Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Cowboy Hovde Hurting Candidate Hovde?

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde might want to get off the range.

By - May 8th, 2024 07:11 pm
Eric Hovde.

Eric Hovde.

A great moment in advertising it ain’t.

The ad, getting airplay in Arizona, presents Eric Hovde — yes, the Republican running for Wisconsin’s US Senate seat — as a cowboy in a cheesy set for a western town that wouldn’t pass muster in the cheapest B movie. It shows us two nice town folk complaining that the two dastardly laughing bankers (one of whom looks the Monopoly Man transplanted to the Old West) have bad service and hidden fees. In response Cowboy Hovde proceeds to lasso them.

“Your big bank got you tied up?” says Hovde. “Come to Sunwest. We’re the best.”   

In a second ad he sits on a desk wearing his cowboy hat and says “I’ve had a lot of fun making these silly commercials,” but then (thankfully) takes off the hat to get serious about the high “capital ratios” of Sunwest Bank and “reserves and liquidity” that “are among the highest in the industry.”

“We operate with a fortress balance sheet,” he notes, moving on from cowboy to war analogies.

The ads, first reported by Politico, seem like an incredible blunder by Hovde, and not because they so lame. Here’s a guy the Democrats have been pounding as a carpetbagger, identifying him as “Eric Hovde (R-Laguna Beach),” who owns an ocean-view mansion there. He’s also been named one of Orange County’s most influential people three years in a row and is a local California celebrity with his popular California TV commercials. Meanwhile, he has failed to vote in Wisconsin for 17 of the last 30 elections.

The residency question hurt Republican Tim Michels, whose home in Connecticut became in issue in the Wisconsin race for governor. And it continues to pop up about Hovde, most recently in an AP story this week.

“He’s Wisconsin through and through,” Hovde’s campaign spokesman Ben Voelkel told the AP. “They are trying to distract from literally every other issue that they don’t want to talk about.”

So how does Hovde handle this criticism? By starring in ads in yet another western state, further blurring the image he’s trying to push that he’s just a Wisconsin guy. That effort has included an ad featuring his wife, Sharon, leafing through a photo album of his days at Madison East High School and UW-Madison, and a video clip of Hovde plunging into icy Lake Mendota near the house he owns in Madison.

Hovde could have put off these “silly” Arizona ads until the campaign was over. (I doubt his campaign handlers were happy about them.) The fact that he didn’t raises the question of just how committed to Wisconsin and the senate race he is. It also makes one wonder if he declined to shave off his mustache — something that rarely helps a political candidate — because he needed it for those cowboy banker ads.

Hovde, after all, is chairman and CEO of Sunwest Bank, which since its founding in 1969 has “grown from a small local real estate bank into a regional bank serving the entire West Coast in just five short years,” its website notes. Sunwest has locations in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho and Utah.  He has called Sunwest Bank, headquartered in California, his “main business,” so maybe the cowboy banker ads are his first priority.

A Quinnipiac poll on Wednesday has incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin with a 12-point lead over Hovde. There is still time for Hovde to turn that around, as 50% of respondents said they didn’t know enough about him. But among those that did Hovde was underwater, with 25% of them having an unfavorable opinion and 23% a favorable opinion.

The Marquette Law School poll of three weeks ago showing the candidates in a “tie among likely voters” has been touted by Hovde’s campaign, but was less definitive than that one data point suggested, as its poll expert Charles Franklin explained to Urban Milwaukee.

The survey’s initial question of respondents showed Baldwin up by 7 points with 18% undecided among registered voters, and up by 4 points with 15% undecided among likely voters. “When we ask the undecided who they would vote for ‘if they had to decide’, Baldwin led by 5 with registered voters,” Franklin noted, and was tied with Hovde among likely voters.

But that has to be taken with a large grain of salt.

“Since 56% said they don’t know enough about Hovde to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion, I think the high undecided is in line with not having a lot of information about the race,” Franklin explained.

“Taken all together, Baldwin has a lead, but smaller than her 11 point margin in 2018. It looks like a closer race, but not a toss-up at this point. And a lot are undecided.”

Which still leaves an opportunity for Hovde to change the dynamics of the race. But he may have to start concentrating more on Wisconsin and less on the Old West.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

5 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Cowboy Hovde Hurting Candidate Hovde?”

  1. danlarsen7007 says:

    Thanks for this article. One thing that totally turns me off with a candidate is the obvious non-resident that tries to tell me he’s right for Wisconsin. I hate carpet baggers. There’s no way a guy whose main business is SunWest Bank can or should try to represent me. Now, if he was a republican with a Wisconsin history that worked for Associated Bank, I might just give him a listen.

  2. fightingbobfan says:

    His campaign (though I don’t want them to) had better do something fast because his opposition is defining him.

    On the other hand, portraying Tammy as a bobblehead isn’t cutting it.

  3. TosaGramps1315 says:

    This is both eye-opener and unsurprising. One would think that since the carpet bagger label had been placed on Hovde upon announcing his candidacy, he would not do anything to reinforce that view. But alas, the arrogant ignorance that generally flows through the majority of the GOP rose to the top in this case for all to see.
    In my view Hovde is a political cicada that disappears for 12 years, only to crawl out from wherever he’s been burrowed, to get his hat handed to him by whatever opposing candidate is so obviously more qualified. I’m shocked that the margin is only 12 points!

  4. says:

    We do not need a cowboy in Wisconsin who clearly does not understand this state nor the needs of our residents. Not only do I find his cowboy getup objectionable, he reminds me of an old porn star with that mustache. Could never take this guy seriously. He should step down now before he wastes everyone’s time any more than he has.

  5. Swblackwood says:

    The cowboy motif seemed to work for David Clarke at least for awhile but he was a sheriff, not a governor. I look t Hove and I see a 70s porn star with that moustache,

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us