Can Tammy Beat Tommy?
She wouldn’t have a chance against the old Tommy, but the newer edition could be beat.
It’s a tale whose origins date to the Middle Ages, the story of Faust, the man who sold his soul to the devil. That’s the scenario Democrats will be shopping this fall about Tommy Thompson, your Republican candidate for U.S. Senate: that this wide-eyed, small-town boy from Elroy, after 38 years as a public servant, couldn’t resist compromising himself for cash, greedily striking a devilish bargain to win a lobbyist’s plunder.
“I’m going to be very well-compensated,” Thompson crowed in 2005, after retiring as U.S. Secretary of Health and Social Services. He was soon lobbying for many of the companies his department had once regulated. According to the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, none of the 24 members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet did more lobbying than Thompson, who worked for 42 different companies. By 2012, a man who for most of his life was merely middle class now had an estimated net worth of $13 million, placing him among the top one percent of wealthiest Americans.
“It’s about whose side you’re on,” charges Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, his Democratic opponent. “Tommy Thompson has spent this last many years giving access to some of the most powerful moneyed interests in the United States helping them write their own rules.” Or as the tagline of her TV ads puts it: “Tommy Thompson. He’s not for you anymore.”
And though Thompson sold himself in the GOP primary as a “true conservative” and “way over to the right,” most voters remember him as a moderate Republican. Thompson greatly increased state funding of public schools while creating the nation’s first school choice program, and won the support of some Democrats for his nationally celebrated welfare reform program.
“Everybody loves Tommy,” declares Reince Priebus, the Wisconsin native who now heads the Republican National Committee. “They like the Packers, they like Harley-Davidsons, they like Miller Lite and they like Tommy Thompson.”
By contrast, Baldwin is hardly a household word, and the sort of Dane County liberal that can be a tough sell in this state. She is bucking to become the nation’s first openly Lesbian U.S. Senator, but downplays that, as does Thompson, actually. “Tammy Baldwin is a nice lady,” Thompson has said. “She’s just so far liberal that Nancy Pelosi has to turn left to talk to her.”
The National Journal ranked Baldwin as tied for the most liberal member of Congress in 2010, 25th-most liberal in 2009 and 13th-most liberal in 2008. She has annually introduced a bill creating a program of national health insurance, which Thompson condemns as “far beyond ‘Obamacare’…a Medicare system for all, in which the government makes all the decisions.”
Lefty Tammy versus likable Tommy is the race Thompson wants and should easily win, but that requires as little clash with Baldwin as possible. Baldwin immediately accepted three proposed debates: one on October 18 sponsored by Wisconsin Public Television and other media organizations; on October 26, by Milwaukee’s WISN-TV and Marquette University Law School; and on October 28th, by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation. It’s been almost four weeks since Thompson won the primary and he’s yet to accept one debate.
Thompson has also adamantly refused to release any of his federal tax forms, even as he supports the budget plan of Congressman Paul Ryan, which would give an average tax cut of $265,000 to wealthy Americans. Thompson’s campaign has said the cut is needed because wealthy people now pay 37 percent of all federal taxes raised, but he declines to reveal what his effective tax rate is. “Voters deserve to know how his tax plan would benefit him and people like him,” says Baldwin campaign manager John Kraus.
Thompson wants to eliminate government regulations like the Dodd Frank Act of 2010, which helped reinstate control over the financial industry that were stripped by the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1998. Its repeal relaxed decades-old rules which banks had to follow and led to the financial meltdown of 2008. Baldwin opposed its repeal and voted for Dodd Frank.
This is the kind of issue Baldwin wants to run on, contrasting her views to those of the suddenly more conservative Tommy, the millionaire lobbyist of the last seven years. Thompson’s team, by contrast, would rather the race is about the former governor and Badger icon. That candidate can’t lose, so his handlers will do their best, between now and November 6, to deflect attention from today’s Tommy.
This column originally appeared in the Madison weekly Isthmus.
-Despite the hoopla leading up to it, Baldwin’s address before the Democratic National Convention was pretty low impact, largely because it was moved to an earlier time, so it wasn’t covered by broadest TV stations who picked up the convention’s last hour. It was also short and lacked any surprises; well-delivered, sure, but unmemorable.
-I continue to hear from people floating the conspiracy idea that County Exec Chris Abele got rid of County Parks director Sue Black because he wants to privatize the parks. I’ve previously shot down that theory and explained the real reasons for the firing, but I would note the additional reason why it’s not about privatizing. Any attempt by Abele on that front would bring outrage from the county board and get quickly voted down.