12/16/2011 06:17 pm ET | Updated Dec 17, 2011

2012 Election: Robert Redford Endorses, Orrin Hatch Faces Primary Fight & Race For Barney Frank's Seat

As the 2012 elections loom, both parties are starting to pour resources into congressional and gubernatorial races across the country. While Republicans work to regain control of the Senate, Democrats are vying to pick up seats in the GOP-controlled House. Below, a rundown of election news happening beyond the presidential field.

Robert Redford Endorses Martin Chavez

Robert Redford announced Friday he's endorsing Martin Chavez for the New Mexico congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Martin Heinrich (R), who is making a bid for the Senate. Redford said in a statement:

Throughout my life I have sought to inspire positive social and environmental change by encouraging creative solutions and innovative problem solving. Never have these approaches been more pertinent to the issues we face as a nation and in order to meet the needs of the next generation of Americans, we must elect leaders who understand how to get the results we need.

That's exactly why I'm supporting Marty Chavez's race for United States Congress. Washington needs his leadership on critical issues like protecting our environment and building sustainable infrastructure for our communities.

Redford's is the latest in a string of high-profile endorsements for the former Albuquerque Mayor. Chavez has also been backed by the ASCME and "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston.

Primary Rival For Orrin Hatch?

After much speculation that Republican state Sen. Dan Liljenquist would enter the U.S. Senate race to challenge incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in the GOP primary, there's now a pretty clear sign pointing to yes: Liljenquist resigned his seat in the Utah state senate Thursday. He said he'll announce his future plans early next year.

Democrats' $1 Million Ad Buy Pays Off

Oregon's special election is a little over a month away, and Democrats are doing everything in their power to make sure they keep the seat blue, including spending an estimated $1 million on TV ads. It seems to be paying off: A new PPP poll shows state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D) with a solid lead over businessman Rob Cronilles (R). Former Rep. David Wu resigned earlier this year.

Heating Up In Hawaii

Hawaii's Senate candidates are duking it out in the Aloha state. Democratic frontrunner Rep. Mazie Hirono has internal polling numbers that show her with a sizable lead over former Rep. Ed Case in the Democratic primary. Hirono also picked up a crucial endorsement from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), whose chairwoman said "I believe she is going to win."

Case fired back, claiming the endorsement just proves Hirono is a Washington insider.

"Mazie is not the change candidate," he told Roll Call. "She is the inside Washington, status-quo candidate."

Kaine Gains Slight Lead In Virginia Senate Race

The gap is widening -- a little -- in the hotly contested Senate race in Virginia. The latest PPP poll shows that Democratic former Gov. Tim Kaine got a bit of a bump (47 percent to Republican candidate George Allen's 42 percent) following his strong performance in the first debate between the two candidates.

Interestingly, a telling statistic shows 61 percent of Virginia residents who don't consider themselves Southerners support Kaine. Still, the majority of Virginians (66 percent) do identify as Southerns, and that group favors Allen by a small margin.

Illinois Redistricting Favors Democrats

In a redistricting win for Democrats, a federal court upheld Democratic-drawn congressional election maps in Illinois that favor the party. Republicans challenged the maps and claimed they diluted the representation of Latinos. The court rejected the claim, and upheld the map. However the court agreed with Republicans that the map "was a blatant political move to increase the number of Democratic congressional seats."


The first candidate filed papers for retiring Rep. Barney Frank's seat Thursday. Boston City Councilor Michael Ross will consider a run for the open seat in Massachusetts' 4th District.


EMILY's List, an influential fundraiser focused on electing pro-choice Democratic women, announced it's endorsing four candidates in close congressional races: Sen. Terryl Clark in Minnesota, Elizabeth Etsy in Connecticut, Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.).


Some good news for George LeMiex: The Republican Senate candidate from Florida won a small straw poll Thursday. LeMieux polled at 52 percent vs. primary rival Connie Mack's 11.6 percent. The poll was hosted by The Hialeah-Miami Lakes Republicans and the Miami Young Republicans.

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that David Wu is a former senator. It has been corrected to reflect that he is in fact a former representative.


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