Thursday, August 20, 2009

Doyle retirement presents opportunity for GOP

Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Aug 20, 2009; Section:Opinion; Page Number:10A

Doyle seemed to be gearing up for re-election bid

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

I am surrounded by people who tell me, “Of course. I knew Gov. Doyle would never run for reelection.” They reasoned (or so they claim) that by proposing the most radical state budget of his tenure, Doyle must have known he could never seek re-election.

By that logic, every Democratic state senator on the ballot last November would not have sought re-election after their even more radical “Healthy Wisconsin” proposal. And we can all look forward to President Obama only seeking one term.

Until recently, there was every indication that Doyle was intent on seeking re-election, despite his “two terms” claim in Monday’s address. (Someone should have asked him: If two terms is such a reasonable limit, why did you serve three terms as the state’s attorney general?)

Doyle has spent the last couple of years raising campaign money – campaign money that could have gone to Democratic candidates. His current war chest is approximately $2 million.

Meanwhile, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a Democratic special interest group often supportive of the governor, ran television advertising in July in an attempt to boost the governor’s poll numbers after the state budget was passed. These things don’t happen unless the governor was planning on running for re-election.

Unfortunately for Doyle, his numbers never improved; he was out-fundraised by one of the Republican candidates and his consecutive election winning streak was in serious danger.

Democratic candidates are already lining up.

Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton is already in the race. As a member of the Democratic Party’s “progressive” wing, if Lawton gets the nomination, the Republican candidate can coast to victory. There will be some weak attempts to portray her as a formidable candidate, but even if she is not a lightweight, as is generally believed, she will still have the problem of being blamed for everything that went wrong during Doyle’s tenure without receiving any of the credit.

The same holds true for State Sen. Jon Erpenback who will be stuck with the state budget as his albatross. The only one who really thinks Erpenbach has a chance is Erpenbach.

Congressman Ron Kind is likely to take a run and would be the front-runner in fundraising, except that the Democrats were successful in 2006 in stopping Congressman Mark Green from using his federal campaign funds for his race for governor. However, Kind will have plenty of time to fundraise. What will hurt Kind is the unpopularity of Congress. Kind will be forced to explain his support for cap and trade legislation, the stimulus bill and whatever health care reform comes out. He will have to shore up his relations with the party’s liberal wing during the primaries, but that will hurt him in the general election.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is also talked about as a candidate. However, his recent injuries may make him reluctant to take on a state campaign. Besides, as the mayor of Milwaukee, Barrett would have a hard time appealing to out-state voters. Barrett may have a problem, too, with African-Americans in his own city unhappy with the amount of development in their community and Barrett’s meddling with the local school district. The latter also hurts him with the teachers unions, the strongest voice in the Democratic Party.

There is a misperception that not having Doyle as an opponent will hurt the eventual Republican candidate, whether it is former Congressman Mark Neumann or Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. Nonsense.

Democrats are still complaining about President Bush. They ran against him last year even though he was not on the ballot and his intraparty rival was. They are going to try to run against Bush again next year.

Does anyone seriously think not having Doyle to kick around anymore will prevent the Republicans from tying the Democratic nominee to Doyle’s record?

Besides, it’s almost always easier to win an open seat than to defeat an incumbent. This time the open seat means easier fundraising for the Republican challengers and the same amount of organizational time after next year’s primary election as the Democrats.

Doyle’s departure creates a huge opportunity for the state Republican party to turn around its fortunes. Now if the Republicans could only find a candidate to take on Sen. Feingold.