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Mike Gallagher won’t challenge Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin US Senate race

Gallagher's announcement is a blow to GOP leaders who viewed him as the candidate with the best shot of defeating Baldwin in 2024

Mike Gallagher
Chairman Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., listens during a hearing of a special House committee dedicated to countering China, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Washington. Gallagher announced Friday, June 9, 2023, that he won’t run for U.S. Senate in 2024 against Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, leaving an open GOP field with no declared candidates in the battleground state. Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher of Green Bay announced he won’t run for U.S. Senate next year, leaving the field wide open for Republicans as they search for someone to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Gallagher said in a written statement Friday morning that he plans to remain in the U.S. House, where he’s currently chairing the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, a panel created this session by House Republicans.

“I have a rare, bipartisan opportunity in the 118th Congress to help restore American strength, prevent war in the Pacific, and defend our basic freedoms from communist aggression,” Gallagher said. “Accomplishing this mission and serving Wisconsin’s 8th District deserve my undivided attention.”

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Several Republicans had been hoping to recruit Gallagher to challenge Baldwin, viewing him as the party’s best shot at flipping control of the U.S. Senate seat. Gallagher’s decision to stay out of the race could open the door for any number of Republicans to get in.

In an interview on WISN-AM in Milwaukee, Gallagher said he wanted to make his announcement early enough to give others a chance to weigh the race.

“I think it would be selfish … to string people along for six months and then decide I’m not going to do it,” Gallagher said. “We need enough time where we can vet and evaluate the various candidates who might get in, and then unite and rally behind the best conservative candidate who can win.”

While no Republicans have officially declared to run against Baldwin, U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, has laid the groundwork for a possible campaign. Others considering the race include Franklin businessman Scott Mayer, Madison businessman Eric Hovde and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.

Clarke pointed to a poll released Friday by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showing he was the favorite candidate among GOP voters in Wisconsin by a two-to-one margin.

“This poll has to give the (Republican National Committee) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee sleepless nights when somebody outside their establishment circle wipes away these other GOP potential primary candidates,” Clarke said in a tweet. “None of them energizes or excites the base voter like I do.”

The poll, which was conducted earlier this week, showed 40 percent of likely primary voters preferred Clarke compared to 20 percent for Gallagher, 10 percent for Tiffany and 3 percent for Hovde. Another 27 percent said they were not sure.

The poll surveyed 507 likely Republican primary voters and had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

Baldwin, who won her previous two campaigns comfortably, is viewed by national political observers as a formidable candidate, even in a divided state like Wisconsin with a history of close elections.

Democrats issued a statement after Gallagher’s announcement wishing Republicans “good luck.”

“Mike Gallagher, (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell’s handpicked Senate recruit, passed on running because he knew he couldn’t beat Tammy Baldwin,” read a statement from Arik Wolk, rapid response director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “The Wisconsin GOP is staring down another chaotic, messy, intra-party primary with Sheriff David Clarke leading the pack.”

Messy primaries have been a hallmark of several recent races for Wisconsin Republicans. Last year, the GOP primary for governor between businessman Tim Michels and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch got especially personal before Michels emerged victorious and lost to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November.

This year’s Supreme Court primary between former Justice Dan Kelly and Judge Jennifer Dorrow, both conservatives, also turned negative. Kelly went on to lose to Judge Janet Protasiewicz, the candidate backed by Democrats, by double-digits.

In the 2018 U.S. Senate race, former state Sen. Leah Vukmir faced an onslaught of attack ads in her primary against businessman Kevin Nicholson. She lost to Baldwin by almost 11 percentage points.

In the 2012 U.S. Senate race, former Gov. Tommy Thompson emerged from a four-way GOP primary politically battered and financially broke. Thompson, one of the most successful politicians in Wisconsin history, lost to Baldwin by 6 points.

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