Another Senate Democrat will announce that he is packing it in today. Four-term incumbent Herb Kohl of Wisconsin won’t run for reelection next year, making him the sixth member of the Senate’s Democratic caucus to say he won’t be back in 2013. Two Republicans are also retiring in a year in which far more Democratic seats are already up for grabs.
Kohl, a retail store mogul and the longtime owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, was first sent to Washington in 1988 and won landslide reelection bids in 1994, 2000, and 2006. At the very least, this moves what was a safe Democratic seat into the tossup category. Wisconsin has become a battleground state in the last year as a Republican tide swept over the state. Democratic Senate stalwart Russ Feingold was defeated in November at the same time that the GOP also won both the governor’s office and control of both legislative chambers. Democrats hope that a backlash against Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to restrain the power of the unions to prevent him from balancing the budget will lead them back to power. But it isn’t yet clear whether the public thinks Walker or the unions and their Democratic allies overreached.
Among those likely to run for the Democratic nomination to replace Kohl will be Feingold, a liberal stalwart who went down to an unexpected defeat to Ron Johnson, a darling of the Tea Party movement last year. Congressman Ron Kind is another possible challenger.
But the big question this morning is whether the brightest star in Wisconsin’s Republican Congressional delegation will think about moving up to the Senate. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan poured cold water on those who have sought to entice him to run for president. He is embroiled in the battle over the budget and his plans for Medicare reform and is not eager to give up his position as the party’s point man on fiscal affairs. But a senate run might be a different matter, especially since it is hard to argue that that office would take him away from his family—one of his stated reasons against a White House run—any more than a congressional seat. While there are other Wisconsin Republicans who would be eager to run for Kohl’s old seat, there might be pressure from the party to get their most well known name to take up the challenge.