No endorsement, but winners and losers
At the Republican Party of Wisconsin state convention Saturday, no candidate for Senate was able to get the support of 60% of delegates necessary to get the endorsement of the Republican Party. Despite the big push by former Congressman Mark Neumann to get extra supporters to the convention, Neumann came up short. He took an early lead in the delegate count on the first ballot but could never get above 50%, let alone near the 60% threshold.
Neumann claimed the results showed he had the support of conservatives. However, he lost to another conservative, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, that had far less resources and name identification. On the last ballot the fight was not Tea Party vs. Establishment, but between two conservatives. Neumann lost. Perhaps character was an issue, perhaps it was just bad memories of Neumann from 2010.
That had to be a surprise to Neumann’s national supporters. National Club for Growth, RedState.com, Senator Jim DeMint, you may want to check with the conservatives on the ground next time before you endorse a candidate.
Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald may be derided as a divisive figure by the Madison left but he knew how to unite the anti-Neumann vote at the convention. It was an impressive upset by someone who until now was being seen as less and less a factor in the Senate race. It’ll be interesting to see if he can spin the convention win into better fundraising and name recognition, or if he’ll continue to be drowned out by the financial resources of the other candidates and the recalls.
Businessman Eric Hovde had to be disappointed with his campaign’s performance. Prior to the convention, Hovde was touting an internal poll saying that he had pulled even with former Governor Tommy Thompson. At the convention he was the first one eliminated by the delegates. Was it the campaign speech? Was it the negative attacks, including fliers showing he had donated to former Governor Jim Doyle? The convention shows he has some ground to make up with the party’s activist base. However, he has the financial resources to quickly recover from the weekend. On your drive to work Monday morning you’ll still be hearing the radio ads.
That leaves former Governor Tommy Thompson. Observers were surprised that Thompson did as poorly as he did, getting eliminated on the second ballot, given his popularity when he was governor and his front-runner status. However, it’s not that surprising when you consider at last year’s GOP state convention Thompson did not win the WisPolitics straw poll. The winner last year was former Senator Ted Kanavas, which should have been a warning to both Thompson and Neumann that the party faithful are ready to look at someone else.
It’s also a warning to Fitzgerald and to Neumann this year that finishing first and second at the convention without getting the endorsement is only as good as a press release. There is still plenty of time for all of the campaigns between now and August.