Don’t sweat it, Russ
Russ Feingold has to be sweating this election season. He’s an incumbent from the President’s party running in an off-year, a year which has seen gains for Republicans in special elections. A host of his colleagues have decided that retiring is better than a voter-issued pink slip. He has lost his lone wolf cred by supporting a health care bill that fails to include his key issue, the public option. The Supreme Court has cut the heart out of his signature legislative piece and his popular statewide listening tour has been hijacked and renamed the “He’s not listening” tour by conservative commentators, bloggers and voters across the state.
On top of all that comes one more headache – Tommy Thompson is leading Feingold by a range of 4-17 points (if one breaks out the numbers by gender) in various polls asking likely voters who they would prefer in a head-to-head between the two men.
But there is a simple solution to Feingold’s woes: Tommy Thompson. He needs to enter the race or officially announce that he is not. Either one will be to Russ’s benefit and most likely propel him to a fourth term in Washington.
Thompson recently announced that he is thinking about moving back into politics, but he has no plans to make that decision anytime soon. He’s been dancing the political “hokey pokey” with Wisconsin’s voters since he packed up and moved to Washington to serve in the Bush administration. Maybe he’ll run for governor against Doyle. Maybe he’ll run for president (oh wait; he did that for about 5 minutes in 2007). Maybe he’ll run for mayor of Elroy.
Thompson has become the Brett Favre of Wisconsin politics – a long-time winner who just doesn’t know when or how to hang ‘em up. He’s an egomaniac who loves the attention of the press and big money donors that come with a campaign, but doesn’t want to put in the work.
He has the name recognition to match Feingold’s, something neither announced GOP candidates Terrence Wall or Dave Westlake share. Thompson has legislative experience, but it dates back to the 1970’s and early 80’s. He could attack Feingold’s proclivity to support Obama’s endless spending, but he has some fiscal skeletons in his closet, too. (See the structural deficits he left in the state budget when he left for D.C.)
Thompson has also engaged his mouth before his brain catches up, making it difficult for supporters to defend him with a straight face. How can you defend a candidate who announces employers should be allowed to fire someone based on sexual orientation, tells out-state voters to stick Milwaukee and Waukesha with a stadium tax to fund Miller Park and equates his post-Bush administration chase for millions in compensation as “part of the Jewish tradition.”
Thompson also has some serious ethical questions, having moved from being the administration’s voice on health care to sitting on boards and leading companies in the health care industry. Plus he just signed on to work with a leading hedge fund, in an atmosphere when people are losing their homes and life savings following the bank crisis. It will be a hard sell to paint Thompson as a man of the little people when he’s been in the boardroom for the last five years. Feingold, while not living on the edge of foreclosure, has the lowest net value of all 100 senators and continues to appeal to the working-class voter.
My advice for Feingold is to pray for Tommy Thompson to be officially in or out. If he’s in, Feingold will have a myriad of substantive issues and talking points to use against him. Plus, Thompson will probably open his mouth and insert his foot, giving Feingold more food for fodder. If Tommy is out, he’ll have smooth sailing against two Republican candidates who have little name recognition or money and, in Wall’s case, slow PR response to unwarranted attacks for taking advantage of Democratic-approved tax credits on his 1040.
My advice for Tommy Thompson: make some more cash, enjoy a well-deserved retirement and if you need something to do, maybe Brett will let you ride his lawnmower once in a while.