Category Archives: Senate

Rep. Chaffetz Moving Closer to Utah Senate Run

It appears virtually certain that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) will challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) for the Republican Senate nomination next year and officially announce his campaign after Labor Day. Chaffetz has been considering the race for months. It will be the second time that he attempts to unseat a Republican incumbent. In 2008, he defeated six-term Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT-3) to obtain the congressional district he currently represents.

The key to the race, as it was for Sen. Mike Lee when he defeated then-Sen. Bob Bennett during the 2010 GOP nominating process, is the state Republican convention. Utah is one of the few states where party convention voting can actually determine a nomination. If a candidate receives 60 percent of the delegate vote, then that candidate is officially nominated. Primaries can occur if two candidates, and only two, fall between 40 and 59 percent of convention balloting. Should that happen, then the two qualifying candidates move to the actual primary election.

The state convention delegates, who number approximately 3,500, are chosen at local county caucuses. It was at this level of the process where Sen. Bennett actually met his demise. Statistics show that an average of 30,000 people historically attend the local caucuses. In 2010, largely motivated by the anti-Bennett and Tea Party movement, more than 75,000 people participated. Once these county voters chose their state delegate slates, Bennett’s fate was sealed. He ended his career failing to even qualify for the primary ballot.

Sen. Hatch may be in a different position, mostly because he is learning from Bennett’s experience. He will have his own operation to turn out supporters for the county caucus meetings with the strategy of obtaining enough votes to force a primary. It is already clear that Chaffetz has the inside track to placing first at the state convention, but it is always difficult to obtain 60 percent in any voting universe. Hatch merely must reach 40 percent, which is a reasonable goal. Early polling suggests that the senator still enjoys strength in a primary voting situation, and he certainly is the superior fundraiser. Therefore, if Chaffetz is to wrest the nomination away from Hatch, he will almost certainly do so at the convention.
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Bowen Concedes in Calif.; Surprise Ruling in Nevada; Hirono for Senate in Hawaii

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) conceded her fate yesterday in the special congressional election, offering her congratulations to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) and businessman Craig Huey (R) for advancing to the general election. Hahn placed first and clinched position No. 1 for the July 12 special general, but the second and final slot was in doubt as absentee ballot counting continued. Huey surprised everyone by nipping Bowen by just over 200 votes on election night, but more than 10,000 absentee ballots had not been tabulated. Once the post-election counting began, and Huey actually increased his margin over Bowen to more than 700 votes, the Secretary of State announced her concession.

This is a surprise result. Most believed that Hahn and Bowen would advance to the special general and be in a close contest. Under California’s new election law, as approved by voters in a 2010 ballot initiative, the top two vote-getters, regardless of political party affiliation, advance to the general election.

The 36th congressional special election — held after Rep. Jane Harman (D) resigned to accept a position with an international relations think tank — was the first test of the new election law in a federal campaign. But even under this new structure, a Democrat and a Republican will face each other in a one-on-one general election. Because of the heavy Democratic nature of this district, Councilwoman Hahn, previously defeated for this congressional seat in 1998 and then later for lieutenant governor, becomes the prohibitive favorite to win in July.

Nevada’s 2nd:

A Nevada state judge yesterday sided with a state Republican Party legal motion and over-turned Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller’s directive that the Sept. 13 special election in the 2nd congressional district be held in an open jungle ballot format. The judge accepted the GOP argument that the respective state parties have the power to nominate their own standard bearers in a special election. The Democrats will likely appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, a panel more likely to be favorable toward their position. The action was a bit of a surprise because the judge removed the people’s’ ability to choose candidates and put it in the hands of the state political party organizations. Under the ruling, the parties would have until June 30th to nominate their candidates. The original filing deadline for the jungle, winner-take-all, election was May 25th.

The ruling will have a great effect upon 2010 GOP Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle who has a strong chance of winning in the jungle election format, but is unlikely to secure the Republican nomination from a panel of state party officials. Democrats believe the jungle ballot approach favors them if they can unite behind one strong candidate and the Republicans remain split. So far, though, more than one strong Democrat is in the race. Much more will happen, and quickly, to finally determine how this election will be conducted.

