FOX 11 Investigates GOP targeting Sen. Baldwin's seat

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, talks with supporters at a Democratic barbecue in early July in Appleton (Photo: Mark Leland/WLUK)

APPLETON (WLUK) -- Even though it's not an election year you may have noticed political ads popping up everywhere. A key target of the ads is U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin.

Republicans are already eyeing her seat in the Senate. She’s up for re-election next year.

The attack ads are already playing on television, radio and the internet.

  • Restoration PAC ad attacking Sen. Tammy Baldwin

Six months ago, the Super PAC Restoration PAC started running the ads. Various PACs have raised millions of dollars to target Baldwin. And the election is still 16 months away.

Baldwin hasn't officially announced her re-election bid just yet. But she's been holding private and public events to generate support. So voters can fully expect her to be on the ballot next year.

FOX 11 Investigates asked Baldwin straight up, “Running for re-election?”

“Well yes, but there's a bigger purpose,” said Baldwin.

FOX 11 Investigates caught up with Baldwin at a campaign event in Appleton during the Senate's Fourth of July recess. She was there to rally the Democratic troops that are forming to push her re-election bid.

“I agree the engagement is needed more than ever,” said Baldwin. “But it's really around the issues and around the fact that the powerful, the wealthy are really able to rig the system. And there's a situation in Washington where there's so much chaos, the tweets, the 24/7 news cycle that people aren't focusing in on what really matters in the people's lives.”

“We're all going to be mobilizing and helping her to get re-elected,” said Lee Snodgrass who heads up the Democratic Party in Outagamie County. Snodgrass admits last year's elections that saw big wins for Republicans caught them sleeping a bit. But not in 2018.

“No, I think what we Democrats can firmly say after the last election is that we don't take anything for granted. So we are turning it on in the off-year as they say,” said Snodgrass.

The campaigning, the attacks -- all before a Republican challenger is even announced.

“There's still a lot of time between now and election day,” said University of Wisconsin-Green Bay political science professor Aaron Weinschenk.

Weinschenk says the race has started early, and Republicans will have their work cut out for them to unseat an incumbent.

“It's going to be an uphill battle but I think it's possible given what's happened here in recent years,” said Weinschenk.

Prior to Donald Trump's victory in the state last year, Wisconsin hadn't voted for a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan back in 1984. Wisconsin Republicans say the switch from a blue state to a red state though continues to gain momentum.

“This state, for the past six years you've seen it continue to trend in a rightward direction, continue to have kind of a red shift to it,” explained Mark Morgan, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

According to Morgan, the party's goal is to capture Baldwin's seat.

“The race is certainly a priority for us,” said Morgan.

Morgan points to the attack ads already running by various groups, saying Baldwin is vulnerable.

Baldwin is one of 10 Democrats up for re-election in states like Wisconsin that voted for Trump.

“I think it's a sign to the competitiveness of the race certainly how it's being prioritized both for us here in Wisconsin and nationally,” said Morgan.

Morgan points to the investigation into the overprescribing of drugs at the VA Hospital in Tomah. Baldwin's office was criticized for its delayed response after receiving a tip and a government report on the problems.

“Senator Baldwin is not going to be able to run from this issue,” said Morgan.

Baldwin has since authored legislation aimed to correct the VA problems and protect future veterans.

“First of all, the care of our veterans should never be made into a partisan, politicized issue. That's just wrong,” said Baldwin.

And yet it's front and center.

Ads that have been running on television and radio say Baldwin was slow to protect our heroes, raising the question, “why would we vote for her again?”

“I think it's more of a signal that it's going to be an important race rather than saying people are going to remember these advertisements,” said Weinschenk.

There will definitely be a lot more ads.

In the first six months of this year Baldwin raised $4.7 million.

And while there are no Republicans officially running, several names are being tossed around including a couple with money on hand.

UPDATE: Wednesday July 26, 2017 - Kevin Nicholson announced in a video on social media his run for U.S. Senate in 2018 as a Republican.

Millionaire businessman Eric Hovde, who ran in the Republican primary in 2012, is said to be considering a run. Also, there's Kevin Nicholson, a businessman, former Marine, and previously registered Democrat. The super PAC, Solutions for Wisconsin, was formed in March to support Nicholson's potential Republican candidacy and reports raising $3.5 million so far.

  • Both Republican Party of Wisconsin executive director Mark Morgan and Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairperson Martha Laning weigh in on the Wisconsin Senate 2018 race in video above.

Democrats say in addition to raising money they are already focusing on the ground game.

"Our goal is we want neighborhood teams in every community in Wisconsin,” said Martha Laning, Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairperson. “When neighbor talks to neighbor, what is that worth? That's where our strength is.”

“There’s no trail I have ever blazed without all of you,” Baldwin told supporters at the gathering in Appleton. “And it’s the only way we’re going to persevere both through the thicket of attacks in terms of issues, as well as, persevering through this next election.”

The race is on, and both sides expect it will only intensify in the months ahead.

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