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Senate Race Heats Up House Hunt in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is already bracing for multiple recall elections and a sudden Senate vacancy, but the Badger State’s political upheaval might soon include two open House seats.

Neither Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D) nor Ron Kind (D) have announced plans to run for the Senate seat to be vacated in 2012 by Herb Kohl (D). But the state’s political players believe it’s simply a matter of time. And while the field is by no means set, politicians from both sides of the aisle are beginning to prepare for what could end up being a free-for-all.

Democrats have held Wisconsin’s 2nd and 3rd district seats for more than a decade. But they will feature very different races.

Baldwin’s 2nd district, which includes Madison, is a Democratic stronghold in which President Barack Obama defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by almost 40 points in 2008. The 3rd district, while occupied by Kind since 1996, leans Democratic but is considered a swing district that should be far more competitive next fall.

“CD2 is ours no matter what,” state Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski wrote in an email to Roll Call. “I think Tammy got the most raw votes of any House Dem in 2010.”

Indeed, Baldwin had 50,000 more votes than the next-closest Democrat to win last fall.

Republicans do not pretend they have a good chance at winning the seat, even if its boundaries shift through the redistricting process. That means the most important race in the 2nd district will likely be the Democratic primary.

State Rep. Kelda Roys, leader of the House Democratic Caucus, confirmed last week that she’s preparing to run should Baldwin seek statewide office.

“I’m definitely giving it serious consideration, so if the time comes when she declares, I’ll be able to hit the ground running,” Roys told Roll Call.

First elected to the state legislature in 2008, the 31-year-old is a former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. And she knows she will not be the only Democrat to seek Baldwin’s seat.

She cited, for example, the likely candidacy of state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, whom a top Wisconsin Democratic operative suggested would be one of the strongest candidates in the hypothetical primary election.

Erpenbach was among the state Senators who spent several weeks in Illinois to deny the state Senate a quorum in an attempt to block Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) budget plans to curtail collective bargaining rights for state workers. And he has been an outspoken voice in the recall efforts against state Senators.

“I’m guessing you’re going to see a field of no less than four to six people,” the Democratic operative said. “That district is full of Democrats. … And a seat like that comes up so infrequently.”

The 3rd district is a different story.

Democrats acknowledge they don’t have many people to pick from in that area, especially because those who might be interested are involved in recall elections.

“You look at the bench in that area and it’s tough,” the Democratic operative said. “That could be very difficult — it’s not an automatic.”

The operative called state Rep. Jennifer Shilling, a former Kind aide, an “up-and-comer.” But Shilling is challenging state Sen. Dan Kapanke in this summer’s recall election.

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