What ever happened to Jeff Fitzgerald?
The Assembly speaker and water-carrier-in-chief for Gov. Scott Walker was supposed to reap his rewards for leading the tea party takeover of our state Legislature when he burst on the scene as Walker's favored candidate for U.S. Senate. When Fitzgerald announced his candidacy, to replace the retiring Herb Kohl, the National Journal ran a story explaining why Fitz could win:
"During the protracted fight over collective bargaining, Fitzgerald became a regular on Fox News and a familiar voice on the influential conservative radio programs in the Milwaukee area."
Fitzgerald himself likes to note that he is a "fresh face," part of "a new generation of conservatives" (in contrast to his opponents, Club for Growth punching bag Tommy Thompson and serial loser Mark Neumann). He helped recruit the new crop of Republican freshmen who took over a majority in the state Assembly and named him speaker.
"The governor's race means that the very issues Fitzgerald is identified with are going to be front and center through April or May or even early June," UW political science professor Charles Franklin told the National Journal in December. "Even if none of those Walker ads directly mention Fitzgerald, they are all about the success of the budget reforms. Fitzgerald has the opportunity to piggyback on that message."
"That's the message that I'm going to be putting forward," Fitzgerald added. "That I'm the guy who just delivered. I'm the guy who helped Gov. Walker get there."
"With the loyalty of his caucus, Fitzgerald will be able to tap into donor networks in districts across the state," the National Journal predicted.
Cue needle scratching across record.
"The latest fundraising numbers released for the race to fill U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl's seat this fall have raised questions about the viability of the campaign of Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald," the Badger Herald reported on Feb. 1.
During the fourth quarter of 2011, Tommy Thompson raised $656,000, Mark Neumann raised $518,000, and Fitzgerald raked in, um, $77,000.
So much for that donor network. It turns out the Republican base isn't as pumped up about Fitzgerald's fresh face as everyone expected. After six straight months of job losses, the shine is off the whole Walker water-boy gig.
The campaign has become virtually invisible, with few events or appearances, except a recent stop in La Crosse. There, Fitz explained that no one really cares about the Senate race because everyone is focused on the recalls. The Republicans just fielded a new candidate, Mark Born of Beaver Dam, for Fitz's Assembly seat. Don't let the door hit you in the butt.
Maybe a lot of Wisconsinites - including Republicans - don't really like the idea of living in a banana republic controlled by Scott Walker and the brothers Fitzgerald. Heck, a lot of people might even agree with state Sen. Mike Ellis' unguarded comment that "these Fitzgeralds are the two biggest grifters" in the state Capitol.
Whatever the reasons for Fitz's failure, "We see it as an embarrassment for Scott Walker that his magic did not rub off on someone who ran as his handpicked candidate," says state Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinksi.
Adding insult to injury, three Walker staffers recently went to work for Washington, D.C., hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, who is thinking about throwing his hat in the ring. Can you blame them for seeking an alternative?
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the only Democrat in the race, raised $1.1 million last quarter - way more than anyone in the Republican primary field.
Neumann is a nut. And the far-right-wingers who have taken over the Republican Party are busy cannibalizing Thompson, bashing him every night in ads showing him with Obama on TV.
So who does that leave?
Who is Eric Hovde? A Redstate blog post about Hovde a year ago made him sound like Wisconsin's own Mitt Romney: "A child of privilege, he inherited a family fortune and after college, has lived in Washington, D.C., for years. Until now, when recently returning."
The same blogger went on to urge fellow Republicans to steer clear of Hovde: "My neighbors might be the guys who help make a part for a luxury car, or have farms that make cheese proudly, there is no question, Eric is someone who buys luxury cars and who eats cheese at his wine and cheese cocktail parties in D.C. and well, that frightens me. That spells defeat for us anxiously wishing to turn Wisconsin Red & Fire Reid!"
So much for the fresh face.
So much for the tea party revolution that made former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson look like a liberal. Poor Tommy, in his efforts to appease the tea party folks, had to go so far as to renounce his well-known love for high-speed rail. Next thing you know, he'll be out in the backyard burning his model train set and engineer's hat. Those right-wingers are so mean.
But Fitz's loss just might be Tommy's revenge. And a sign of just what the political temperature of the state really is.
"At the end of the day, maybe it will be Tommy Thompson throwing Scott Walker under the bus," says Zielinski.
Make that a train.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.