By James Rowen for   Published Nov 15, 2005 at 5:03 AM

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

It's understandable why Wisconsin Democrats might allow themselves a little optimism these days about their chances at the 2006 ballot box.

Take U.S. Rep. Mark Green's belief that being a Republican challenger from the congressional delegation positions him over Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker to defeat Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

A few months ago, Green was seen as something of a fresher face since he'd been off in Washington, D.C. for a few years, learning to govern at the feet of the masters -- President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (a substantial Green campaign donor), and so on.

But now the Bush administration is imploding, leaving Green to carry its heavy baggage throughout his run for governor, including:

  • The quagmire in Iraq.

  • Bush's weird, paralyzed vacuous state -- and the veep's equally disturbing independence within the government on neo-con strategies, energy policy, torture justification and the outing of pesky CIA spies.

  • The federal indictments of "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff and DeLay's unrelated appearance in Texas court on charges of conspiracy and money laundering.

  • The exploding federal deficit along with the pork-stuffed transportation bill created by Green's majority caucus in Congress.

  • The projected whopping increase in winter heating costs, persistently high gasoline prices and the companion issues -- the Bush administration's silence on the oil companies' gouging this summer that accompanied the GOP's cruelly inept federal response to hurricane Katrina and subsequent storms.

In fact, as Bush was getting ready to be sworn in for his first term, Green issued a news release on Jan 15, 2001 that put him shoulder-to-shoulder with George W.

"George W. Bush comes to Washington with big plans," gushed Green in the release's second paragraph, "and I'm happy to say that he and I share similar views on a number of issues. I'm looking forward to helping him accomplish those priorities we agree on."

What's in store for politicos who had to run on -- or anywhere near -- those Bush accomplishments?

Well, look to the Nov. 8 elections, where Republicans failed to win the state house in New Jersey, and in Virginia, where Bush personally campaigned.

Or on the West Coast, where incumbent Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's power-grabbing ballot reforms went down in flames, along with his image.

Or look closer to home, in St. Paul, Minn., where the incumbent Democratic mayor was swept out of office because he endorsed Bush in the 2004 presidential election.

If Green embraces Bush and the GOP record in Congress, or runs from it, the more it plays into Democrats' hands: Consider the governor's plan to issue subpoenas to oil company executives for appearances before a state agency to discuss their profits and operations.

Doyle is showing that he can make the entire GOP record under Bush and Green's Congress the issue in Wisconsin. And he will make hay doing it long after our long winter is over because many gas company customers absorb their heating costs over 12 months.

Another sure sign of GOP weakness in Wisconsin was its wall-to-wall hysteria over the entry into the attorney general's race by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, a Democrat.

You'd think that GOP candidates Paul Bucher, the Waukesha County district attorney, and JB Van Hollen, a former federal prosecutor, would have remained on the sidelines if they were confident about their chances, thus leaving Falk and incumbent AG Peg Lautenschlager to duke it out in the Democratic primary.

But both GOP candidates immediately targeted heavy rhetorical fire on Falk, thus anointing her the frontrunner and belying their own understandable nervousness about having Falk in the race.

Bucher's campaign issued a release on Nov. 8 listing many of the things he found scary about Falk, including the allegation that she was "The National Organization for Women's 2001 Feminist of the Year."

Yipes! (Note: other Web sites indicate Falk was merely Feminist of the Year for NOW's Wisconsin chapter, so maybe Bucher will be able to gather himself.)

Granted that things change quickly in politics, and no doubt will change often in the next year.

But a few months ago, Republicans were sitting pretty going into the 2006 elections.

  • Their president had been re-elected because Karl Rove had so devilishly swiftboated John Kerry, which supposedly meant smooth sailing ahead.

  • Bush was going to spend his political capital on Social Security reform, nail down some more upper-bracket income tax cuts, and then take that long summer vacation cutting brush at Crawford.

  • Special federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wasn't yet a household name, and neither were the other face cards in the GOP's full house of horrors: Scooter, Harriet and "Brownie."

Now it appears that nationally, and in Wisconsin, the Democrats' campaign baggage has lightened, while the Republicans' load has gotten heavier. That bodes well for November 2006.

James Rowen is a Milwaukee writer and a former Milwaukee mayoral aide.

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