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Emkenheadshot.jpgWith less than a year to go until the November 2012 election, a GOP challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has emerged.

Elizabeth Emken, a longtime advocate for children with autism and 2010 congressional candidate, has decided to run against the incumbent Democrat next year, announcing her candidacy on her campaign website and the conservative blog

"She's definitely in and we're putting together the campaign now," campaign consultant Tim Clark said in an interview Monday.

Emken, 48, most recently served as vice president of governmental relations for Autism Speaks, a national nonprofit organization that bills itself as the cause's largest U.S. advocacy group. The Danville Republican, whose 19-year-old son is autistic, previously worked as a legislative consultant and board member for Cure Autism Now, another nonprofit advocacy group that merged with Autism Speaks in 2007. Clark said she also worked in what he called an "efficiency manager" role for IBM Corporation.

"I'm running for U.S. Senate because my children need me to," Emken, who Clark declined to make available for an interview, wrote in a guest post on FlashReport, which first reported the news of her bid. "The massive government debt, the lack of resolve to control spending, and excessive government regulation threaten to fundamentally change the American way of life. I'm not going to let that happen, at least not without a fight."

Emken loaned her 2010 campaign for the 11th Congressional District $300,000, according to federal campaign records, but placed last in the four-way GOP primary with 16.7 percent of the votes cast Clark said he expects Emken, who has launched a campaign website and opened a federal committee to raise money for her new bid, to focus on cultivating a "broad based group of donors" instead of tapping into personal funds to fuel her bid.

The cost of running statewide and prospect of taking on 78-year-old Feinstein and her multimillion dollar campaign warchest has deterred several high-profile Republicans mentioned as possible candidates. But Clark said Feinstein's poll numbers, which earlier this year hit an all-time low since she was first elected to the Senate in 1992, reflects voters' appetites for a "wholesale" change, giving candidates like Emken a strong shot at victory.

"Voters are hungry for real solutions and right now the solutions are 'let's get our finances in order' and 'let's get our economy moving again.' Feinstein has had 20 years to do that, but she hasn't and this is the end result," he said. "I think the contrast between the two candidates is going to be very clear."

Feinstein consultant Bill Carrick downplayed the challenge, saying Emken's 2010 showing gives his candidate little cause for concern.

"She didn't seem to be able to mount a competitive race for Congress, it's a little hard to imagine she'll be able to make the transition to a statewide race," he said.

Photo courtesty of Tim Clark.

Editor's note: This post was updated with information about Emken's 2010 congressional bid and a quote from Carrick.


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