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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