With No Gubernatorial Candidate, DPW Attacks…U.S. Senate Field?

A recent Democratic Party of Wisconsin news release provides a textbook example of political projection.

Still without a serious challenger to emerge against Gov. Scott Walker at the top of 2018 ticket, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin on Thursday issued a press release attacking how none of the speculative Republican challengers to Tammy Baldwin has officially declared their candidacy yet, nor been “declared” a frontrunner. First, frontrunners are not declared, they emerge. Believing they dodged a bullet with U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy’s (R-Wausau) decision not to run, DPW Spokesman Brendon Weathersby wrote:

National media outlets are quickly picking up the trend of Republican failures to recruit candidates for U.S. Senate races in 2018. Wisconsin Republicans are scrambling to declare a front-runner after Rep. Sean Duffy proved to be too scared to take on Senator Tammy Baldwin. So far, all they’ve been able to produce is a yacht sale style primary field featuring millionaires and political opportunists backed by wealthy out-of-state power players.

In a recent story from James Arkin at Real Clear Politics, Wisconsin Republicans’ struggles are put on full display alongside numerous instances of Senate races without a Republican challenger. “In those states, Republicans are confident that despite likely primaries, they’ll still field viable challengers. But some expressed concern about Pennsylvania — where the only candidate thus far is a state lawmaker — and Wisconsin, where a wide array of businesspeople and state lawmakers are considering runs in what could become a crowded field with no clear frontrunner,” Arkin writes.

“Republicans can’t get their act together when it comes to the U.S. Senate race. Plagued by in-fighting and wealthy special interests willing to do anything to buy a seat in Congress, Republicans are drowning in their own demons,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Brandon Weathersby said on Thursday. “With field staff on the ground earlier than ever and high levels of enthusiasm at the grassroots level, Democrats are in a strong position heading in 2018.”

Weathersby suggestion that Republicans are struggling and Democrats are in a position of strength for 2018 as they attempt to stop the headlines about more people on their bench NOT running for governor. (Who was it this week? Congressman Mark Pocan?)

Clearly what Democrats are hoping for is a repeat of the 2012 Senate race. At the time, Republicans beat themselves senseless in a multi-candidate primary only to have Baldwin meet her general election opponent with millions of dollars worth of unanswered attack ads.

Time will tell if political history repeats itself.

As for the “Yacht Sale” remark, whether Weathersby and state Democrats send 1130 AM WISN radio host Mark Belling a “Thank You” gift basket for that line remains to be seen, but it sure seems like it’s going to have a lot of play from them this campaign cycle. Rather ironic from a party defending the very seat once held by a man (Herb Kohl) worth hundreds of millions of dollars and whose last gubernatorial candidate (Mary Burke) was hand-picked for because of the ability to self-finance her campaign.

Politically, the reason why so many Republicans look to lining up against Baldwin is that she could be easy pickings. Despite being in public life for nearly 25 years, she’s an unknown commodity to many Wisconsin voters outside her Madison-area base; and that’s before one starts attacking her vulnerabilities.

She’s often been a reliable vote for liberal causes and known for her so letting her hard-line tendencies shine through when push comes to shove. On top of that, her office (even while a congresswoman) is known for having lackluster constituent service. But what truly makes Baldwin vulnerable is her handling of the 2015 Tomah VA crisis.

Baldwin’s campaign and national Democrats know this quite well; otherwise why would she be suddenly going on a fund raising tear to the tune of $2.2 million over the first three months of 2017?

Such vulnerability draws political sharks smelling blood. It’s why past candidates like Eric Hovde have returned. It’s why state legislators like Dale Kooyenga and Leah Vukmir are considering leaving safe seats in the state legislature. It’s why political newcomers such as Nicole Schneider and Kevin Nicholson* have been drawn towards the race.

The field is crowded not because this Senate seat “wants to be bought.” It’s crowded because Baldwin made herself vulnerable.

It’s likely that the reality is that deep-down the state Democratic Party knows this. They can mock the number of candidates lining up to take on the last statewide-elected Democrat of any significance all they want, but it’s hard to imagine that that they’re not pining for a similar kind of line up of candidates to challenge Scott Walker.

So if state Democrats want to make jokes about next year’s U.S. Senate race, that’s their prerogative. It also affords them the luxury of avoiding discussion of next year’s race for governor.

*In light of Richard Uihlein’s $2 million  pledge to a super PAC supporting Kevin Nicholson in the U.S. Senate primary, we feel it necessary to disclose that we receive $100 thousand a year funding from the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation for the Media Trackers project.