Rumors in Washington and Madison, Wisconsin, have U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson leaving his cabinet post and returning to the cheesehead state to run for his old governor’s post this summer. Unpopular Republican Scott McCallum is serving out Thompson’s term and hoping to win a full term of his own this fall.
Thompson was said to be disenchanted when President Bush handed him the HHS post instead of his “dream” job as Secretary of Transportation. The terrorist attacks last September did not place him in a better light. He at times seemed ill-informed about emergency health issues during testimony before Congress and he clashed with the White House over his handling of the anthrax threat and smallpox vaccine shortage. He performed so poorly that the White House asked Sen. Bill Frist, a physician, to handle the issues for the Administration.
Although rumors that Thompson was leaving town eventually died down, they re-ignited when a recent in-state poll indicated that Thompson was still the most popular politician in Wisconsin and could easily win state office again. The Badger Poll, conducted by the University of Wisconsin Survey Center and sponsored by the Capital Times and Wisconsin Public Broadcasting, showed only 26 percent of those surveyed rate McCallum’s work as either excellent or good, compared to 63 percent who rated it as either fair or poor. Thompson, on the other hand, received favorable ratings of 56 percent. “And he’s not even in office!” says a former McCallum staffer.
Actually, there are now many former McCallum staffers. In the past month, McCallum has watched his campaign manager, Steve Lyons, quit, as have chief strategist and spokesman Brian Christianson and fundraiser Dana Grigoroff. “We’re all a bit concerned about this,” says a Wisconsin Republican Party official in Madison. “McCallum is running unopposed right now, but there is still time for someone to step and challenge.”
Filing deadline for the September primary is in early July. If he’s to run Thompson will have decide soon, because he’ll need time to raise money. McCallum’s campaign may be in disarray, but he also has more than $2.5 million in the bank. Further complicating Thompson’s decision is that his brother, Ed, is running for governor on the Libertarian ticket, and has complained about his Tommy’s lack of support.
“Maybe that’s because Tommy plans on running against Eddie,” says the Madison Republican. “Who knows?”
Surprisingly, the White House has shown little interest in the Wisconsin gubernatorial election, so much so that the state party has had to ask it for help. “It was like, ‘Hello, remember us? Big Midwest state? We could use some help here,'” says the party official. “They screw around in California, pull strings in North Carolina and Tennessee, and fuss around in Illinois, but we’re here getting hammered with a weak incumbent and Democrats ready to tear us apart. You know damn well if we lose this election, we’ll hear about it.”
Sen. John Kerry may be lagging a bit behind some of the other 2004 Democratic presidential nomination hopefuls in the fundraisng race, but that’s mainly because he’s spreading his money around, secure in the knowledge that he has a wife worth hundreds of millions of dollars to fall back on.
Besides, when he wants to, Kerry can really rake in.
For example, in a recent swing through Utah and Idaho, no Democratic strongholds to be sure, Kerry was able to net more than $250,000 for his Citizen Soldier Political Action Committee, funds he will dole out to his favorite Democratic candidates for the fall election.
“If he can get that kind of cash out of Utah, imagine what he could in California if he really tried,” says a friend and fundraiser for Kerry.