Trying to get in touch with Republican Senate campaigns was the most frustrating aspect of my recent article on the recalls. Luther Olsen's campaign manager initially expressed willingness to set up an interview with his candidate but then did not answer or return the next 15 calls. Kim Simac first agreed to a phone date and then cancelled; a staffer later told me there was going to be no time possible. With most other campaigns, I was never able to get in touch with a candidate or spokesperson.
A Republican who wasn't running in a recall was frank with me: "If I were running I wouldn't talk to you either."
In that context, Dave VanderLeest was my savior. No receptionist to deal with at that campaign. No clueless teenage or octogenarian volunteer answering phones, no answering machine; the calls go straight to the man with the plan.
And why not? The man has things to be proud of. "The early polls show I'm leading [Rep. John Nygren]," he said, rebuking my suggestion that he was the underdog in the GOP primary. (The fact that VanderLeest advanced and Nygren did not seems to offer a certain legitimacy to that claim, however, I would still attribute Nygren's failure to gross incompetence, not unpopularity.)
VanderLeest's next claim further illustrated his slippery grasp on public opinion. He cited a "recent poll" by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which showed that 70 percent of the public supported the governor's stance on collective bargaining. That poll, it turns out, was an online survey on the JS website that's about as scientific as the Book of Genesis.
Nevertheless, VanderLeest also claimed anecdotal evidence in his favor. Seven out of ten residents he talked to supported his crusade for sound budgeting. What about people who feel the opposite had he encountered any of that anger? "I heard a lot of 4-letter words from the teachers who teach our children," he said.
In the unthinkable event of a VanderLeest victory today, it would be a real treat if he became the GOP point man on education. Domestic violence is not the problem for our children. It's profanity in schools.
With all seriousness, I was disappointed for my own sake when VanderLeest's myriad of legal issues arose. Not only was VanderLeest a nutjob, but he apparently had no chance of winning. He was no longer relevant.
I think Hansen will win tonight 67-33, although, now that I think about it, I wouldn't be surprised if a fair number of conservative voters wrote in something else to protest Hansen.
VanderLeest represents a monumental screw up by the Republican Party, however. The recall rules allow candidates to hand in between 400-800 signatures (no more than 800). That Nygren only submitted a few dozen over 400 is unforgivable. A union source close to the legal challenge told me days before Nygren's signatures were thrown out that it would be easy to challenge enough to disqualify Nygren, simply because many voters in Green Bay are unaware of which senate district they live in.
Total incompetence. This loss has got to hurt for the GOP.
Follow The Sconz on Twitter or Facebook to get regular updates on city and state politics. Tune in to the radio show everyday between 10-11 a.m. on 1670 AM WTDY. Please send anonymous tips, interview requests or any other comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.