MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker fired the opening shots of the 2018 U.S. Senate race this week when he engaged U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin on Twitter over Baldwin's opposition to Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
Walker definitively ruled out running against Baldwin but -- in the absence of other Republicans announcing their candidacy -- is leading the Wisconsin GOP's push against her, for now. Baldwin is widely seen as a vulnerable Democrat running in an increasingly red state, and national Republicans are targeting her seat.
Baldwin has said she would meet with Gorsuch but would vote against him, leading analysts to draw parallels to Republicans -- including Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson -- blocking President Barack Obama's choice for the same spot on the bench one year ago.
"She needs to do her job," Walker told Republican activists in Waukesha on Saturday, February 4th, urging them to contact Baldwin's office. "Tammy Baldwin told the voters of her state that she was going to meet with the nominee on Tuesday, when the announcement was made. But by Thursday, the liberal, big government special interests had gotten to her and she suddenly was a no vote."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee ran a TV advertisement in Wisconsin that highlighted Walker's position on Gorsuch, the group's first paid effort in Wisconsin of the 2018 cycle.
Walker and Baldwin also engaged in a three-day battle on Twitter after Walker accused the senator of being outside the mainstream.
"Your opportunity to weigh in on Gorsuch ended with your short-lived presidential campaign," Baldwin tweeted back.
The Twitter battle included 13 tweets from Walker and three from Baldwin. The senator suggested that Walker was trying to impress President Trump, or that he was planning to run against her in 2018 -- which Walker said Saturday was false.
"Let`s be making it perfectly clear. I am not a candidate for United States Senate. I will not be a candidate for United States Senate," Walker told reporters. "If I do anything in 2018, it will be running for re-election."
Walker is widely expected to run for a third term as governor. Other Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wausau and businessman Eric Hovde of Madison, are possible challengers to Baldwin. None have announced plans to run in the Senate race.
Baldwin is seen as vulnerable in 2018, given the success of Wisconsin Republicans since 2010. Mr. Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since 1984.
Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor, drew comparisons to Democrats' efforts against Johnson in 2016 after he announced his opposition to Mr. Obama's pick, Merrick Garland.
"The two parties have now simply flipped roles. They`re reading each other`s script, and now they`re accusing each other of a double standard, and in a sense, they`re both right and are both wrong," Lee said. "We’ve got a situation back-to-back of two U.S. senators who are incumbents and are viewed as weak, who are viewed as the underdogs."
Johnson staged a comeback to defeat Democratic challenger Russ Feingold in 2016.
Baldwin's political director, Scott Spector, said Baldwin looked forward to a meeting with Gorsuch and would support a committee hearing and vote.
"Judge Gorsuch needs to earn 60 votes in the Senate but she won't be one of them," Spector said. "Tammy opposes his confirmation because his record is clear. Judge Gorsuch has consistently favored the powerful special interests over workers and retirees."