The undefeated vs the underdog: What a Tammy Baldwin-Eric Hovde Senate race could look like in 2024

Political Reporter Charles Benson looks at how the US Senate race is shaping up in Wisconsin.
Hovde vs. Baldwin
Posted at 1:45 PM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 14:45:43-05

After much anticipation and speculation, the US Senate race in Wisconsin is starting to take shape.

Republican Eric Hovde is officially running to challenge Senator Tammy Baldwin.

At last week's campaign launch, Hovde pledged to hold Baldwin accountable for her 25-year "track record" in Washington D.C.

"All your votes have left this country riddled in debt, " said Hovde.

It's still not clear if Hovde will have to navigate any big-name or well-financed primary challenger. Franklin businessman Scott Mayer has hinted at running, and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke's name comes up as a possibility.

Ballotpedia lists several other GOP candidates interested in the primary.

The Underdog:

It's not Hovde's first run for the job.

In 2012, the political newcomer surprised Wisconsin Republicans by narrowly losing a competitive Senate primary to Tommy Thompson, a popular four-time elected former governor.

If Hovde becomes Baldwin's primary challenger in the fall, he's going to need a lot of political muscle to get over the November finish line.

The Undefeated:

That's because the 59-year-old banking executive would face a political prize fighter. Tammy Baldwin has never lost an election, dating back decades to her days as a Dane County Supervisor.

The 62-year-old Democratic Senator has a proven record of beating Republicans by margins not typically seen in today's close competitive statewide races.

Baldwin beat Tommy Thompson by 5.5 points in 2012 and easily won the 2018 race against former state Senator Leah Vukmir by 11 points.

Her first Senate victory in 2012 was historic. She became Wisconsin's first woman senator and the first openly gay member elected to the U.S. Senate.

Baldwin's winning streak started at the Dane County Board in the 1980s. Since then, the Madison native has won three state Assembly races, seven congressional contests, and two US Senate elections.

Baldwin officially announced last April she would run in 2024, she's one of 20 Senate Democrats facing re-election this year.

Asked on MSNBC about Hovde jumping into the race, Baldwin criticized his previous opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

"He maintains these horrible policy positions that harm Wisconsinites," said Baldwin.

Baldwin and Democrats have also blasted Hovde for owning a multimillion-dollar home in California. He owns and runs a multibillion-dollar bank with West Coast offices, including California.

Hovde lives and owns a home in Madison where he also runs a successful real estate business.

Money Talks:

In 2022 the Senate race between Ron Johnson and Mandela Barnes was the most expensive in Wisconsin history and the fourth most expensive in the country. $128 million in out-of-state spending with Johnson raising $30 million and Barnes bringing in $40 million.

It's too early to predict if Wisconsin will see that kind of money and the barrage of campaign commercials that come with that amount of spending.

Baldwin's campaign is already off to the financial races, raising $20 million with about $8 million in campaign cash as of the end of last year.

In 2018 Baldwin's campaign raised more than $30 million, which was nearly six times more than her Republican opponent, who raised $5.7 million.

By comparison, Hovde put at least $5.6 million of his own money into the 2012 GOP primary and is expected to pour millions into his 2024 race. Hovde says he will not take corporate or special interest money.

Battleground Wisconsin:

We know the Badger state will see another battleground year with a likely presidential rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

But what about a Baldwin-Hovde race? Political observers, like The Cook Report, show the Wisconsin race currently leans Democratic.

The 2016 and 2020 presidential races were decided by less than one percentage point and generated more than 3.3 million votes in 2020. Wisconsin ranks in the top ten states with one of the highest percentages of voter turnout in the nation.

Hovde starts the race as a relatively unknown player. 82% of voters told a February Marquette Law School Poll they don't know enough about the Republican businessman to form an opinion.

Baldwin is well known but her favorability right now is a net negative in that same Marquette poll, meaning her unfavorability is slightly higher than her favorability with voters, — 42% favorable vs 45% unfavorable.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson faced a far worse scenario at the start of his 2022 re-election bid. His numbers were 33% favorable vs 45% unfavorable before winning a third term by narrowly beating Mandela Barnes, 50.5% - 49.5%.

The partisan primary is August 13th and the general election is November 5th.