In case you haven't heard:
Tommy Thompson, the Republican former Wisconsin governor and George W. Bush's first secretary of Health and Human Services, has told friends he plans to run for the open Senate seat in Wisconsin, according to top Wisconsin sources.
A year ago, I believed Thompson was the only Republican who could take down Russ Feingold. I was wrong. Dare I make another prediction? Here goes: I bet Thompson is the only Republican who could win the Senate race even if Obama wins re-election (and wins Wisconsin). I will not predict that Feingold is the only Democrat who could beat Thompson.
Any wagers? November 2012 is a long way off, but I promise you, I won't forget.
I may not be old enough to fully understand the extent of Thompson's mighty political legacy, however, I've looked over enough electoral maps from his four victories, three of which were absolute landslides to understand that Tommy is special. In addition, I've read enough nausea-inducing homages to the former guv from Dave Blaska to realize that Thompson has a skill of convincing people with whom he has very little in common politically that he represents their interests.
But it's been eight years since Tommy left Sconnieland. Worse, he's spent much of that time as a lobbyist. Inevitable will be accusations that he is out of touch, a political opportunist, and worst of all in the former land of Favre, a guy who doesn't know when to throw in the towel.
In addition, Thompson will have to answer some tough questions from Republicans about his conservative credentials. Make no mistake, if Wisconsin is "broke," as Gov. Walker alleges, it's Tommy who broke us. The structural deficit that the legislature has scrambled to address every two years over the past decade is the result of Thompson's policy of massive new spending programs accompanied by tax cuts.
Tommy Thompson was no conservative. If you don't believe me, talk to Glenn Grothman. "No," was the blunt response the legislature's most outspoken right-winger gave me when I asked if Thompson was true to conservative principles.
And why didn't Thompson go after public sector unions, as well as their generous pension and health care benefits? In fact, he did the opposite. He sweetened the deal for public workers, and gained the support of most of his party as well as AFSCME, the largest public sector union, in the process. It was enough to make WPRI upset:
Former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (RWaukesha) and former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D-Madison), with the blessing of four-term GOP Governor Thompson, collaborated to rush the pension-improvement bill through the Legislature.
The people benefiting from Act 11 are the more than 400,000 current and retired employees of state government, including Thompson, Chvala, and Jensen - they received a pension enhancement of eight percent - and employees of more than 1,000 local units of government.
In the coming months, it will be interesting to see how Thompson brands his next campaign. It will undoubtedly come with a strong odor of nostalgia but will that nostalgia evoke the era of civility and bipartisanship in Wisconsin in addition to the prosperity of the 1990's?
That certainly wasn't the banner Thompson was carrying at last year's Tea Party, when he decried "socialized medicine," "union bosses" and the "takeover of the banks."
But much has changed since April 2010. Notably Scott Walker. Nobody can say how Walker will stand with Wisconsin voters (or whether he'll even be in office) in November 2012, but Thompson will immediately be under pressure from Republicans to prove his allegiance to the divisive guv. It's a tough spot for Tommy.
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