Ballot Box

Rep. Giffords' seat won't be deemed vacant during recovery

Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' House (D) seat won't be deemed vacant while she recuperates.

Some reports have suggested Giffords' seat would be in jeopardy if she undertakes a lengthy recovery. Arizona has law declaring an office vacant if an elected official fails to perform his or her duties for three months in a row, according to the Arizona Republic.

Giffords is expected to be transferred from a Tucson hospital to a rehabilitation center in Houston on Friday to continue her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head.

Amy Rezzonico, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, said the state's law on office vacancies doesn't apply in Giffords' case.

"The state has no jurisdiction over federal officeholders," she told the paper.

The House, meanwhile, doesn't require members to relinquish their seats because of illness or debilitating injury.

--Jordan Fabian contributed to this post.


Santorum makes another New Hampshire hire

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and potential 2012 presidential candidate announced the hiring of another staffer in the early state of New Hampshire Wednesday. 

Santorum has hired longtime Republican activist Claira Monier to serve as chairwoman of his America's Foundation political action committee in the state. 

"I am honored to have Claira as a part of our team in New Hampshire," Santorum said in a statement. "Her roots in the Granite State run deep, and there is no doubt her connection to many grassroots activists and party leaders will be a great asset as I continue to consider a run for president." 

It's Santorum's second New Hampshire hire this month. The former senator earlier announced Mike Biundo as director of the PAC. He also made his eight visit to the state last week to attend a house party hosted by former senatorial hopeful Ovide Lamontagne (R). 

Santorum has placed a heavy focus on both Iowa and New Hampshire as he weighs a run for the GOP nomination. 

In an interview, Santorum told The Hill that he has been greatly encouraged by the reception he's received in both states ahead of 2012. 

"Everything I’ve learned about presidential politics is that you have to do better than they think you’re gonna do," he said. "If you beat expectations, you go to the next place on the game board. I can tell you, I wouldn’t still be doing this if I wasn’t encouraged by the reception we’ve been getting."


Sen. Bill Nelson to seek reelection in 2012

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) told reporters in Florida Wednesday that he intends to seek a third term in 2012, according to The Associated Press

Nelson, who is sure to be a top GOP target next year, said he expects President Obama to run strong in Florida in 2012, which would bode well for his own reelection prospects. 

The field of Republicans vying to challenge Nelson could be a sizable one. Florida state Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) officially entered the race last week and several other Republicans are exploring a bid.

In a phone interview with The Hill after he officially jumped in, Haridopolos said he initially decided to run against Nelson after former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) won his race for the Senate in November, and finalized his choice after "talking with leaders across the state and ... having strong support of [those] leaders."

Former Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) and Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) are also rumored contenders. 

A December poll from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found potential trouble for Nelson. His approval rating stood at just 37 percent. 

During the lame-duck session, Nelson sided with Senate Republicans and Obama on the deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, saying the extension was "the right thing to do." 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee pounced on Nelson's announcement in a statement Wednesday, hitting his support for the stimulus and "his countless votes to drive our national debt past $14 trillion."

—Jordan Fabian contributed.


Missouri Rep. Graves calls Sen. McCaskill challenge 'a great opportunity'

A senior House Republican in the Missouri congressional delegation is considering a challenge to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.).

Rep. Sam Graves (R) told The Ballot Box he's "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."

Graves said he's weighing a myriad of factors, 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.

McCaskill won her first term in 2006 by fewer than 50,000 votes, and observers believe she'll face another close race next year.

The Republican primary field already includes former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and is expected to grow, especially if the national environment remains favorable to the GOP. Republicans also took heart when Republican Roy Blunt won the state's open Senate seat last year.


W.Va. Dems eye Rep. Capito's healthcare repeal vote (updated)

West Virginia is set to hold a special election for governor and Democrats intend to make Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's (R-W.Va.) vote for the healthcare repeal bill an issue if she runs.

"If the Republican leadership succeeds with a full repeal, thousands of West Virginians will lose their health care coverage," Larry Puccio, chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, said in a statement. "Make no mistake, if they vote for this repeal, they support taking away health care from people who have gained it since this bill passed."

In a statement Wednesday, Capito called the Democrats' reform bill "emblematic of the closed door, legislative trickery." 

"Despite promises to the contrary, millions of Americans may have to change their coverage and the CBO predicts that premiums will increase for those purchasing private insurance," she said.  

Capito said she supports some provisions of the bill, such as the ones allowing children under 26 to stay on their parents' coverage and preventing insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. 

"These simple solutions are attainable without a complete government-takeover of the healthcare system that Americans neither want nor can afford," Capito added.

The House is set to vote Wednesday on a measure that would repeal the Democrats' healthcare reform legislation. Capito's office said she will vote for the repeal bill. She voted twice against the passage of the Democrats' legislation in the last Congress.

Meanwhile, the West Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled the state must hold a special election for governor this year. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) left the governor's mansion to run for Senate last year. Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) was subsequently elevated to the top job. He had intended to serve until the next election, but the court ruled that two years without an election was too long.


Democratic senator marks first trip to Afghanistan

Ahead of what's expected to be a tough reelection race, Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) is set to make his first visit to Afghanistan this week.

Tester was in Iraq Tuesday, where he met with Montanan soldiers, military commanders and Iraqi government leaders.

"The best way to get a picture of what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan is to go there myself and talk with the folks making decisions and the folks with boots on the ground,” Tester said in a statement posted on his Facebook page. 

It was Tester's second trip to Iraq. His initial visit came in November 2007, almost a year into his first term.

"Our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are the smartest, toughest and strongest in the world, and I look forward to hearing directly from them in order to make the best decisions I can back in the Senate," Tester said.

He's expected to arrive in Afghanistan for his first official visit there later this week. The trip could help burnish Tester's foreign policy credentials as he shapes his 2012 reelection effort.


Ousted House Dem to voters: 'Look what you got'

Former Rep. Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.), who was defeated by Republican Michael Grimm this past November, sounds like he's gearing up for a 2012 rematch.

Speaking to a Staten Island Democratic club Tuesday, McMahon suggested his loss to Grimm was largely the result of Obama voters not coming to the polls on Election Day, telling Democrats, "We need to get back the congressional seat." 

The Democrat lost by just over 4,000 votes. 

"Some people told me, 'I didn't vote for you because you voted against healthcare,' " McMahon said, according to the Staten Island Advance. "OK, but look what you got." 

McMahon took some heat at Tuesday's appearance from Democrats unhappy with the ex-congressman's vote against healthcare. 

After he was confronted by a voter who accused him of abandoning his political base by voting against the reform, the Democrat said, "I saw it a little differently at the time, but I take what you say very seriously ... Maybe I made some mistakes along the way."

McMahon didn't rule out another run in 2012.