Senate recruitment: Vilsack out, White in, Sink and Mongiardo in between

Potential Senate candidates typically do a great deal of their thinking over holiday periods, and we are thus getting a fair amount of news stories about politicians mulling statewide runs.

However, the most important development of the past few days consists in a potential challenger dropping out of consideration: Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has been tapped as Secretary of Agriculture, as unexpected a move as Salazar’s designation to the Interior Department. One immediate consequence is that we are now sure that Vilsack will not run for Senate in 2010.

Democrats will have a tough-time challenging longtime Senator Chuck Grassley, and Vilsack might have been the only Democrat strong enough as a credible opponent. (A Research 2000 poll released last week found Grassley leading Vilsack by 4%.) If Grassley runs for re-election, it is difficult to see him facing a competitive race.

The problem for Democrats is that Vilsack’s departure from the state makes it more likely Grassley runs for re-election. Incumbents considering retirement might be more comfortable launching another run if they do not expect a competitive race, whereas the threat of two years of tough campaigning can be all they need to opt against a run.

Meanwhile, two of the Democrats’ top potential candidates in Florida and Kentucky are continuing to hint at their interest in a 2010 run.

In Florida, this alone is a victory for the DSCC: Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said shortly after the November election that she would not run in the senatorial or gubernatorial election in 2010, but Mel Martinez’s unexpected retirement put her back on the fence. Now, The Miami Herald reports Sink traveled to Washington to meet with Harry Reid and new DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez about a potential run - a sure sign that she is the national party’s preferred candidate.

Democrats have a number of other candidates who could potentially jump in the race, but no one has provided anything more than a vague statement of interest.

In Kentucky, Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo acknowledged his interest in a challenge to Republican Senator Jim Bunning in an interview with The Hill and took the opportunity to take a shot at his potential opponent. “We haven’t seen him since the last election, and we barely saw him then,” he said. While Mongiardo might not be the DSCC’s preferred candidate (Rep. Ben Chandler would probably be a stronger candidate), Mongiardo would undoubtedly be a very credible candidate. In 2004, when he was only a low-profile state Senator, he already faced Bunning and lost by less than 2%.

Democrats might not have any declared candidates in those former state,s but they already have many in Texas where there isn’t even a scheduled race yet! But with Kay Bailey Hutchison looking like she might leave her office sometime in the next two year, Democrats are jockeying for the special election that would follow.

As I wrote the other day, former state Comptroller John Sharp has already announced his candidacy while The Houston Chronicle reported that Houston Mayor Bill White was looking to do the same in the coming days. And that’s exactly what White did yesterday in a video he released on his campaign website.

The race got more crowded with a Republican - Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams - announcing his candidacy. Williams, who would be the first African-American Senator from Texas, did so via a statement first published on… Facebook!

Should we be more surprised that an inexistent election is already attracting so many declared candidates or that Facebook has become an acceptable medium to declare one’s candidacy?

6 Responses to “Senate recruitment: Vilsack out, White in, Sink and Mongiardo in between”


  1. 1 Jaxx Raxor

    It would be very interesting to have an African American Republican in the senate, although Miachel Williams would be far from the only candidate for the GOP if Hutchinson leaves (which is extremly likely as she saw how weak Perry was in the 2006, only winning by 30% or so of the vote).

  2. 2 Teezy

    Michael Williams has a very impressive resume and has won statewide office twice, though it seems to be a low profile one. I agree that it could be a crowded field on the GOP side since they have such a deep bench, but with homestate Senator John Cornyn being chairman of the NRSC it wouldn’t surprise me if he thinned the field for his preferred candidate to prevent a divisive primary.

  3. 3 Teezy

    It will be interesting to see if Sink announces before Jeb Bush make a final decision. My guess is that if Jeb is in, then she is out.

  4. 4 MSW

    I also believe that if Jeb enters the race, Sink will be out. On top of that opinion, I believe many Democrats will be hesitant to jump into that race. Jeb is still fairly popular down in Florida, and I don’t believe that his brother’s low approval ratings will hurt him that much.

    The only thing that may interfer with Jeb’s election is if the economy in Florida continues to tank. However, IMO most Floridians would rather blame the federal government for their woes and not an ex-Governor (or an ex-Governor that is of the same party as the current Governor). The only Democrat that I know of that could possibly beat Jeb would be Bob Graham, and he’s simply won’t run.

    Is there any chance at all that Charlie Crist would leave the governor’s mansion to take a swing at the Senate seat?

  5. 5 Teezy

    Not if that means running against Jeb in a primary. Crist is in no rush as this is just his first term. If he is not running as Pres or VP in 2012 he will likely take Nelson’s Senate seat.

  6. 6 MSW

    Nelson vs. Crist would be an interesting matchup. Both men are fairly moderate within their own caucuses. Nelson would be 70 years old if he ran again in 2012, so I don’t know for sure if he would run again.

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