directly criticize Thompson but argued that he was the more conservative Republican.

"There's multiple studies out in Wisconsin as far as voting records and I’m clearly the most conservative person in this race, it’s not something I have to make up," he said. "We’ve been plugging away against ObamaCare since before it was the law ... I have a great deal of respect for the governor."

Neumann repeatedly refused to comment on the attacks from the Club for Growth on Thompson's record, but embraced the groups' help.

"I have a great deal of respect for the governor, he was a great governor in the state of Wisconsin," he said. "I appreciate their endorsements and I appreciate the support that comes with their endorsements, but that doesn’t give me the opportunity to be involved with them in any way, shape or form ... I can't control what they're doing."

Democrats hope Neumann or Fitzpatrick wins the primary because Thompson's more centrist profile and high name recognition could help him in the state, and have been hammering away at Thompson as well.

"Tommy Thompson's flip flopping and pandering is so bad that he makes Mitt Romney look like a man of principle," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Shripal Shah said. "The fact is that even Republicans are disgusted with his record and the way he peddles influence as a DC lobbyist. Tommy Thompson is the last person Wisconsin needs in the Senate."

The winner of the Republican primary will likely take on Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in the general election. They are running to replace Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who is retiring.

This post was updated at 3:00 p.m.