Campaign Crawlers

Say Cheese in Wisconsin

Republican Mark Green is positioned to defeat an incumbent Democratic governor this fall.

By 4.18.06

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Wisconsin elects its Governor in 2006. Cheeseheads also elect an Attorney General, a Secretary of State and a State Treasurer.

The last two races are not competitive. Incumbent Secretary of State Doug LaFollette, a Democrat and distant relative of Wisconsin icon Robert M. LaFollette, benefits from name identification and has held the largely ceremonial post since 1986. State Treasurer Jack Voight, a Republican, has avoided scandal. Wisconsin voters tend to re-elect incumbent State Treasurers, regardless of party. Few have ever been defeated.

However, incumbent Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat, has been her own worst enemy and has drawn a primary challenge from elected Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. Lautenschlager and Falk are racing for money and endorsements. An April poll showed them tied at 24% of likely Democrats, with 50% undecided.

Lautenschlager was caught driving a state car under the influence in early 2004. She lost her license for a year because she declined a blood test. When her driving privileges were restored, something "happened" to the car to cause nearly $1,000 worth of damage. At least four other people drove the car and her husband signed purchases on her state credit card, both violations of state rules. This is not the behavior one would expect from Wisconsin's top cop.

That is exactly the message of the Republicans who are set to face off in their primary for Attorney General. Paul Bucher has been elected county prosecutor five times in a Republican county in suburban Milwaukee and is known to be tough on crime. J.B. Van Hollen was elected to terms as a county prosecutor in two northern counties which were dominated by Democrats. He was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 to be Lautenschlager's successor as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Outside political activists and donors are no doubt paying less attention to the race for Attorney General than to whether Brett Favre returns to the Green Bay. Most of the media and public attention so far has been on the race for Governor. This was especially true when Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker withdrew from the Republican primary.

Wisconsin's primary is late by state standards, falling in early September. Walker said he couldn't raise enough money to do anything but attack his friend and former state Assembly colleague, U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Green Bay), who had sloshed $1.3 million from his congressional campaign fund to his gubernatorial campaign treasury. If they both spent heavily in the primary, Walker said, Democratic incumbent Gov. Jim Doyle would coast to re-election. Walker won plaudits from Republicans all over the state because they could now unite behind Green.

If Lautenschlager's wounds were self-inflicted, so are Governor Doyle's. He has exacerbated his problems by being politically tone deaf. If Bill Clinton was a Teflon politician, to whom nothing stuck, Doyle seems to be a Velcro politician, to whom everything sticks.

A deputy state transportation secretary invited dozens of engineers competing for $100 million in state contracts to a fundraiser for Doyle, netting $17,000. Last year, the Public Service Commission approved selling a power plant owned by two Wisconsin utilities to a Virginia firm. Utility executives donated $15,000.

This year a state employee was indicted for steering $750,000 worth of state travel business to a company whose executives gave Doyle $20,000. Doyle canceled the contract but kept the contribution and has kept what should have been a one-day story alive for months.

But Mark Green has had some fund problems, too. He has already put the $30,000 he received from Tom DeLay's PAC in escrow, waiting for the state legislature to enact a new law for giving leftover campaign funds to charity. His campaign manager had accepted tickets to athletic events back in 2000 from a watercraft lobbyist who actually obtained them through Jack Abramoff.

If Jim Doyle had won in 2002 by a landslide, he could be forgiven for acting so cavalierly with fundraising. But he won with only 45 percent of the vote cast in a race with former Gov. Tommy Thompson's Lt. Gov Scott McCallum and Thompson's brother Ed, who ran as a Libertarian.

Doyle has been losing ground ever since. A recent St. Norbert's College poll showed Doyle leading Green 43% to 35% with 14% undecided. A Zogby poll released in late March showed Green leading by three points. The candidates were tied in a Strategic Vision Poll conducted in early March.

Of course, it's still early. Doyle says he hopes to raise $11 million and already has more than three times the amount of cash on hand than Green has. There are millions of dollars to be spent, ads and literature to be produced, telephone calls to be made, and doors to be knocked on.

There is, however, one uniquely Wisconsin quirky political fact. No statewide candidate has ever won without winning in Green Bay, Green's hometown.

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About the Author

Mark G. Michaelsen writes frequently about public affairs.