WASHINGTON — Although the election is just 10 months away, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin still does not face significant opposition as she campaigns for a third term. But that could soon change.
A Republican businessman with deep pockets, Eric Hovde, is preparing to run against her. Hovde sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin 12 years ago and lost. He told Spectrum News he has nothing to announce yet, but the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, already has endorsed him.
“It’s a hole in the Republican recruiting landscape... Maybe Hovde steps in, fills that role, does great,” said Kyle Kondik, who’s the managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “That’s certainly within the realm of possibility. And again, Wisconsin is definitely competitive enough to elect a Republican senator this year. It’s just that no one has really stepped up to the plate yet.”
Hovde grew up in Wisconsin, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is the CEO of a Wisconsin real estate development company founded by his grandfather. He’s also the CEO of a $1.5 billion dollar holding company that buys and runs community banks throughout the U.S. Despite his Wisconsin roots, Democrats are calling him a carpetbagger.
In an interview, Baldwin said Hovde lives in California, and downplayed the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s endorsement.
“They want to coax him into moving back to Wisconsin from Laguna Beach and running for U.S. Senate. I’m sure they’re also thrilled that he has a lot of money and can self fund. But I think Wisconsinites deserve somebody who’s on their side and working for them,” Baldwin said.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin flagged to Spectrum News an Instagram video showing Hovde at a holiday party for the bank he owns in California on the day he received the NRSC endorsement. Hovde told Spectrum News that he’s a third generation Wisconsin resident, and dismissed a suggestion his attendance at a company party in California shows he lives there.
He added, “It’s Senator Baldwin’s campaign trying to confuse people in Wisconsin and distract from her results.”
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Hovde bought a home in southern California in 2018.
Baldwin won her second term in 2018 by nearly 11 points, and has done well in rural areas than have supported former President Donald Trump. Kondik said the lack of a significant opponent for now gives Baldwin some breathing room.
“She doesn’t have to worry about someone, you know, building a war chest against her because that person is not in the race yet,” he said. “Baldwin could just sort of focus on getting your message out, doing the job of being a U.S. senator from the state of Wisconsin. And, you know, not have to go into sort of full campaign mode now. Again, that time will come, but it hasn’t come yet.”
Scott Mayer, another businessman, is also considering a run against Baldwin but said he won’t know until mid- to late-February. Former Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke has floated the idea of running but has no announcement yet.
Baldwin said she’ll be ready if and when a big-name Republican enters the race against her. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, Baldwin’s counterpart, has reminded Spectrum News that in 2010 when he first ran, he didn’t announce until May and still won.