Hunger Games: GOP-Style
In the recent film Hunger Games 24 teenagers are armed with swords and sent out to kill each other until only one survives, who becomes the winner (1)
Replace the swords with TV attack ads, and you have the campaign for the 2012 Republican nomination for US Senator from Wisconsin, to succeed Democratic Senator Herb Kohl, who declined to seek re-election. Three of the candidates (former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former US Rep. Mark Neumann and banker Eric Hovde) have been skewering each other with these electronic daggers for the past few weeks, while the remaining candidate (Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald) has been unable to raise enough money to join the fray. But which of these candidates would be the strongest, and which the weakest in November?
Tommy G Thompson, 70, was known as "Dr No" when leader of Assembly Republicans, before his election as Governor in 1986. He was a pragmatic Governor, and developed a number of innovative measures, including Milwaukee Parental School Choice, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Polly Williams. He was easily re-elected in 1990, 1994 and 1998. In 2001 he became Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W Bush. After a mediocre tenure in that office, Thompson sought the 2008 Republican nomination for President, but was washed out early. He is literally "your father's Republican", but looks like your grandfather's.
Eric Hovde,46, the heir to a Madison real estate fortune, may be "the new Ron Johnson", a rich guy who wins a US Senate seat in his first try for elective office. He is CEO of Hovde Properties, started by his grandfather in 1933. Eric's father Don Hovde was president of the National Association of Realtors and Undersecretary of HUD under President Ronald Reagan. Besides being fabulously rich, Hovde is tall and handsome. After he spent about $4 million of his own money on TV ads, polls show him in a virtual tie with Thompson. If it is possible to buy this nomination, Hovde will win. He would be an impressive candidate in the general election.
Mark Neumann has already lost two statewide races (Senator in 1998, Republican primary for Governor in 2010), but seems determined to throw good money after bad this time. This week he ran a TV ad unfavorably comparing Eric Hovde to a cow. His primary campaign against Scott Walker in 2010 was also notably mean-spirited, even by the standards of negative campaigns today, and I believe he is the most disliked member of the Wisconsin Republican Party. He is opposed to legal abortion under all conceivable circumstances, and otherwise supports the Tea Party agenda. If nominated, his unrelenting negative attitude would render him unelectable.
Jeff Fitzgerald is young, but experienced in government. Nobody is bothering to attack him, which is a sure sign that the other candidates do not take him seriously.
If Democrats want to win the Senate election, the smartest thing they could do on August 14 would be to vote for Neumann in the Republican primary.
Gerald S Glazer
(1) SPOILER: At the last minute, the rules are changed to permit two survivors, so that the film can have a happy ending.