Category Archives: Senate

Wisconsin Rep. Baldwin Announces Senate Bid

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2)

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2)

As expected, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) formally announced her bid for Wisconsin’s open U.S. Senate seat yesterday. The congresswoman has been preparing a statewide bid for months, but only kicked her fledging operation into high gear when former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) decided not to become a candidate. Vacating the safely Democratic 2nd district means that 41 seats are now open due to an incumbent announcing he or she will not seek re-election, or because reapportionment or redistricting creates an incumbent-less district.

The Wisconsin campaign has been slow-moving. Incumbent Sen. Herb Kohl (D) announced back on May 13 that he would not seek a fourth term next year, yet official candidate announcements began only last week. Rep. Baldwin now becomes the third person to enter the field of contenders. On the Republican side, former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald both say they are in the race. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson is expected to soon join the Republican contestants. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) and ex-Congressman Steve Kagen (D-WI-8) are potential Democratic nomination opponents to Ms. Baldwin.

The Wisconsin Senate race is likely to be one of the closest statewide political contests in the nation next year. The outcome could well decide the Senate majority, as projections suggest that both parties will likely be at parity after the next election. Currently, the Democrats hold a 53-47 spread. Republicans are already likely to gain two seats – North Dakota open and Nebraska – thus bringing the party division to 51D-49R. Missouri (Sen. Claire McCaskill), Virginia (open – Sen. Jim Webb retiring), and Montana (Sen. Jon Tester) are all toss-up Democratic seats in addition to Wisconsin. All other races remaining constant, the Republicans would have to win two of the latter four to take the majority; Democrats would have to hold three of four to retain power.
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Interesting Wisconsin Senate Numbers

Now that ex-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) has made his decision not to enter the 2012 open US Senate race in Wisconsin with Sen. Herb Kohl (D) retiring, the real campaign will now get underway. In particular, potential Democratic candidates were deferring to Feingold and holding back officially announcing their own campaigns in order to determine if the former senator would again enter the electoral fray. Now that he is officially out of the race, we can expect a series of people to soon announce for the seat.

In anticipation of the building candidate field from both parties in what will be a highly competitive campaign, Public Policy Polling released the results of their latest Wisconsin survey that handicaps the field in both party primaries.

For the Republicans, all eyes are on the 69-year-old former governor, Tommy Thompson, who was elected to four consecutive terms beginning in 1986. He left midway through his final term to become Secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration. Though he still has not officially announced his Senatorial campaign, Mr. Thompson has openly talked about getting into the race. He is likely to be opposed by former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), who was first elected to the House for two terms in 1994 and ’96 before challenging and losing to Sen. Feingold in 1998, 48-51 percent.

On the Republican side of the ledger, PPP (Aug. 12-14; 362 “usual” Wisconsin GOP primary voters) tried a different approach, actually asking voters a “push” question after they indicated which candidate they would support. Predicting some of the attack points Neumann, and even the Democrats, will likely use against Thompson, the study produced interesting results.

In the straight ballot test question, Thompson leads Neumann 47-39 percent. The former governor’s personal approval rating among the Republican respondents is 74:17 percent positive to negative. Neumann’s is a sound 43:14 percent.

When PPP asked their loaded push question against Thompson, however, the results sharply turned. The question posed to the respondents was:

While Tommy Thompson was governor, he more than doubled state spending and increased government bureaucracy. Then he endorsed Obamacare, President Obama’s $1-trillion-dollar government takeover of health care. Given this information, would you vote for Mark Neumann or Tommy Thompson if the primary for Senate was today?

After hearing this question, Thompson dropped almost half of his previous support, from 47 percent all the way down to 26 percent. Neumann shot up from 39 percent to 59 percent. Thompson will have to respond hard to neutralize what are sure to be negative attacks of this type in both the primary and general elections.

Looking at the Democrats, the three most likely candidates are Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2), who will likely announce within days, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3), who is not necessarily going to enter the race, and defeated Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI-8).

When PPP tested these names before 387 “usual” Wisconsin Democratic primary voters, Ms. Baldwin captured the decided advantage, leading 37-21-15 percent over Kind and Kagen, respectively. If Kind does not become a candidate, Baldwin then enjoys a 48-19 percent edge over Mr. Kagen.

Regardless of the outcome of both primaries, the Wisconsin Senate race will be one of the most hard-fought political battles in the 2012 election. The outcome of this race could conceivably decide which party will control the Senate majority in the next Congress.
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Utah’s Chaffetz Won’t Run

Ending months of speculation, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) held a news conference in Salt Lake City yesterday to announce that he will not challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) for the Republican nomination next year. Though Mr. Chaffetz was polling well against Sen. Hatch, the price of relinquishing a safe House seat at 44 years of age after only two terms in office was more than he wanted to risk.