Hawaii Senate

Across the Pacific Ocean in the 50th state of Hawaii, two-term Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) announced that she will run for the Senate next year. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is retiring. Hirono has high approval ratings and will certainly be a strong candidate in both the Democratic primary and general elections. In fact, a new Ward Research poll (May 4-10; 614 registered Hawaii voters) shows Hirono in the strongest position of any Democrat if former Gov. Linda Lingle becomes the Republican nominee. Hirono would defeat Lingle 57-35 percent according to the data. Former Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2) is already a Senatorial candidate. Other potential Democratic contenders are Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1), ex-Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. Because Lingle loses to all of the aforementioned in hypothetical pairings, the Democrats are the early favorites to hold the open seat in next year’s general election.
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Senate Candidates Coming Forward

The political situation surrounding three U.S. Senate states became clearer yesterday. With Friday’s announcement from Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) saying he would not seek a fourth term next year, the Wisconsin political merry-go-round immediately began circling and an old familiar face came forward.

After House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) decided to remain in his current position, former Gov. Tommy Thompson began making it known that he is interested in running for the open seat. Thompson served four terms as governor from 1987 to 2001 and then became Pres. George W. Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. He made an ill-fated run for the presidency in 2008, failing to even get out of the starting blocks. The 69-year-old Thompson’s entry would be a bit of a surprise, since he considered running statewide several times after leaving the state house and then repeatedly stated his disinclination to initiate another political campaign.

Should he get back into the game in 2012, Mr. Thompson may draw serious primary opposition. Former Reps. Mark Green (R-WI-8) and Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), who have both previously lost statewide campaigns, have not ruled out running for the Senate. The state legislature’s brother tandem of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and House Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald have also been mentioned as potential Senate contenders.

Wisconsin Democrats will have a strong field of potential candidates from which to choose. Leading the group is former Sen. Russ Feingold who was defeated for re-election in 2010. Before Sen. Kohl announced his retirement, Feingold said he was not considering running in 2012 even if the Senate seat were to open. Now that Kohl is stepping aside, Feingold has a real decision to make. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) and former Milwaukee mayor and congressman Tom Barrett, who lost to Gov. Scott Walker in November, are both potential candidates. Regardless of who ultimately chooses to run, this open seat contest is likely to become 2012’s premier Senate race.

In Missouri, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) has finally indicated that he will run for the Senate, ending weeks of speculation. Since two Republicans have already announced they are running for his congressional seat, as if it were already open, Akin’s Senate announcement seems anticlimactic. He enters a primary against former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman of Springfield and possibly healthcare company CEO John Brunner from St. Louis. Steelman has the potential of becoming a strong candidate, so an Akin nomination should not be considered a foregone conclusion.

The winner of the Missouri Republican Senatorial primary will face vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), seeking her first re-election to the post she originally won in 2006. Missouri’s recent voting history plus her failure to pay property taxes on an airplane that her husband partially owns has brought this race into the toss-up zone. Missouri was the closest state in the 2008 presidential campaign as John McCain slipped past Pres. Obama by just 3,903 votes. It was only the second time since 1900 that Missouri failed to side with the winner in the presidential contest. Last election, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO-7) scored an impressive 13-point victory over Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), sister of current Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3). Hence, the last two elections may signal that Missouri voters are moving decidedly to the right.

The open North Dakota seat also saw its first major entry. Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) announced via video on Monday that he will run for the retiring Sen. Kent Conrad’s (D) open seat. Berg should coast to the Republican nomination and becomes the prohibitive favorite to convert the seat for his party in the general election. Public Utilities Commissioner Brian Kalk had already announced for the Republican Senatorial nomination, but he is expected to drop down to the open House race. Most of the North Dakota political action will now center around Berg’s vacated at-large House district.
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Huckabee, McCotter Say ‘No’; Succeeding Sen. Kohl; W.Va. Gov. Results

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee officially took himself out of the 2012 presidential race Saturday night, announcing his decision on the Fox News television program that he hosts. Despite performing very well in preliminary presidential polling, Mr. Huckabee simply stated that his heart was not in another run. Instead, he will devote his time to the “Huckabee” television program and will continue with radio commentaries, speeches, and public appearances. Mr. Huckabee further committed to actively supporting conservative and pro-life candidates for public office.

