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Wisconsin Republicans eyeing hedge fund manager to challenge Baldwin

News: Wisconsin Republicans are aggressively recruiting businessman Eric Hovde to challenge Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), as the GOP seeks to flip a Senate seat in a key presidential swing state.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told us Hovde was his top pick against Baldwin, and the two have been in conversations.

“Eric Hovde would be a great candidate in Wisconsin,” Daines told us. “The fact that he ran in a Senate primary against Tommy Thompson and lost by a few points shows he’s been involved and has run a big race before.”

Daines added that Hovde’s business experience would be an asset in the Senate.

“He’s a successful businessman and we need more men and women who have run businesses,” Daines said. “It takes a little time sometimes to get your business affairs in order before you run for a major campaign, but [Hovde] is energized.”

Wisconsin, of course, is a potential pickup opportunity for Senate Republicans. Republicans are working with the most favorable map in years and hoping to take back the Senate after losing out due to poor candidate quality in 2022.

Hovde has publicly said he is seriously considering jumping into the Senate race but has not yet formally declared. He has, however, engaged with Democratic attacks on Twitter referring to him as a potential Senate candidate.

Along with Hovde, former race car driver and businessman Scott Mayer and former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke have also been exploring runs. Three other low-profile candidates, including Stacey Klein, Rejani Raveendran and Patrick Schaefer-Wicke, have declared.

The filing deadline for Wisconsin Senate candidates is June 3.

Several Republican sources predict Hovde will enter the race early next year and self-fund his campaign. Many Wisconsin Republicans said Hovde would be the best challenger to Baldwin, who is running for a third term.

Hovde ran in the 2012 GOP Senate primary in Wisconsin but was ultimately defeated by Thompson.

“Hovde would be a good candidate. I think he would be formidable,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) told us.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Hovde’s wealth will be an advantage for him if he decides to enter the race at a later date than when candidates usually announce.

“He’s certainly one of the people that have been exploring it,” Johnson told us. “The only reason you have to announce sooner rather than later is just the imperative of how expensive these races are. That’s the evaluation he has to make.”

Democrats say they relish the possibility of Hovde, a multi-millionaire who owns a home in California, jumping into the race.

“[He’s] got some money but wasn’t impressive in his failed primary run,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said.

Baldwin told The Messenger that Hovde could take his time entering the race because of his deep pockets, but his out-of-state ties would make him a poor candidate.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, said the fact that Hovde hasn’t gotten in the race yet indicates that Republicans aren’t confident they can defeat Baldwin.

“Sen. Baldwin is a fantastic senator and candidate,” Peters told us. “That’s why people aren’t in the race, and I’m confident she’s going to win.”

Mica Soellner

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.