On Saturday I was thrilled to ask Mark Neumann his "favorite question." The guv candidate had shown up in the parking lot of the Marriot Hotel, where the Dems were holding their annual convention, to issue a response to Tom Barrett's campaign. With my ipod camera, I followed the Barrett supporters who, upon hearing of Neumann's presence, quickly mobilized with signs and surrounded the Republican, chanting Barr-ett, Barr-ett in front of the cameras.
After a few minutes of questions from other reporters and some Barrett people, I managed to get my question in: "Will you return Jim Klauser's campaign contributions?"
"That's my favorite question," responded the former congressman. "If Jim Klauser can prove that Scott Walker didn't increase spending faster than Jim Doyle, then I will return his campaign contributions."
And thus begins the biggest conflict in Wisconsin politics. Walker-Neumann. That is, it should be a big, extended conflict if Neumann plays his cards right. With a bank account that leaves only Herb Kohl unimpressed, Neumann can finance months of TV ads and get himself back in the race. Republican operatives are well aware of this, as evidenced by the Jim Klauser open letter and the recently leaked email from top Republican Jim McCoshen, who encouraged fellow Republicans to do whatever necessary to discredit Neumann.
It's still early. With three months remaining until the primary, most Republican primary voters probably aren't taking cues from establishment figures like Klauser quite yet. This is Neumann's time to go on the attack. My bet is that he'll release a couple more TV ads emphasizing his conservative credentials, maybe with some vague references to Walker by talking about "Republicans spending like Democrats" or the like.
If necessary, he'll then go full-blown negative, running attack ads against Walker. This is what scares party officials. Perhaps nothing poses a greater threat to a Republican victory in November than a vicious primary that drives up the nominee's negatives.
The party's fear of civil war was exhibited when RPW Executive Director Mark Jefferson showed up in the parking lot a couple hours after Neumann, and, after insisting that intra-party dialogue and competition was good, said Neumann's attacks on Walker's record "have no merit." The clearly agitated Jefferson then had to field attacks against Walker's commitment to gun owners after I asked him why Neumann was accusing Walker of opposing concealed carry.
According to Walker, the one time he voted against concealed carry in the state legislature he did so out protest at the timing of the vote. He has previously co-sponsored conceal carry legislation. Hence, Neumann's facts are dubious, but they are confusing enough to be the basis of effective negative attacks.