The decision was not particularly surprising. Though included in virtually every national and early state primary poll, Huckabee had done nothing to operationally construct a campaign apparatus, a sure sign that a candidate is not serious about running. The effect on the rest of the field is unknown, but his sizable base of support will likely disperse to some of the more conservative candidates.

Michigan Senate

As quickly as speculation was beginning to surface suggesting that Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11) might challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) next year, the five-term congressman made public his quick and definitive decision. In a statement over the weekend, Mr. McCotter said he will not run for the Senate in 2012. All nine GOP members of the Michigan congressional delegation have now taken themselves out of competition against Stabenow. Though appearing vulnerable, the Republicans have yet to field a strong candidate.

Wisconsin Senate

Turning to Wisconsin, on Friday afternoon Sen. Herb Kohl (D) made public his intention not to seek a fourth term next year. This sets up what could be a very competitive Badger State open seat political campaign. Kohl is the ninth in-cycle senator to announce a return to private life. Eight of these particular seats will be open in 2012. Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R) has already resigned with Dean Heller (R) replacing him for the remainder of the current term. Hence, Sen. Heller’s new status for his 2012 political run will be that of an appointed incumbent.

There is likely to be a great deal of speculation surrounding potential candidates for the Wisconsin Senate seat. On the Democratic side, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold will be the person most discussed. Feingold, before Sen. Kohl opted out of another campaign, said he had no intention of running in 2012, even if the seat came open. Now that it has, Feingold will quickly be pressed for a decision. He served three six-year terms, originally being elected in 1992. He was defeated in 2010 by now-Sen. Ron Johnson (R) 47-52 percent.

Should Mr. Feingold not return to elective politics, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) will be a person who attracts noticeable attention as a potential Senatorial candidate. Second District Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) is saying she will consider running statewide, too. Likewise for defeated Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett. Prior to his run for governor, Mr. Barrett was mayor of Milwaukee and a former congressman.

On the Republican side, all eyes will preliminarily be on House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-1), who also is not ruling out a Senatorial bid. The author of the Ryan budget, which the Democrats are excoriating as the vehicle that destroys Medicare, will be a huge political target no matter what office he chooses to seek. Ryan has more than $3 million in his campaign account, so he starts any campaign in very strong financial shape.

West Virginia Governor

The special West Virginia gubernatorial primary was held on Saturday. As expected, Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin easily won the Democratic nomination. He tallied 40 percent of the vote over state House Speaker Rick Thompson who was strongly backed by organized labor and placed a surprising second (24 percent). Secretary of State Natalie Tennant who, early in the race was believed to be Tomblin’s strongest challenger, finished a disappointing third with 17 percent.

An upset occurred on the Republican side, proving again that virtually unknown candidates are still performing better in GOP primaries than more familiar politicians. Businessman Bill Maloney, who polling showed was gaining momentum toward the end of the race, took advantage of the political wind at his back and claimed an easy 45-31 percent win over former Secretary of State Betty Ireland. Total voter turnout was only 16 percent of the statewide registered voters pool. Tomblin and Maloney will now square-off in a special general election scheduled for Oct. 4. The nomination of Maloney now turns this contest into a potentially interesting campaign.
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Wisconsin’s Sen. Kohl To Retire

News reports breaking in Wisconsin say that Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) has scheduled a retirement announcement at noon Central time. If this proves accurate, Mr. Kohl will be the ninth Senator elected in 2006 not to seek re-election in 2012.

Open Seats – (8)
1. Arizona (Kyl-R)
2. Connecticut (Lieberman-I-D)
3. Hawaii (Akaka-D)
4. New Mexico (Bingaman-D)
5. North Dakota (Conrad-D)
6. Texas (Hutchison-R)
7. Virginia (Webb-D)
8. Wisconsin (Kohl-D)

Note: Nevada, which was on the open seat list is no longer so. Sen. John Ensign (R) resigned and has been replaced by Sen. Dean Heller (R), so this seat returns to the incumbent column.