A paucity of potential (GOP edition)
Over the weekend the state Republicans Party held its annual convention in the Wisconsin Dells, because who doesn't like indoor water parks? Apparently all that fun in the incandescent sun wasn't enough to keep out the tension, though.
Tommy Thompson, currently considering a run for Sen. Herb Kohl's soon to be vacant seat, opted not to attend the convention at all even after "sources" told news outlets otherwise. It was probably for the best, since the former governor ended up losing an informal straw poll of who conventioneers favor in the run to former state Sen. Ted Kanavas. Even whiteboard U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, head of the Senate Republicans' campaign arm, was cold on the idea:
In 2009,Thompson endorsed a Senate health care bill that was an early version of the measure that eventually passed. That is sharp contrast from freshman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a former businessman who did not hold elected office until defeating Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) last year. Johnson has said he entered the race due to opposition to Democrats' health care overhaul, and made that position a centerpiece of his campaign.
Asked about that contrast Tuesday, Johnson said he hopes Thompson will "change his mind," and was noncommittal on a run by Thompson, who is likely to face primary opposition from the right.
"My guess is that maybe other people will hop in the race and I think we'll have a number of pretty good candidates that might vie for the nomination," Johnson said. "We'll wait and see."
Not exactly a glowing endorsement -- but these days it seems that any Republican who displays even a hint of independent thinking is immediately sent to slaughter by the party faithful.
Mitt Romney will never win the GOP nomination for president because he passed universal health care when he was governor of Massachusetts. Newt Gingrich found himself the target of a massive Republican backlash when he recently (rightly) questioned Sen. Paul Ryan's Medicare-slashing budget plan.
Thompson suffers from, among other things, being a politician from before the GOP made its recent shift to the hard-right, tea party end of the spectrum.
So you've got an (albeit) informal poll favoring Kanavas for Senate -- a guy with almost no statewide name recognition -- and pizza magnate Herman Cain for president. You've also got pending recall elections against six Republican state senators (three official and three still likely to be certified) that have even the usually unflappable Gov. Scott Walker worried.
The focus on recalls instead of regular elections and the seemingly random nature of the preferred candidates jives with the current national state of the GOP, in that there are no clear frontrunners and a serious sense of fracturing/disarray within the party.
Moving the public face of your organization to any extreme will do that.
Ladies and gentlemen, your challenger candidates (so far)
It's more than worth noting that five of the six Democrats running against incumbent Republicans facing recalls on July 12 are women. Currently only eight of the 33 state senators are women, which isn't terribly representative of the population at large (to say nothing of the lack of representation for people of color).
In addition to having the opportunity to flip control of the Senate to the Democrats, the recalls present a chance to further balance the gender scales -- both worthwhile goals.
Jessica King is running for Sen. Randy Hopper's seat in District 18. She's currently the Deputy Mayor of Oshkosh and a small business owner, and apparently put herself through both high school (as a ward of the state) and college, which is hardcore.
Fred Clark is running for Sen. Luther Olsen's seat in District 14. He's currently a member of the State Assembly (Dist. 42), representing a largely rural area with a conservationist outdoorsmen's sensibilities.
Jennifer Shilling is running for Sen. Dan Kapanke's seat in District 32. She's currently a member of the State Assembly (Dist. 95), and is very involved in La Crosse area community organizations -- in addition to her various committee duties in the Legislature.
Nancy Nusbaum is running for Sen. Rob Cowles seat in District 2. She's the former mayor of De Pere for four consecutive terms and Brown County Executive for eight years. Nusbaum was then appointed Director of Crime Victim Services. She has won numerous awards for her work in government.
Sandy Pasch is running against Sen. Alberta Darling in District 8. She's currently a member of the State Assembly (Dist. 22) and a longtime nurse (practice and instruction). Pasch is also the ranking member on the Joint Legislative Council and serves on the Assembly Committee on Health and Assembly Committee on Public Health and Public Safety.
Shelly Moore is running against Sen. Sheila Hasdorf in District 10. She's a teacher and has also worked with domestic violence shelter programs. "She knows there is no challenge so big that it can't be solved over hot dish in the church basement, over cards in the ice shanty, or over curds at the fair." (that bit was too charming not to include)
On the Republican side, provided the GAB certifies the three recall elections again Sens. Robert Wirch, Jim Holperin, and Dave Hansen -- which is entirely likely -- there are likely to be primaries first since each race has more than one Republican candidate currently vying for the honor.
Regardless of the outcome the recall elections this summer will be historic. Wisconsin has never seen this many recalls at once (or ever, for that matter). Walker has good reason to be nervous, since there's a very real possibility that the outcome of the contests could be Democratic control of the Senate. That means no more guaranteed passage of every piece of legislation he likes.
If results skew heavily in the Democrats favor, too, it would be a pretty good indicator of how likely a recall against Walker himself would be come November. Right now it's hard to call, but the huge shift in support for Joanne Kloppenburg in the Supreme Court race-from her being down in the primary 25 to 55 percent to losing to the incumbent Justice Prosser by just 7,000 votes -- suggests a massive sea change in the mood of the electorate since Walker's union-busting bill was introduced in February.
There's some talk that the recall elections could change the way redistricting is done this year. Republicans had been banking on being the ones in charge of the effort, but if the Senate flips, it could mean a more split partisan battle over the redrawn lines. Quite frankly I wish this wasn't an issue either way -- no party should be trying to skew boundaries to favor themselves or their party. Redistricting should be a completely impartial, statistics-based process. I honestly don't want any one party in charge of it.