Will a last name be enough to land you into a seat in Congress?
That’s what Dan Kohl, the 51 year old nephew of former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-Milwaukee) and a Mequon area businessman, is hoping with his challenge against 6th District Congressman Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah). Kohl, along with Scott Olmer of Plymouth, are hoping to unseat the two-term incumbent next fall.
The sun has hardly set, it seems, on the 2016 election, which brought Republicans victories in nearly every race on the ticket in northeast Wisconsin.
But already, two Democratic candidates have stepped up to challenge U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, for his 6th Congressional District seat in 2018: Scott Olmer, who owns a marketing consulting business in Plymouth, and Dan Kohl, nephew of former Milwaukee Bucks owner and Sen. Herb Kohl.
Both wager that dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans will carry Democrats to a win in a district that has elected only Republicans since 1964.
“I do think what the American people want to see is progress; right now you don’t see all that much happening,” Kohl said during an exclusive interview Tuesday with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. “Now is the time to start, to engage with people. Given at this moment, when so many are uncertain about their futures, I cannot just sit idly by.”
Grothman won re-election in 2016 57 percent to 37 percent over Democrat Sarah Lloyd.
This is not Kohl’s first run for public office. In 2008, he was one of four Democrats seeking to be his party’s nominee in the old 22nd Assembly seat. He lost that race; finishing third to the eventual winner, former state Rep. Sandy Pasch and Andy Feldman, a former economic adviser to former President Bill Clinton.
Just as in 2008, Kohl appears to be the favorite of members of the Democratic Party establishment.
Former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said Kohl will benefit from name recognition and a better network of donors than prior Democrats. In 1992, Lautenschlager lost to Petri by the slimmest margin of any Democrat in Petri’s 35-year tenure, six percentage points.
Sixth Congressional District voters could respond to a centrist like Kohl, Lautenschlager said.
“The 6th District has always been conservative, but it is also made up of middle class working families,” she said.
Though Kohl faces an uphill climb in the 6th Congressional District, he has “great pedigree” and will mount a serious effort to flip the seat, said state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.
“I don’t think anybody is delusional about the district,” Hintz said. “I’m confident that Dan is going to give voters a (good alternative).”
All that may mean nothing in a world where increased ideological partisanship on both sides of the aisle has seen each party’s respective bases become more and more extreme. Can Kohl, a prolific fund raiser (He spent over $300,000 during his 2008 Assembly primary) be upset again in his party’s primary by a candidate seen much more “Progressively Pure” than he is?
Perhaps. Because even in politics, a name can only get you so far.
[Linda] Rabinowitz told him she often sees Herb Kohl at Heinemann’s Restaurant in Milwaukee and once visited his Washington office while lobbying for Israel 13 years ago. But as Kohl walked away, she said it will take more than just his name to win the Assembly seat.
“He needs people to know what his values are and what’s important to him,” she said. “Yes, his name is helpful for him, but a name is not enough. I think I want to know about all four of (the Democratic candidates).”
The partisan primary between Kohl and Olmer; as well as any other candidates who might jump into the race, will take place in August 2018.