Conventional political wisdom suggests that Chaffetz could easily garner enough Utah Republican Convention delegates to force a one-on-one primary against Utah’s senior senator, but the statewide election format would likely favor Hatch. Already raising $2.088 million for the new election and having $3.428 million in his campaign account, the senator would clearly dominate the political resource game. Chaffetz, by contrast, only raised $235,000 during the first six months of 2011, and had $227,000 cash-on-hand. For his 2010 congressional re-election campaign, Chaffetz raised only $647,194, but he was virtually unopposed for re-election. When he ousted six-term Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT-3) in 2008, he attracted only $443,396, and was out-spent 2:1. In that race, it was Chaffetz’s superior grassroots effort that swept him to victory over a veteran incumbent. In a statewide race, particularly against an incumbent who is running hard, such an approach is much more difficult.

Now that Jason Chaffetz won’t be in the Senate race, Orrin Hatch’s road to re-election has become much smoother.
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Feingold is a No-Go in Wisconsin

Defeated Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who lost his seat to Republican Ron Johnson last November, officially closed the door Friday on an imminent return to elective politics during this current election cycle.

With Sen. Herb Kohl (D) saying he will not seek re-election in 2012, all eyes in both parties turned toward Feingold, since he is the most logical Democrat to attempt to keep the seat in his party’s column. Early polling was suggesting that the former senator would defeat all potential Republicans and Democrats if he were to enter the field of candidates. Though Feingold said in his public statement that he may again seek elective office, he will not do so in 2012. Instead, he wants to continue in his teaching duties at Marquette University and chairing the issue advocacy group that he founded, Progressives United.

The Wisconsin open seat Senate race has been unique because of the lack of early activity among potential candidates. The others reportedly considering the race, particularly among Democrats, seemed paralyzed as they waited for Mr. Feingold to make a decision; most unusual for a political figure who only months ago lost a major election when in the incumbent’s position.

With the former senator now out of the 2012 race, expect the candidate announcements to soon be forthcoming. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) is now a virtual sure entrant. Though she hasn’t committed to the statewide race in deference to Feingold, she has been actively raising money in her congressional account, which is transferable to a Senate race because both are federal campaigns. Through June 30th, Ms. Baldwin raised over $601,000 but has more than $1.1 million in the bank.

Polling suggests that Rep. Baldwin assumes the position of early leader for her party’s nomination. Back in July, Magellan Strategies (July 12-13; 627 Wisconsin Democratic primary voters) gave the Madison congresswoman a 41-19 percent lead over 3rd District Rep. Ron Kind, and a 45-21 percent advantage over defeated 8th District Rep. Steve Kagen.

But the recent Public Policy Polling survey (Aug. 12-14; 830 registered Wisconsin voters) tells a much different story as it relates to the general election. Upon Sen. Kohl’s announcement, former four-term Gov. Tommy Thompson, now 69 years old, said immediately that he was serious about entering the race as a candidate. Former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) who lost 48-51 percent to Sen. Feingold in 1998, also said he would likely hop into the race. Neumann had even been actively considering a challenge to Kohl. The latest PPP data actually shows both Republicans to have slight leads over the potential Democratic field, in what now has to be considered a top GOP conversion opportunity.

According to the Public Policy Polling data, Thompson would lead Baldwin 50-42 percent and Neumann would enjoy a 44-40 percent edge over the congresswoman. If Kind were to win the Democratic nomination, Thompson would lead him 48-41 percent, while Neumann clings to a 43-40 percent margin. Should Kagen rise to the top of the Democratic field, he too would trail both Republicans. In the latter case, Thompson is up 49-41 percent; Neumann 45-38 percent.

The Wisconsin electorate, possibly because of the negativity surrounding the state’s public employee labor unrest and subsequent recall elections, view all of the potential candidates unfavorably, with the exception of Thompson. Former Sen. Feingold was also in positive numbers.

Thompson scores a 44:42 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio. Feingold did better than anyone else tested, but even his numbers weren’t overwhelming. He posted 49:43 percent.

All others are in an upside down position. Neumann registers 25:27 percent; Baldwin, a similar 26:28 percent. Rep. Kind is down 18:26 percent, while Kagen has the worst numbers by far, 12:23 percent.

In what will likely become a similar Wisconsin story in the presidential race, expect this Senate campaign to be difficult, hard-fought, and close. Though the action has been slow to start, it will soon become fast and furious. The Wisconsin Senate will likely be in the toss-up category all the way to the November 2012 Election Day and could very well be the deciding state in determining which party assumes the US Senate majority in the next Congress.
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More Senate Chaos in Michigan

When former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) announced that he had reversed course and decided to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) after originally saying he wouldn’t, it appeared the Republicans finally had the candidate they wanted to make a run at what should be a vulnerable incumbent. But such is apparently not the case. Clark Durant, a prominent Detroit attorney and Republican stalwart in addition to becoming private school entrepreneur, is likely to enter the GOP primary.

