The great senatorial guessing game begins
Quite a weekend! Tens of thousands of people descended upon the Capitol once again, demonstrating the protest movement (and handmade sign cottage industry) in Madison/Wisconsin is still alive and well, and long-time Senator Herb Kohl announced that he won't be running for reelection next year.
Rumors of Sen. Kohl's impending retirement have been circulating at least since last fall and so it came as little surprise when he made it official on Friday. People and pundits had been guessing at who might run for the seat for quite a while but now, of course, the speculation has kicked into high gear.
Who am I to resist?
On the Republican side Rep. Paul Ryan's name came up almost immediately. Ryan's been enjoying some serious spotlight (for better and much for worse) over his budget proposal, but as xoff over at the Paul Ryan Watch blog points out, the Man With the Plan may be enjoying said illumination a bit too much to jump ship and run for the Senate:
He's in the catbird seat now, as chair of the House Budget Committee with a new Republican majority and a good share of the national spotlight. He's being mentioned as a possible veep candidate, which is speculation that can stay alive for more than a year, until the 2012 convention.
To run for the Senate he'd have to give up his House seat. And if he won, he'd most likely be in the minority in the Senate, and at the bottom in seniority -- even behind a doofus like Ron Johnson, Wisconsin's new, forgotten Senator.
And as of an announcement by Ryan just this morning it looks like xoff was absolutely correct. But then who might carry the GOP banner in his stead? Oft-defeated former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann had already been considering a run against Kohl before the news broke, and now says "we haven't ruled it out" in terms of whether or not he still plans to.
Now that Ryan's out, a run by former Governor Tommy Thompson may well be imminent. Thompson still has his supporters, no doubt, but I suspect that his strong ties with various pharmaceutical and oil companies will raise some (legitimate) serious concerns.
On the Democratic side the guessing game is perhaps even more fevered, as still-grieving Russ Feingold supporters raise their voices in support of another run for the former senator. Thing is, there are probably just as many people who'd prefer to see Feingold wait it out and run against Gov. Walker in the event of a recall election against him. And Feingold has been relatively mum on the subject of running for public office in general.
Feingold's former chief of staff Mary Irvine provided the following statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the now wide-open senate race:
"Running for office in 2012 is not something Russ is eager to do or has been planning to do. He is very committed to his current projects -- teaching law at Marquette University Law School, Progressives United, and writing a book about American foreign policy. He will come to a decision, in the coming months, after consulting with family and friends and people in Wisconsin."
Feingold still enjoys a great deal of support in the state so he'd make a logical enough choice as a candidate with a good shot at winning. But he also has a somewhat contentious relationship with Democrats on the national level, who may not be keen to promote such a campaign. Of course, given Wisconsin's independent streak, that might not matter (the same would go for whichever Republican ends up running).
For what it's worth I actually doubt that Feingold will run at least for this particular office. I could certainly be wrong, but if he were going to give it another go my money would be on him waiting to see if Walker ends up recalled and then throwing his hat into the ring for governor.
Rep. Ron Kind's name is also being floated as a possible contender, though he lacks the kind of glittery name-recognition that Feingold, for instance, enjoys. He's also a big NAFTA supporter, and garners a great deal of his political contributions from big banks and insurance companies things that might not go over terribly well with certain of the newly energized voters in the state. Then again, his more moderate, corporate-leaning record could win him votes, too. The state of politics in Wisconsin is in enough flux that it makes it difficult to make predictions with much certainty these days.
Finally, the other big name being mentioned on the Democratic side is Rep. Tammy Baldwin. This is, I'll admit, currently the most appealing possibility (to me, at least). Baldwin isn't the flashiest politician, but she has done a lot of good during her time in office. A champion of health care issues, outspoken critic of the wars, and stalwart LGBT and women's rights advocate, among other things, she would be (as she was when she first won office in the Congress) the first openly gay member of the Senate, too.
Sources close to the Congresswoman are saying that she does intend to run for Kohl's seat now that he's stepping down, so she's currently the most likely candidate. The trick for Baldwin, then, will be establishing herself on a more statewide level. Currently she enjoys massive support in her home district, but I get the feeling that elsewhere in Wisconsin she's either not as well-known and/or not as well-liked. It will be interesting, then, to see if she can change that enough to win.
You can vote for whom you think should be the next U.S. Senator from Wisconsin in this One Wisconsin Now poll.
Speaking of running for governor…
There's been some hubbub recently over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's outspoken criticism of Gov. Walker. Recently Barrett delivered a "campaign-style speech" to a group of Democrats wherein he lambasted Walker for "dropping a bomb" on the state with the collective bargaining provisions in the budget repair bill.
As this Capital Times piece notes, Barrett has said that he loves being mayor and the anger may simply stem from "anti-Milwaukee meddling of Walker and fellow Republicans." Still, plenty of people have mentioned Barrett as a potential candidate to run against Walker in the event of a recall.
I hope not.
Don't get me wrong, I like Barrett. Every time I crossed paths with him on the campaign trail last year he came off like a genuinely nice guy with good ideas but said campaign was lackluster at best. I don't know if it was simply because his heart wasn't really in the race or if the people around him just put together a subpar run or what, but I never got the impression that he was in it to win. Perhaps that will have changed come recall time given everything that's happened since the election but there's also the burnout factor to contend with.
Wisconsinites may simply not be interested in someone who so recently gave it a go and lost against Walker. It might be more politically savvy to support someone new, or at least who hasn't yet run against Walker, in order to increase the likelihood of beating him.
The Walker Administration has filed a motion to pull its lawyers off the case defending the state's domestic partnership registry. Gov. Walker, you see, thinks the registry is unconstitutional, what with its granting of simple hospital visit and inheritance rights to same-sex partners currently barred from the full rights and protections of marriage. While this further demonstrates the warped priorities and morals present in said administration, as Illusory Tenant points out, it may also be for the best: "…anytime Walker's lawyers step the hell away from anything is a victory. They've done little more than create havoc and lawlessness since Walker became governor in January."