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Thompson and Neumann could leave room for third candidate

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Aug 25, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Thompson and Neumann could leave room for third candidate

 

Shhh. If you listen closely, you can hear a voice from the future that sounds strangely like a voice from our past. It’s saying, “It’s a great day to be a senator from Wisconsin!”

Yes, that would be former Gov. Tommy Thompson trying to make a triumphal return to electoral victory in Wisconsin. The only thing stopping him now is a little matter of a Republican primary election.

Thompson is even saying publicly that this time his family is supporting another run for office. He’s named his campaign co-chairmen and his campaign team is ready to go. All that’s left is for someone to smash a champagne bottle on yard sign to launch the whole thing.

The Democrats have certainly done their part to make the path clearer for Thompson. Former Sen. Russ Feingold has fled the field, leaving the Democratic nomination to the also-rans.

Will the Democratic nominee for Senate be U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Madison? Baldwin’s strength is that she satisfies the categorical need of Democratic identity politics. She would be the first openly lesbian politician to run for the Senate.

Never mind that the résumé is a little thin after that. It’s sufficient to dispose of U.S. Rep. Ron Kind. Unless, of course, Milwaukee’s Hispanic and African-American Democratic primary voters hold Baldwin’s sexual orientation against her.

Maybe somebody should beg Ed Garvey out of retirement.

On the Republican side, the only candidate showing any signs of campaigning so far is former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, last known for his campaign against Scott Walker for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor.

The national Club for Growth is already working on behalf of Neumann, first by doing Neumann’s polling, and now running attack ads against Thompson.

The national Club for Growth’s executive vice president is Chuck Pike, a former staffer for Neumann. Neumann may not be the hand wielding the knife, but his fingerprints are on the handle.

But how much will Neumann’s negative campaign impact the race? According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), a Democratic polling firm, all it takes is two sentences to bring down Thompson’s lead in the polls. Unfortunately PPP did not apply the same test to Neumann, nor did it poll for any other potential candidates.

Does anyone seriously think that Thompson and his allies will just sit idly by while Neumann attacks? The Republican Warwick of this civil war, James Klauser, is reminding people how he stopped supporting Neumann after Neumann’s lies about Walker’s record last year.

Neumann has an additional problem that many of Walker’s supporters, both in the tea party movement and in the Republican Party, will crawl over broken glass to vote against Neumann in a primary. A prominent Democrat who has ties to Walker from his days as Milwaukee County Executive told me that some of Walker’s people are already helping Thompson because they can’t stand Neumann.

Of course, if both the Neumann and the Thompson campaigns go nuclear, there may be an opportunity for another, lesser-known candidate.

In 1992, an unknown state senator sneaked past Rep. Jim Moody and businessman Joe Checota, who spent the entire Democratic primary campaign destroying each other. Russ Feingold went on to defeat Sen. Bob Kasten in the general election.

History could repeat itself, this time on the Republican side.

Republican state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said that his brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, is planning on running for Senate. Another possible candidate is former state Sen. Ted Kanavas, a fill-in host for WISN-AM’s Mark Belling. Both candidates would have to work to increase name recognition but neither of them has the negative political baggage that Thompson and Neumann carry.

If Neumann and Thompson raise each other’s negatives to unelectable levels, the strategy of the Neumann campaign right now, then either Fitzgerald or Kanavas could emerge as a sufficiently conservative alternative.

Impossible? It just might interest you that at the Republican state convention earlier this year WisPolitics.com held a straw poll to see how much support the candidates for Senate had from the party faithful. Thompson finished second among the voters that know him best. Neumann finished fourth, proving to know him is not to like him.

The winner was Kanavas.

(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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