MADISON, Wis. — New reporting from NBC News highlights how after failing to recruit their preferred candidate, national and Wisconsin Republicans are turning to multi-millionaire self-funders. Ron Johnson is encouraging Scott Mayer and Eric Hovde (R–Laguna Beach) to wait as long as possible to get into the race, allowing them to avoid scrutiny on their radical right wing agendas and personal fortunes.
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NBC News: Republicans look to fill a glaring hole in their Senate recruitment map
By: Alexandra Marquez
- Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin announced over the summer that she would run for re-election, and since then, potential GOP opponents have dropped one by one, opting not to run.
- Two little-known GOP candidates have already filed to run, but the GOP is still missing a major candidate in Wisconsin. Republicans in the state and in Washington, D.C., point to two contenders left who are still seriously mulling Senate campaigns: businessman Eric Hovde and businessman Scott Mayer.
- Despite Wisconsin’s status as a perennial battleground that’s been almost evenly divided in recent elections, things have moved more slowly there. But both Hovde and Mayer have met with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, according to a source familiar with the meetings.
- And both are prominent members of the Wisconsin business community who would have the ability to, at least partially, self-fund their campaigns.
- Mayer is a political newcomer who would be running in his first-ever election.
- Hovde ran for the Republican Senate nomination in 2012 and narrowly lost to former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who went on to lose the general election to Baldwin. Hovde also flirted with running again in 2018 and considered running for governor in 2022, but he ultimately decided against both races. Hovde told a group gathered by the Jefferson County Republican Party last week, “I am praying hard about it, looking hard at it, working through with my wife and my two daughters. And you may see something.”
- Multiple people working for Hovde did not reply to messages seeking comment. Last year, after he considered a run for governor, he told WisPolitics that primaries were healthy and set up nominees for better general election campaigns.
- “I am not at all one of these people who believes we should be anointing someone with party insiders,” Hovde said, adding: “Candidates are made better by rigorous debate on stage, having to be in front of the public and really having to make their argument. That sets us up better for a general election run.”
- In her third-quarter campaign finance reports, Baldwin reported raising over $3.1 million and ending September with almost $6.9 million on hand.
- Johnson told NBC News that he won’t endorse in the race, if there is a primary, and he won’t encourage or discourage anyone from running.
- “[But] it’s not an easy decision to make, to run for U.S. Senate anymore,” Johnson said.
- He added, “One of my pieces of advice [for them] is, the sooner you’re announced, the sooner you start spending money — and the more you’re going to have to raise.”
- Like Johnson in 2010, both GOP contenders would have the ability to self-fund their campaigns. National Republicans believe Hovde’s ability to make a personal investment in his campaign would immediately make Wisconsin one of the most competitive races in the country.
- And Democrats are worried that Republican candidates using the “Ron Johnson playbook” — announcing late and being willing to spend personal wealth — could pose a greater challenge for Baldwin’s re-election chances than she’s previously faced.
- “The last time a Republican candidate unseated a strong Democratic incumbent in the state was Ron Johnson, and it looks like they’re going to try to run his playbook again,” one Democratic strategist in the state told NBC News.