I’ve referred to Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald as the sentimental favorite in the senate race. Perhaps that should be, the favorite of the sentimental. Nonetheless, the odds of Fitzgerald winning the Republican nomination next week are pretty small.
Part of the reason Fitzgerald is facing such long odds is the strength of the rest of the field. A former three-time governor, a former congressman who has run state-wide before, and a self-funding millionaire, have left little room for a Fitzgerald campaign to be able to generate the attention it needs to raise the funds to be competitive.
According to Bruce Murphy, the editor of Urban Milwaukee, there may be an additional reason why Fitzgerald is so far behind. Fitzgerald is running for a different title – lobbyist.
But as one Republican insider put it, “This isn’t a real campaign by Fitzgerald. He’s running to build up his name recognition so he can become a lobbyist. He’s stepping down from the legislature to make the big money.”
Of course, if you want lobbying work, you’d be well advised not to antagonize any of your Republican opponents or their followers. You want every legislator to be thinking nice thoughts when you stop by to buttonhole them.
“Jeff Fitzgerald is not a serious candidate for U.S. Senate,” as a “Downstate Democrat” commented in a Daily Kos article.
No Republican, however, has been willing to say this on the record. The closest I’ve seen is the Sunday column by Republican insider Christian Schneider, who wryly described the candidate as “Jeff Fitzgerald of Fitzwalkerstan, who may or not still be actually running a campaign… he appears to be running a stealth campaign cloaked in invisibility; it is entirely possible that Fitzgerald could be elected, only for people to realize he left the country six months ago to bartend at a cocktail stand on a Caribbean beach.”
The irony of the situation is that Fitzgerald might have had a fighting chance. He could have followed the script of Russ Feingold in 1992, a dark horse candidate who smartly stayed out of the fray as Democratic frontrunners Jim Moody and Joe Checota attacked each other. Feingold eventually won the primary and the general election for U.S. Senator, after a memorable campaign with funny ads showing he knew the state “like the back of his hand.”
Fitzgerald, by contrast, has made little effort to raise money, has no notable ads or ringing slogans, and seems to be coasting through the entire campaign. As Schneider puts it, “if the other armies eviscerate each other, Fitzgerald could stroll to the throne, martini shaker in hand.”