Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Could Ed Thompson Get Elected Governor?

By - Oct 15th, 2001 03:39 pm

It’s a wacky idea, but Ed Thompson may turn out to be a real spoiler in the race for governor. Tommy Thompson‘s older brother boasts the best-looking web site of any gubernatorial candidate and looks like he’s very serious about running as a third party candidate. “That would hurt McCallum,” says a Democratic strategist. “He could be their Ralph Nader.”

One Republican observer even suggests Thompson could win a three-way race for governor. Joel Brennan, a strategist for Tom Barrett, says “no one should take Ed Thompson lightly No one in a state that borders Minnesota and Jesse Ventura should take a third party candidate lightly.”

Third party candidate Ross Perot did better in Wisconsin in 1992 than almost any state, gaining 24% of the vote. This state’s receptivity to such candidates is suggested by a recent poll done by the Chamberlain Associates for the Wisconsin Tavern League, which asked respondents whether they would consider voting for Ed Thompson. About 35% said yes.

But Brian Christianson, campaign advisor for McCallum, scoffs at that result. “Ask the question like that and of course people will say yes.” That number would plummet, he suggests, if Thompson were specifically pitted against other candidates.

Perhaps, but it seems interesting that the McCallum campaign, in its recent poll, did not test a three-way race with Thompson included. Christianson says they didn’t because “the name ID is highly skewed, because people hear that name and they think Tommy Thompson.”

Exactly. So why won’t people think the same way about Ed in an actual election? Christianson would say only “we’re still pretty early in the game to measure his impact.”

Certainly, some Democrats seem very happy about the impact the other Thompson might have on the race. One strategist says Thompson could appeal to moderate to conservative voters who are not really satisfied with their choices. “Ed will also appeal to a very identifiable, somewhat small group of voters on issues related to pro-gambling and pro-alcohol,” he adds.

But one Republican suggests Ed Thompson might have appeal for Democrats who consistently crossed party lines to vote for his brother. The potency of the Thompson name was conceded by Brennan. “We certainly couldn’t co-opt the Thompson name,” he says. “But some have suggested we call our candidate Tommy Barrett.”

Ed Thompson’s web site, which you can click on at the left, looks pretty slick, and boasts the most dramatic photos of any of the gubernatorial web sites. There’s even one with a Fighting Bob Lafollette pose: Ed with chin in hand. Rumors are rampant as to who is helping Thompson. One theory is that Indian gaming interests are helping to bankroll him, given McCallum’s adamant opposition to more gambling in Wisconsin.

Part of the background to all this is the feud between McCallum and Tommy Thompson. Tommy, it is widely assumed, will do nothing to help McCallum or dispel the notion that Ed has his backing, even though the ex-governor has never agreed with his brother’s libertarian views. There is even speculation James Klauser, Tommy’s former “Deputy Governor,” is secretly helping Ed.

Ed’s web site makes it clear where he disagrees with his brother. He argues
Wisconsin spends too much on prisons. “When a Wisconsin Public Television journalist pointed out to Ed that his brother built most of the new prisons,” the site notes, “Ed pointedly replied, ‘I don’t care who built them, it’s wrong!'”

Candidate Ed notes “roughly half the people crowding prisons are there for nonviolent drug offenses: people who didn’t hurt anybody else…Taxpayers would save billions of dollars and citizens would better be able to seek therapy if nonviolent drug offenses were removed from the criminal justice system.”

Ed Thompson also supports legalizing the medical use of marijuana and allowing farmers to grow hemp. He calls it “an incredible opportunity for Wisconsin farmers to raise a profitable, environmentally friendly cash crop that would help to free them from the dependence on subsidies distributed at the whims of politicians. This plant offers a great opportunity for paper production that doesn’t destroy our forests, fabrics that can compete with cotton and linen, and oils for both industrial and health value. The federal government has already granted waivers to Hawaii, and Ed will pursue them for Wisconsin’s farmers.”

Come to think of it, that’s the kind of campaign that could attract some Democrats.

Short Takes

Years ago, Tommy Thompson told me he was a liberal in college. I’ve always suspected he was less conservative than he appeared to be. Thompson’s wife Sue Ann is a teacher who clearly supported teachers unions and was pro-choice. Thompson’s daughter Kelli made headlines by arguing the state should increase its funding of public defenders. And his brother Ed argued some time ago that marijuana should be legalized, a view he’s apparently moderated to medical usage only now that he’s running for governor.

A few of the savvier national observers had suggested Thompson wasn’t conservative enough to survive the Bush administration, but so far, he looks like he’s in good shape. He’s a hard worker, and that can overcome a few ideological disagreements.

More on McCallum

Todd Robert Murphy made a few waves with an article in the Shepherd Express calling McCallum “Governor Doofus” and other very printable names. The fact that a Republican is so candid about McCallum’s weaknesses can’t be helpful to the governor. But Murphy has done work for Robert Welch (R-Redgranite) in the past, and is doubtless hoping to drum up more work by making a case for a Welch challenge to McCallum in a Republican primary.

The recent data released by McCallum’s strategist showing the bump in the polls he received could have been predicted. All leaders see their numbers go up in times of crisis. (Witness the stratospheric ratings for President Bush.) But McCallum may come to regret releasing these results. When he does the next poll, word will get out and he will be pushed by the media to release these results, too. What if that poll shows his appeal has declined? Or the poll after that? Once you start releasing the results, it becomes harder to control the spin you want to give your candidate.

Who’s the real Jesse? Ed Thompson is trying to push the Jesse Ventura analogy, and features a photo of the two together on his web site. Meanwhile, Democrat Gary George has suggested he’s a Jesse-like candidate for governor, apparently to dispel the doubt that an African American candidate, and one that is not so well-funded, can win. Even McCallum has been posing for pictures with Ventura. But Thompson is the clear outsider and amateur here. The others are just the sort of professional politicians Ventura likes to decry.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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