Senate races

Senate races

Hatch files friend-of-court brief in challenge to healthcare law

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced Wednesday that he signed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new healthcare law.

The announcement is noteworthy for two reasons:

1) Hatch is expected to be the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee next Congress, and that committee played a major role in writing the healthcare legislation. Hatch made headlines last year during the bill-writing process when he quit the gang of seven senators discussing the legislation, saying there were too many aspects of the bill that he couldn't support.

2) Voters signaled their unhappiness with the new law by voting a record number of Democrats out of office last week. Hatch is up for reelection in 2012 and could face a primary challenge from the right. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has said he's thinking about running against the six-term senator. Plus, Hatch saw his home-state colleague, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), lose to a more conservative candidate in the primary process this year.

Hatch was a vocal opponent of the healthcare legislation during the debate process, vowing to "kill" it when it came to the Senate.

In explaining his friend-of-the-court brief, Hatch said: “The $2.6 trillion health law is an astonishing expansion of federal power and busts the limits that the Constitution imposes on the federal government."

A total of 20 states have signed onto the lawsuit, which originated in Florida. In October, a federal judge ruled the lawsuit could proceed. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also filed a friend-of-the-court brief and has urged other Republican senators to join him. 

-- This post was updated at 7:46 a.m.

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Inhofe: Tea Party candidates helped, not hurt GOP

Sen. James Inhofe, one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate, rejects the idea that poorly vetted Tea Party candidates cost the GOP control of the Senate, as some other Republicans have suggested.

In a phone interview with The Hill, Inhofe derailed as "absolutely false" the argument put forward recently by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who said in a recent interview with an Alabama newspaper that Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin "cost us control of the Senate" and that Tea Party candidates generally underperformed in Senate races.

"The Senate would be Republican today except for states (in which Palin endorsed candidates) like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware," Bachus said. "Sarah Palin cost us control of the Senate."

But Inhofe said the Tea Party movement was an asset.

"I applaud all the Tea Party candidates," he said. "They went the hard way, they did it through hard work and they stood up for the real issues — the debt, the deficit, ObamaCare. Those are the real issues. The Tea Party is the real reason we picked up the seats we did pick up."

Palin pushed back at Bachus in an e-mail to The Daily Caller on Tuesday, saying, "No wonder he’s not thrilled with people like me, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and all the others who also endorsed commonsense conservative candidates.”

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DeMint warns: Murkowski legal team 'fighting to bend the law' in Alaska

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) urged supporters to contribute to the recount fund of Alaska Republican Joe Miller in an e-mail Friday, warning that Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-Alaska) legal team "will be fighting to bend the law in Alaska, which requires write-in ballots to accurately state the candidate's name."

In the e-mail message to supporters of DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund, the South Carolina Republican said he's confident Miller can still defeat Murkowski, noting, "there are still tens of thousands of ballots that haven't been counted and there will be a recount to verify the integrity of the write-in ballots."

As it stands now, the "write-in" category leads Miller's vote total by 7 percent. The assumption is that the vast majority of those write-in votes were cast for Murkowski, but Miller's camp is banking on the possibility that many of them could be declared invalid.

In the e-mail, DeMint also took a shot at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, suggesting it's not fully committed to the Republican's looming legal battle.

"The costs associated with maintaining the integrity of this election could be very high, especially if the legal battle goes on for a while," DeMint wrote. "Joe does not have the support of the special interests in Washington and he cannot rely on national Republicans to do everything that's needed to defend him." 

Murkowski has assembled a high-powered legal team for the upcoming ballot battle led by Ben Ginsberg, who played a leading role in the Florida recount saga of 2000 on behalf of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R). 

During the general election, DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund bankrolled an ad that attacked Murkowski and Democratic nominee Scott McAdams on abortion. DeMint also urged the Republican Conference in the Senate to oust Murkowski from her top spot on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

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Republicans ask supporters to donate to Joe Miller's legal fund

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) has e-mailed supporters and asked them to donate to Joe Miller's legal fund.

Miller, the Republican nominee for Alaska's Senate race, is awaiting the final results of the contest. Miller beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) in the GOP primary, and she waged a write-in bid.

Cornyn writes of Miller: "He faces the potential of a lengthy recount. And in Alaska, they are still counting votes from election day. We need to get Joe the resources he needs to win the vote count. Because we need Joe to join our fight against Barack Obama."

Exit polls showed the "write-in" candidate winning, but it's unknown how many of those votes were for Murkoswki or for one of the other write-in candidates.

As of Thursday, initial returns showed write-in ballots held a 13,439-vote edge over Miller, according to the Anchorage Daily News, but, again, it's not clear how many of those are for Murkowski — or how many have been cast properly.

There are expected to be legal challenges, particularly regarding voter intent, if a write-in ballot appears to be improperly cast.

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Nebraska governor rules out 2012 challenge to Sen. Nelson

Just a day after winning reelection to the governor's office, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) already ruled out a run against Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) in 2012 should the Democrat decide to seek a third term. 

The conservative Democrat is likely to be a top Republican target in two years in a cycle where the GOP thinks it will be poised to retake the Senate majority. But the man many GOP strategists were hoping would take him on has already decided against it.

"The Senate's not my cup of tea," Heineman said in a news conference Thursday.  "I have the best job in America. Why would I give that up?"

The timing of Heineman's announcement is somewhat of a surprise, as some strategists had pegged him as the most likely candidate to take on Nelson two years from now. 

Nebraska's state Treasurer is already urging Heineman to reconsider his decision not to run, according to the Omaha World Herald

Meanwhile, another Republican is already taking advantage of Heineman's announcement. State Attorney General Jon Bruning has called a Friday news conference and is expected to announce a bid for the seat.  

Nelson's yes vote on healthcare reform provided Democrats the 60th vote they needed last year to ensure its passage in the Senate, making Nelson a top GOP target next cycle in the conservative leaning state. 

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