Grasping at straws
The straw poll at last weekend’s Republican Party of Wisconsin convention sent a strong message to the candidates considering running for Senate. Former State Senator Ted Kanavas won the poll with 73 votes. Former Governor Tommy Thompson finished a distant second at 61 votes. Attorney General JB Van Hollen, an unlikely candidate at this point, finished third with 40 votes. Former Congressman Mark Neumann, who challenged Walker for the gubernatorial nomination last year and lost to Russ Feingold in 1998, finished fourth with 33 votes.
While straw polls are not scientific polls of Republican Primary voters, the attendees at the Republican convention are the ones that know these particular candidates the best. They are also people who will raise the money for candidates and provide volunteers.
Kanavas’ showing demonstrates he has solid support within the party. It would be interesting to see what was the geographic breakdown of the vote and how much work Kanavas will have to do in the rest of the state to win the nomination. However, as Kanavas is also likely to be perceived as the most conservative candidate in the race, he could also be the candidate that attracts the most Tea Party support.
Thompson’s disappointing second place is even more significant given his prior dominance of the state party. The vast majority of delegates are ready to move on without Thompson. Thompson will not be able to reach out to the Tea Party movement either given his support for bigger spending. Thompson is now a candidate without a base of support. Who would have thought that just a few years ago?
Neumann’s fourth place finish should send a message to national Republicans who had been talking up a Neumann candidacy that Republicans in Wisconsin will not forget nor forgive his horrible campaign last year against Walker. Neumann now runs into the same problem he had running for governor. Almost nobody in the party supports him and he cannot get Tea Party support (despite his claims to the contrary). Neumann now has the added burden of explaining why he did not want to run for senate last year but this year moving back to Washington D.C. looks so attractive to him.
If Neumann thinks that he should get the Republican nomination just because he finished second in the last contest, he needs to understand the difference between the Walker-Neumann race and the Walker-Green race. Walker earned the gratitude of many in the party for not running a scorched-earth campaign against Green in 2006. In 2010, all Neumann’s candidacy did was permanently alienate the Republican Party regulars with his false attacks on Walker.
Unless someone else enters the race, Kanavas has to be considered the candidate to beat.