Nathan Sass

Hovde Should Not Care About the Convention Endorsement

In 2012 Elections, Eric Hovde, Politics, Ron Johnson, Tea Party on May 15, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Last weekend the Wisconsin GOP held its convention in Green Bay.

One of the biggest prizes going into the get together was the party endorsement for the US Senate race in 2012.  The four candidates (Eric Hovde, Tommy Thompson, Mark Neumann, and Scott Fitzgerald) all tried their very best to stack the convention with delegates who would vote for them for the endorsement.

(Full disclosure:  I was asked to attend as a delegate on behalf of Eric Hovde, but had to decline due to previous commitments.)

Hovde received the fewest votes in the first round, and was knocked out of the running.  Tommy Thompson was knocked out in the second round.  In the end, no one got to the 60% threshold required to win the endorsement.  No one really lost, and no one really won.

Some pundits have claimed that the first round loss for Hovde was a bad sign, an embarrassment, or a sign that he has little chance in the primaries.  I think this analysis is wrong, and actually misses a bigger point.

Certainly it would have been a huge boost for any of the candidates to win, and being low man is nothing to be excited about.  But Hovde was in a no-win situation from the jump.

Some analysts have contrasted his inability to gain the endorsement unfavorably with Ron Johnson’s successful bid for endorsement when he ran in 2010.  I think it is impossible to compare these two things fairly.

Johnson entered the race for US Senate facing no real primary opposition from any candidates with party power.  Hovde is facing 2 (3 if you count Neumann) candidates with HUGE party connections, and long political careers.

in 2010, Johnson was able to self finance while his primary opposition was cash poor, and would be hard pressed to fund a strong campaign.  Hovde faces 3 opponents who have either huge campaign coffers already, or the ability to raise all the money they want if they win the primary.

Johnson’s only real hurdle at the convention in 2010 was his perceived “viability” as a candidate.  Was he a true conservative?  Could he express his views effectively?  Was he “sellable” as a candidate for US Senate.  In one speech to the delegates, he answered those questions and was endorsed.

Who else were the delegates going to choose in 2010?  Dave Westlake is a nice enough guy, but was not seen as a viable candidate against Feingold.

2012 is totally different.  All 4 of the candidates are viable against Tammy Baldwin.  (I think even I may be viable against Tammy Baldwin, honestly.)  All 4 are conservatives.  All 4 have the ability to raise the funds necessary.  Only 1 of the 4 is not an insider, though.  In conventions, insiders ALWAYS beat outsiders.  Party conventions are of the insiders, for the insiders, and by the insiders.

Hovde made a valiant effort to make a strong showing, but he was in a poker game with a fixed deck.  He had no chance to win the endorsement, and everyone should have known it.  It has nothing to do with his qualifications, and everything to do with his outsider status.

The promise of the Tea Party has always been enticing people from the “real world” to step into the political world, and wrest control of government from the professional political class.  It is people like Hovde and Johnson the Tea Party should be strongly behind.

(NOTE: Mark Neumann is not as “professional” as the other “professionals”, but he has been in government before, and frankly has run for more offices than I can remember.  He’s not exactly a newcomer to politics.)

People shouldn’t be the least bit surprised that Hovde is not getting the push Johnson did.  It’s to be expected.  The professional political class will always rally to one of their own if given the option.

If Hovde had run in 2010, he probably would be US Senator Eric Hovde.  If Ron Johnson would have waited until 2012 to run for US Senate, he would have had the least votes in the endorsement balloting at the WI GOP convention and forced to answer questions about his conservative credentials.

It has nothing to do with who either of these men are.  Johnson just picked a better time to run than Hovde has.

While I don’t see Hovde as just some Johnson clone, I do see significant similarities in the two men.

Both men are self-made.  Both men are successful in the “real world”.  Both men have relevant experience in the private sector that would be very beneficial on Capital Hill.  Both men are driven, type-A personalities who are not easily discouraged or pushed around.  Both men are very intelligent.  Both are issue-driven (Johnson on Health Care Reform and Hovde on Government Debt).  Both are strongly conservative.

Johnson is probably more polished as a speaker, more natural in front of a group, and comfortable in the political arena.  At least right now, anyway.  Hovde can grow into a comfort level.  If he can polish up his speaking, he would be tough to beat.

Hovde should just remember that he needs to relax and not try to appear so much like a “professional politician”.  He needs to be the regular guy that he is, and he will be just fine.  He doesn’t need to prove he knows what he’s talking about.  The voters will figure that out on their own, as they did with Johnson.

As much as I admire all the men in the GOP Senate primary, I still prefer Hovde for one simple reason.  Private sector experience.  Hovde appears to be running to “do something”, not just “be something”.  I’m not sure I can say that about the other 3 to the degree I can about Hovde.

Hovde needs this political junk about as much as he needs a hole in the head, but he is doing it anyway.  He is either a closet political class member, or willing to endure the ugly world of politics because things HAVE to get fixed.   I see nothing that says he’s an undercover insider, so for now he has my vote, and my endorsement.

For whatever that’s worth.

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