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April 12, 2024

Republican Eric Hovde to launch Wisconsin Senate campaign against Tammy Baldwin next week

Republican Eric Hovde to launch Wisconsin Senate campaign against Tammy Baldwin next week

Republican businessman Eric Hovde plans to enter the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin next week to challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a contest that could help determine which party controls the Senate.

Ben Voelkel, an adviser to the Hovde campaign, confirmed the planned launch.

Hovde’s imminent entrance into the race in battleground Wisconsin ends months of speculation over who would challenge Baldwin, a strong and well-funded incumbent. 

In recent months, two other Wisconsin Republicans — Reps. Mike Gallagher and Tom Tiffany — passed on challenging Baldwin as she seeks a third term. Another GOP businessman in the state, Scott Mayer, has declined to rule out entering the race.

Hovde’s business empire includes a Madison-based real estate company, as well as numerous West Coast-based banking companies. 

He ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in Wisconsin in 2012, losing the Republican primary to former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who went on to lose the general election to Baldwin. Hovde also flirted with running against Baldwin again in 2018 and considered a run for governor in 2022, but he decided against both races. 

Since the 2012 race, Hovde has lived on and off in California — where he owns a $7 million property in Laguna Beach — a fact Democrats have looked to emphasize in the several months he has been considering whether to launch a campaign.

“Mitch McConnell can try to bring a mega-millionaire California bank owner to Wisconsin to buy this Senate seat, but voters in this state know who will really fight for them,” Baldwin campaign spokesperson Andrew Mamo said in a statement. “We look forward to comparing Eric Hovde, a man who was named one of Orange County’s most influential people three years in a row, to Tammy Baldwin, a public servant with a proven track record of standing up to the wealthy and well connected on behalf of middle-class Wisconsin families.”

Democrats face an uphill battle in holding on to their Senate majority this election cycle. The party must defend 23 seats in November — including two seats held by independents who caucus with the Democrats — while Republicans must defend only 11. 

But while Republicans view Wisconsin as being among the party’s top pickup opportunities this fall, defeating Baldwin, a two-term senator and a prolific fundraiser, will not be easy — even in a presidential year with a vulnerable incumbent president on the ballot.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has rated the Wisconsin Senate race “Lean Democratic.”

Democrats in Wisconsin have enjoyed a run of good fortune in recent years. Since Donald Trump’s surprise win in Wisconsin in the 2016 presidential contest, Democrats (and candidates backed by Democrats) have won 15 of the last 18 statewide races.

When he formally launches his campaign, Hovde is expected to have the support of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP’s official campaign arm. NRSC Chairman Steve Daines said in December, amid speculation that Hovde would soon enter the race, that the group would support his bid.

A spokesperson for the NRSC declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Mayer has talked about ​hiring campaign advisers in recent weeks but has repeatedly declined to say whether he’ll enter the race. 

Republicans have said they hope to avoid a contentious primary between two wealthy businessmen, who both could partly self-fund their campaigns.

Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a Trump ally, is also considering running.

Adam Edelman

Adam Edelman is a political reporter for NBC News.

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