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Senate choice comes down to two strong candidates

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Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Aug 9, 2012; Section: Opinion; Page: 6    

Senate choice comes down to two strong candidates

   If you weren’t tired of politics after the recall election, the Republican Senate primary has probably finished the job. It’s a race between three-and-a-half solid candidates, all of them conservatives, leaving the candidates with nits to pick in attack ads.

    Let’s explain half a candidate. Self-funding millionaire Eric Hovde took the slot for a candidate that is more conservative than former Gov. Tommy Thompson who is also not former Congressman Mark Neumann. That left Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald with no coalition of voters and no funding.

    Urban Milwaukee editor Bruce Murphy wrote an article last week speculating that Fitzgerald is already busy setting up his next career as a lobbyist. Unless there is a shocker on Tuesday, Fitzgerald can start picking out office furniture for his new lobbying outfit on Wednesday.

    On Tuesday this week Neumann began airing radio ads that said that had he known what a good governor Scott Walker would be the former congressman would never have run for governor in 2010. Like Richard III, Neumann is being haunted by the terrible things he did in the pursuit of power. Now his past campaign is hurting him on the current field of battle.

    With Neumann it’s not a question of his conservative credentials, it’s a question of character, and it’s likely to stop him from winning.

    Both the Thompson and Hovde campaigns think it’s a two-man race between their candidates and both think they can win. It’s going to be close.

    The polls indicate that Republican primary voters are looking for a candidate more conservative than Thompson. It’s an interesting change of situation for Thompson whose agenda as governor was considered very conservative at the time.

    Thompson effectively ended welfare in Wisconsin, a model for the rest of the country. He created school choice in Milwaukee. He capped teacher salary growth and school district taxing authority. He used his veto to cut income tax rates. He turned Wisconsin’s economy around after the disastrous Tony Earl.

    The criticism Thompson did not do more to control spending is a misreading of the Wisconsin electorate at the time. Thompson was considered a radical reformer before reform was cool. Wisconsin voters were not ready for a Walker-type governor, or else they would have given Thompson a Republican legislature during much of his tenure.

    That said, conservatives do have legitimate gripes about Thompson, especially when Thompson was the Secretary of HHS under President George W. Bush.

    The question is which Thompson would we be electing?

    Thompson looks like the campaigner of old out on the campaign trail. But the endorsement by former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow just sounds old.

    Hovde, on the other hand, provides a fresh face to the race. How fresh? He moved back to Wisconsin last year.

    The carpetbagger tag doesn’t quite fit. Hovde was born and raised in Wisconsin. His real estate business has always been here. But Hovde lived until recently near the Augean stables of Washington, D.C., he is now pledging to clean up. That’s almost as bad as saying “Madison” to a Republican primary voter.

    Raising eyebrows further, Hovde has refused to sign the pledge by Americans for Tax Reform to not raise taxes. Hovde’s tax plan calls for government spending cuts, cuts on tax rates, and closing loopholes. It’s the last part that would cause trouble with Americans for Tax Reform.

    On the flip side, every other criticism of Hovde has been of the nit-picky variety, and the charge that he took TARP money for his banks is demonstrably false.

    To the surprise of some watching the race, Hovde is not someone who learned his conservative positions from index cards handed him by a consultant. He is a very knowledgeable candidate with an acute awareness of the impending fiscal crisis threatening this nation. He would be an immediate leader in the Senate on fiscal issues.

    Both Thompson and Hovde can point to polls showing them beating the Democrat Tammy Baldwin. In deciding between two strong candidates, Republican voters will have to decide whether a former reformminded governor still has the magic, or if they should choose the next generation of conservatives by voting for 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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