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Why Neumann? Why now?

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Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:2010 Jan 21; Section:Opinion; Page Number: 10A

Why Neumann? Why now?

Walker seems to be getting GOP spotlight
Why is former congressman Mark Neumann running for governor of Wisconsin? I know every politician looks in the mirror and thinks at least once, “Why not me?” I wish they would ask themselves, “Why?”

Every campaign needs a theme and a natural constituency that their campaign would represent. Neumann’s theme seems to be a politician with business experience. But there it ends.

He can’t claim the status of an outsider. Neumann is a former congressman and a former candidate for U.S. Senate. If Republican can be an adjective (I’ll ask the copy editors), it would describe Mark Neumann.

Neumann’s campaign only gained traction with a boost from former Administration Secretary Jim Klauser. For years, Klauser was the right hand man to former Gov. Tommy Thompson, Buckingham to Thompson’s Richard III. Closer connections to the Republican establishment, such as it is, cannot be bought.

Neumann is frustrated right now because he is not being well-received by the very Republican Party establishment that supported him in the past.

The affection of the party establishment is often for the “next in line,” and the next in line to run for governor is Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. Walker “earned” the position with the Republican establishment when he withdrew from the race for governor in favor of former congressman Mark Green. Walker’s endorsement of Green and support for him during that campaign spared him any enmity for initially opposing Green in the primary.

Making matters more frustrating for Neumann is the defection of Klauser and his wife from Neumann’s camp to the Walker side. Suddenly the legitimacy conferred upon the Neumann campaign vanished.

As an orphan of the Republican establishment, could Neumann find kindness from strangers?

He is not a product of the Tea Party movement, or even a favorite of grass-roots conservatives. All the anecdotal evidence would suggest the support is there, too, for Walker. At rally after rally, Walker’s name is mentioned as the next governor, when Walker isn’t at the podium himself.
Walker’s reputation as a conservative was earned by his proposed county budgets. Since his election, Walker has proposed zero increases in the tax levy for Milwaukee County, something even fellow Republican Dan Vrakas in Waukesha was unwilling to do.

Walker also spoke out against the federal stimulus spending. While I wrote that I thought he was making a tactical mistake (I thought a more nuanced approach was better), Walker’s stand has been very popular with the grass roots.

Neumann’s reputation from his days in Congress was for saying “Social Security” more often than a bad caricature of Al Gore. Conservatives would have preferred a tax-cutter than someone else promising to throw away the key to the nonexistent trust fund.

Neumann’s last attempt to reach out to the grass roots was a promise of specific reforms while complaining (unconvincingly) about being treated shabbily by party leaders.

Among Neumann’s promises is a pledge to not serve more than two terms. It’s an easy promise to make when one term is likely not in the offering. On the other hand, Doyle made the same pledge retroactively when a third term was unlikely.

It is the same with Neumann’s pledge not to raise money during the state budget debate. Neumann may be showing his commitment to the race when he loans his campaign $1 million, but he’s demonstrating the hollowness of his pledge. It’s an easy pledge to make when nobody is donating to your campaign and even easier when you’re capable of self-funding.

The pledge not to raise money during the budget cycle was borrowed from the Assembly Democrats. If Neumann was more in touch with the grass roots, he would have realized the idea didn’t catch on then, either.

This is not to say Neumann isn’t a formidable candidate. Neumann came close to defeating Sen. Russ Feingold in 1998. But that was 12 years ago. As Don Henley of the Eagles sang, “Where have you been lately? There’s a new kid in town. Everybody loves him.”

We’re left wondering why Neumann is still around.

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

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