Will the race have a lasting impact?
For a while Tuesday night, it looked as though Dane County might have a new chief executive. The early returns showed Nancy Mistele with a sizable lead; with 15% of precincts reporting, she led incumbent Kathleen Falk with 55% of the vote.
But within an hour these numbers had flipped. By 9:30 p.m., Mistele conceded and Falk claimed victory to her fourth straight term.
When I arrived at Rex's in Waunakee around 10:30 p.m., Mistele had already spoken to her supporters and the crowd of about 100 people was starting to thin. Most seemed to have expected the election result and were politely congratulating Mistele on a race well run. One couple had her sign a yard sign for their two-year-old. She borrowed my pen to do it.
I asked Mistele if she had any regrets. She wondered if she should have started her campaign earlier, instead of last November, just before the holidays. But other than that, "We got our message out. We did a good job."
Will the race have a lasting impact? Mistele smiled and repeated something one of her supporters had just told her: "The train's not dead yet."
At first I thought Mistele meant that her campaign still had places to go. But her real meaning, it emerged, was that Falk's dream of commuter rail has yet to have a stake driven through its heart.
"That's the issue the public has to pay attention to," said Mistele. She's heartened that some County Board members including liberal Supv. Mark Opitz are on record backing a binding referendum on commuter rail. "I hope the public and County Board will hold their feet to the fire."
Mistele also took credit for raising public concerns about Falk's oversight of the 911 Center. "The public's going to be watching 911 like a hawk," she said, adding that Falk should make equipment and personnel upgrades a priority. "She finds money to buy land." Land!
I asked Mistele if her campaign could have attacked Falk as effectively had it not been able to quote so extensively from Isthmus' reporting and commentary, especially on the 911 Center. She got a kick out of this.
"Thank you for being a newspaper," she said. "Thank you for being journalists."
I spoke to several of Mistele's supporters, the most quotable of whom was Brian Schimming, the GOP operative/radio host. He had also arrived after Mistele had given her talk.
"I said to Nancy the minute I walked in: 'They had to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into this race to beat you.'" He meant this as a compliment.
According to Schimming, "a couple of weeks ago" the word from some independent people presumably pollsters was that the race was very tight. Then Planned Parenthood and a number of other outside interest groups got involved in the race on Falk's behalf.
"All of these people have to come in to bail out Kathleen Falk," he said. "What does that tell you?"
Wait a second, pal. Who's interviewing who? What does it tell you?
"She's not that strong," replied Schimming. "Falk had every imaginable advantage and she still needed to be bailed out." He added, "Against Nancy Mistele, in Dane County!"
Um, isn't it possible that the closeness of the race owed to Mistele's strengths as a candidate and not just Falk's deficiencies?
Schimming, recovering nicely, agreed with this spin.