City of Hope
Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee are looking to boost a pair of presidential campaigns before the Wisconsin primary.
Two former Arkansas governors are swinging through Madison on Valentine's Day, the latest in a train of presidential candidates and campaign surrogates visiting this and other cities around the state in advance of the Wisconsin primary next Tuesday. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will be speaking at the Concourse Hotel downtown on Thursday morning, while former president and aspiring First Gentleman Bill Clinton is stopping at the Stock Pavilion on the UW campus in the afternoon.
Given the spectacle of the Barack Obama rally in Madison on Tuesday, though, the visits carry the whiff of denouement.
However, each stop still speaks to the dynamics of the ongoing presidential primary races in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Huckabee, for example, is all but out of the running when it comes to the number of his delegates versus those held by John McCain. The former governor soldiers onward, though, racing through Wisconsin with four stops on Thursday, following one this Wednesday evening and a pancake breakfast on Friday. His Valentine's Day starts in Madison, though, with a speech scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Concourse. While Democratic candidates can usually assured to stop in town for a big rally -- witness John Kerry on West Wash in 2004 and Al Gore on the Square in 2000 -- a visit by a Republican is a much rarer sight.
This stop by Huckabee isn't as unexpected as one might initially assume, though. Madison is, after all, the second largest leading media market in the state. And while the city's longstanding reputation belies this increasingly acknowledged reality, Dane County and the surrounding area are not small source of Republican voters in Wisconsin politics. Perhaps most importantly, and less recognized, is the growing number of evangelical and fundamentalist Christian congregations in Madison, like many other big college towns and state capitals around the nation.
If Huckabee is looking to continue exploiting the professed discontent by various movement conservatives for McCain, he's got nothing to lose by stopping in Madison.
Nor does Bill Clinton, of course.
The former president will be appearing in Madison only a few hours later, scheduled to speak at 2:30 p.m. at the Stock Pavilion on the UW campus. The what? The Stock Pavilion, a historic building on the ag school side of campus that was once Madison's largest meeting space and has been the site concerts by the likes of everybody from Rachmaninoff to REM. Along with livestock shows, it has also hosted speeches by numerous presidents and presidential candidates, including William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Harry Truman. That's quite a history, and one that's been established for quite a long time.
The Clinton campaign has been widely seen as writing off Wisconsin in favor of what are seen as more favorable electorates in Ohio and Texas for its chances, a perspective bolstered by a campaign memo issued Wednesday that does not mention the Badger State. The candidate will be coming to the state on Saturday, though, and plans on remaining through the primaries on February 19. Though a stop in Milwaukee is already scheduled, and one in Madison was suggested by Chelsea Clinton during her stop at the UW Memorial Union on Monday, nothing has been announced yet.
That leaves Bill and his appearance at the Stock Pavilion that was announced late Wednesday. The comparison to the Obama rally on Tuesday couldn't be any starker. The event at the Kohl Center was announced some 72 hours in advance, and attracted more than 20,000 people. The Clinton appearance on Thursday meanwhile, was announced less than 24 hours in advance, and will be held in a 2000-person capacity building that can be described as, historical significance or not, a barn.
Bill Clinton is a political star, but these differences speak loudly. To be fair, of course, the event was scheduled late, and other venues like Monona Terrace, the UW Fieldhouse, or the Orpheum Theatre may not have been desired or available. But that even speaks to the state campaign's level of organization with regards to Madison. The Stock Pavilion's use as a venue may merely be the result of last-minute scheduling, but that likewise compares poorly to the ridiculously well-produced and overly slick Obama rally at the Kohl Center.
Both campaign stops in Madison on Thursday, by and on behalf of the two candidates who are currently seen as facing the tougher (or nearly impossible for Huckabee) path to their party's nomination, should and will attract plenty of attention. But the oratory and spectacle of Obama yesterday is likely to cast a long shadow.