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Right message, right opportunity for Hovde

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Jul 5, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Right message, right opportunity for Hovde

A businessman alternative to Tommy Thompson

JAMES WIGDERSON

For those of you looking for a secret to Eric Hovde’s high energy, I have bad news for you. He says it’s genetic.

“My mom would take two to three walks when she was in her 70s and 80s a day. She would walk all day. My dad was just a real high-energy guy. Fortunately, because I don’t know how you could run for statewide office without it. I really don’t.”

Hovde is running for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Herb Kohl. There are three other strong candidates in the race: former Gov. Tommy Thompson, Speaker of the Assembly Jeff Fitzgerald, and former congressman Mark Neumann.

Thompson is the favorite in the race as he has the highest name recognition from his long time in office as Wisconsin’s very popular governor. In the most recent Marquette Law School poll, Thompson had the support of 34 percent of Republican voters and 84 percent name recognition.

Neumann ran second in that poll at 16 percent support with 48 percent name recognition, a disappointing level of support for someone who ran for governor just two years ago. Neumann has been unable to separate himself from the other candidates in the race and establish himself as the conservative alternative to Thompson.

Hovde came in third in the poll with 14 percent support, right behind Neumann despite the lower name recognition of 27 percent. Now that the recall elections are over and attention is turning to the Senate race, Hovde’s ability to spend his personal fortune to increase his name recognition could pay off.

When I met with Hovde on Saturday, he was not quite as energetic, the result of walking a hot parade in Thiensville. But he was aware of the campaign sprint to come.

“Forty-five days,” he said. Only 45 days (now 40) to convince Republican voters that he is the conservative alternative to Thompson.

Hovde and his campaign aide, Sean Lansing, were optimistic about their chances. Last week the Democrat in the race, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, released an internal poll that did not get much attention. It showed Hovde essentially tied with Thompson (27 percent for Hovde to 26 percent for Thompson) despite Thompson’s much higher name recognition. Neumann and Fitzgerald ran a distant third and fourth, respectively.

If the Baldwin poll is correct, Hovde has been able to do what Neumann could not, which is establish himself as the conservative alternative to Thompson.

Hovde says that what separates him out from the other candidates is his private-sector background. Unlike the other candidates, Hovde says, he is not a career politician.

“We’re dealing with an economic crisis. As I say to people, when you get a brain tumor you’re going to want the best brain surgeon you can find. If you’ve got a heart ailment, you’re going to want the best heart doctor you can find.

“If you’re having an economic crisis, you’re going to want (someone) that can understand the economy inside and out, and how to deal with these issues.”

Hovde has a message about career politicians.

“Look, I’ve gone in and taken over a lot of troubled companies. Invariably, the number one reason why businesses fail, why families fail, why society fails, it’s because the culture goes bad.

“Lack of ethics. Lack of morals. The culture turns bad. That is what has happened in Washington.”

Hovde understands that the Republican Party must live up to its principles if it is going to keep its voters going to the polls.

“A lot of Republican establishment guys complain about the tea party movement,” he said. “It saved the Republican Party, because it pulled (the party) back to what it’s supposed to be about.”

This is not a replay of 2010, when businessman Ron Johnson filled a vacuum. This time around, Republicans have a choice between some very substantial candidates.

But Hovde has the financial wherewithal to raise his profile even in July and August. Hovde also has a message of reform that could pose real problems for Thompson with the Republican base.

Come November, we may be replacing Democratic businessman Herb Kohl in the Senate with Republican businessman Eric Hovde.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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