Tuesday’s GOP primary for a June special election for the vacant 1st District Senate seat could be called “The Tale of Two David and Goliaths.” Early on, it appeared Jacque was the more formidable candidate. He is a well established state representative whose conservative bona fides are unquestioned. Jacque announced his candidacy shortly after former Sen. Frank Lasee vacated the seat and it had been well know for some time prior that Jacque would enter the race. It seemed to be his for the asking. Enter 24 year old Alex Renard.
Observers outside the district believed this would be a cake walk for Jacque. An inexperienced unknown candidate appeared to have little chance. That changed when it became clear that some Republican establishment forces wanted someone other then Jacque, and the David and Goliath roles quickly switched. Renard had personal wealth and a quintet of Republican lawmakers from Northeast Wisconsin endorsing him. Soon a 527 independent expenditure committee would spend big money on radio ads and on direct mailers in the district viciously attacking Jacque.
One of the raps on Jacque was that he couldn’t raise money and indeed he was at a dramatic disadvantage against Renard. Insiders told Media Trackers that internal polling showed Jacque was little known, even in his own assembly district. Going into Tuesday’s election, it appeared Renard was now the favorite. Yet Jacque won with 52% of the vote and will face Democrat Caleb Frostman in June. Why did Jacque win? Here are some theories:
Conservative blow back:
Jacque became something of a conservative rock star when he defied Assembly Speaker Robin Vos by holding a committee hearing on the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law in 2015. He is also staunchly pro-life. It’s possible that conservative primary voters resented what appeared to them to be a stacking of the deck against someone they know to be staunchly conservative. And the results indicate that Jacque did very well in counties were he would be expected to be fairly well known vs. counties where he had an identity issues:
As reported in the Green Bay Press Gazette:
Further, Door and Kewaunee counties are considered to be left leaning. It is these counties that have some Republicans convinced Jacque can’t win a general election against Democrat Caleb Frostman.
Attacks on Jacque May Have Backfired:
“Midwest Growth Fund” spent big dollars on radio ads supporting Renard and direct mailers viciously attacking Jacque. This may have fueled the potential conservative blow back mentioned above.
Renard’s “Rose Garden” Strategy Appears to Have Failed:
Renard at times more closely resembled a criminal suspect than a political candidate: he often invoked his right to remain silent. In on and off the record conversations with Media Trackers, he refused to disclose whether he supported the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law. He ultimately told wispolitics.com that he did oppose the repeal. This is notable because, as mentioned above, Jacque was a driving force for the repeal. Also, John Gard, who appears to have been a central figure in Renard’s campaign (despite Renard’s protestations to the contrary), is a lobbyist representing unions who opposed the repeal of prevailing wage.
Further, evidence supports Jacque’s claim that Renard didn’t want to do public joint appearances with Jacque. Renard gave the appearance of a candidate who felt he had a big lead and didn’t have to engage the opponent.
It’s possible some Democrats, without a primary of their own in which to vote, voted for Jacque believing he was the weaker of the two candidates. There is no statistical evidence, however, to support this theory.
A forensic analysis of what happened Tuesday is relevant because voters in the 1st will do this again in August. Prior to Tuesday, Frostman, Jacque and Renard all said they would be candidates for the seat in the fall general election, regardless of the primary results.
If Jacque defeats Frostman in June, it will be difficult for Republicans who backed Renard to do it again, against an incumbent senator. If Jacque loses, those Republicans who supported Renard will point to that loss as proof that Renard should be the nominee in November.
Frostman is unopposed as the Democratic nominee. Who will be the Republican nominee in November will depend in large part on whether Jacque wins in June and if both Jacque and Renard learn lessons from Tuesday’s results.