According to exit polls, 54 percent of white Wisconsinites voted for Barack Obama in 2008. That was a larger percentage of whites voting for the first black contender than in many other states that went blue that year, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and California. And yet, race is likely a big factor in the dynamics of state politics, and the Democrats intra-party squabbles over the Lt. Governor's race illustrate that.
From whence comes the conventional wisdom that two candidates from Milwaukee can't run on the same ticket? Sure, there's always the fear from more rural parts of the state that the big city will dominate everything. But you've got to wonder what role race plays in defining Milwaukee's reputation in the rest of the state. During my four years on campus the predominant image of Milwaukee from other Wisconsinites seems to be a giant ghetto in which white people are not welcome or safe. I remember hearing an Appleton mother worrying about "people from Milwaukee" moving into town.
And so the pressure put on Spencer Coggs to withdraw from the LG race is somewhat predictable. Coggs embodies the popular image of Milwaukee politics even more so than Tony Zielinski, a Milwaukee alder who just dropped out of the LG race, supposedly at Barrett's request. A state legislator since the early 80's, Coggs is a member of NAACP, AFSCME, and other minority and labor advocacy groups. Standard operating procedure for a Milwaukee politician, however, GOP standard operating procedure is to attack such associations, with the hopes of stirring resentment against "big city politicians," and "radical" identity politics. This is what Tom Barrett wants to avoid.
And just look at Tom Nelson. White as wonder bread, from Kaukauna, a member of the Lutheran Church, and he's done absolutely nothing controversial during his short career. For a guy who's running to be a gubernatorial intern, that's apparently a perfect resume.
But then there's Henry Sanders, who is also black. However, Sanders does not come from Milwaukee. Madison might be the liberal, hippy city, but a businessman from Madison carries a more wholesome image than a longtime politician from the Brew City. I suspect that Barrett's team will still try to get Sanders out, but I don't think the concern will be quite as great.
We'll see how this works out. The last thing the Democrats want is a spat over the most meaningless position in state government that exists. But wouldn't that be fun? It would not be good for the Nelson campaign to have to debate the opponents. Nelson is not the king of charisma.