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Republicans search for someone, anyone, to take on Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin

The candidates GOP leaders wanted to run have passed on the chance to challenge the two-term Democratic senator in 2024.

By Emily Singer - August 16, 2023
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Tammy Baldwin
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) speaks during a press conference in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Nov. 15, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Republicans are getting desperate to find a candidate to run against Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2024 after potential top-tier contenders opted against a bid.

Wisconsin should be a competitive Senate race next November: The state is battleground territory that former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden carried by less than 1 point in 2016 and 2020, respectively.

Yet a little more than a year out from the election, not one Republican has announced a bid to take on Baldwin.

“While Tammy Baldwin works every day for Wisconsin, the @WisGOP and their pals at the [National Republican Senatorial Committee] can’t find a single credible opponent to take her on,” Andrew Mamo, a spokesperson for Baldwin’s campaign, wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Republican strategists’ top choice to take on Baldwin, passed on a bid in June. Republicans tried to convince him to run by commissioning a poll that claimed he would be a strong challenger to Baldwin, but Gallagher decided against it anyway, citing his desire to remain in the House.

Then, in August, Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI) announced he wasn’t running for Senate either, opting instead to run for reelection in his safe Republican House district.

The other Republican members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation — Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, Glenn Grothman, Derrick Van Orden, and Bryan Steil — have also declined to run for Senate.

The remaining contenders are Eric Hovde, a wealthy businessman who lost a bid for Senate in 2012 and now lives in Laguna Beach, California; former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, a right-wing conspiracy theorist who spread lies about purported fraud in the 2020 election; and Scott Mayer, another wealthy businessman who could self-finance a campaign.

A Marquette University Law School poll from June found none of those three contenders are very well known. And all have taken policy positions that could hurt them in a general election.

Hovde, for example, opposes abortion, same-sex marriage, and any regulation of guns, according to the issues page from the website for his failed 2012 Senate campaign. That abortion position, in particular, could be damaging for Hovde, as 66% of Wisconsinites believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to the Marquette poll.

Clarke, meanwhile, carries a lot of baggage.

He spoke at a conference in 2021 linked to the QAnon movement, at which he said the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was “not an insurrection,” and in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic said the deadly virus was just “the damn flu.

Clarke sat on the board of a now-defunct group that fraudulently raised money to build Trump’s border wall. Two of the leaders of the group were sentenced in April to between three and four years in federal prison for defrauding donors.

Baldwin, for her part, will have the funds to educate voters on her potential Republican challengers’ backgrounds. As of June 30, Baldwin’s campaign had more than $5.5 million in the bank, according to disclosures it filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Wisconsin is one of 23 Senate seats Democrats are defending in 2024, and one Democrats need to win if they are to have a chance at keeping their majority.

Inside Elections, the nonpartisan political handicapping outlet, rates the race “leans Democratic.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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