Further complicating matters for Hoekstra is the type of support that Durant can bring to the race. Already, former Republican National Committeewoman Betsy DeVos, wife of former GOP gubernatorial nominee Dick DeVos (who is also the son of billionaire Amway founder Richard DeVos), says she will back Hoekstra’s opponent. So will former US senator and energy secretary Spence Abraham and ex-state Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis.

Should Durant actually enter the race, the nomination will be contested, meaning that serious Republican resources will be spent in the primary instead of against Stabenow. Such a situation would further insulate the senator for the general election and be yet another intangible that has gone her way since the beginning of this year. Continue to rate the Michigan 2012 Senate race as Likely Democratic.
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Senate Primary Challenges Getting Serious

Two states where veteran Senators are virtually assured of facing serious GOP primary challengers are Indiana and Utah, and news was made in both places over the weekend. Both incumbent sentaors Richard Lugar (IN) and Orrin Hatch (UT) were elected in 1976 and are each seeking a seventh six-year term.

The Lugar camp just released its own internal survey of the Indiana Republican electorate, in response to the Club for Growth’s late July poll that posted challenger Richard Mourdock, Indiana’s state treasurer, to a 34-32 percent lead. Lugar’s own data gives him a double-digit lead, but the 45-31 percent spread still suggests trouble for the long time incumbent. Failure to exceed 50 percent amongst one’s own political base is a warning sign for any office holder. Lugar’s American Viewpoint poll was taken during the same time as the Club for Growth survey, but was only now released publicly.

In Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3), long talked about as a challenger to Sen. Hatch, said this weekend that he was moving from “maybe” to “probably” in terms of making the challenge. He says he will finally decide after Labor Day. Both Hatch and Chaffetz must first obtain at least 40 percent of the Utah Republican Convention’s nominating ballots just to secure one of the two primary ballot positions. If a candidate reaches 60 percent of the convention vote, such person is officially nominated and there is no primary election. It is unlikely that either Hatch or Chaffetz can reach the nominating plateau. Hatch will have a huge resource advantage for the June primary — the Senator possesses $3.43 million in his campaign account compared to Chaffetz’s $227,145.
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Senate Financials Tell Interesting Stories

The second quarter US Senate financial disclosure summaries are now available and in almost all cases, the incumbents have prepared adequately for their re-election campaigns. Obviously, the size of the state dictates the money range needed to run a viable effort, so the benchmark cash on hand figures differ greatly. All in-cycle incumbents have more than $1.5 million in assets with the exception of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who possesses $1.279 million. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) has the most money in the bank, $9.628 million. The next closest cash on hand figure is Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) $6.057 million.

The only incumbent with less cash on hand than a challenger is Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) has $2.476 million in her campaign account versus Heller’s $2.272 million. The comparison is a bit unfair, however, because Heller is an appointed incumbent, replacing the resigned Sen. John Ensign (R). Therefore, his Senate incumbency is short-lived and should not be measured comparably to the other in-cycle full-term Senators.

The Senate incumbents having the strongest fundraising cycle to date are Scott Brown ($3.739 million), Bill Nelson ($3.695 million), and Democrat New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez ($3.581 million). The strongest open seat/challenger fundraisers are Ohio state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who still has yet to announce his Senate candidacy, Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), who is seeking retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) open seat, and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) challenging one-term Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). Mandel raised $2.339 million, Murphy $2.012 million, and Rehberg $1.964 million.

The fundraising and resource components provide some idea as to how competitive some of the projected close races might become. Sen. Nelson, for example, continues to prove he is in solid shape by every measuring instrument. His $6.057 million cash on hand is more than seven times as great as his closest financial opponent, GOP former interim Sen. George LeMieux. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), commonly viewed as the most vulnerable incumbent seeking re-election, raised only $111,000 more than Attorney General Jon Bruning, but leads his chief Republican opponent $2.916 million to $1.265 million in the cash on hand category.

The competitive race that is proving to be the closest, at least in resources, is the Nevada Senate race. There Rep. Berkley shows $2.476 million compared with Sen. Heller’s $2.272 million cash on hand. This race could turn out to be the most hotly contested in the country. Nevada is a tight swing state, both candidates are equally well-known, and they both possess the same quantity of campaign resources. With turnout expected to be high in the presidential election year, the final wave will likely decide this campaign. The same can be said for the Virginia Senate race. There, former Sen. George Allen (R) has raised $2.615 million with $1.649 million on hand. Tim Kaine, the former governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, has raised a similar, but smaller, $2.266 million but has slightly more in the bank, $1.875 million.

As we know, finance tells only part of any political story, but no one denies that the dollar count is a highly important factor of any campaign effort.

Below is a link to a PDF spreadsheet containing the relevant financial numbers for all 33 Senate races being contested in 2012. The only state not recording any figures is Wisconsin. Sen. Herb Kohl (D) is retiring, and no one has yet formally declared their candidacy for the open seat.

Candidate Financials: Senate Financial Disclosure – 2nd Qtr 2011
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