Nathan Sass

Evaluating the WI GOP Senate Field

In 2012 Elections, Eric Hovde, Jeff Fitzgerald, Mark Neumann, Politics, Tommy Thompson on June 12, 2012 at 6:00 AM

For me, choosing one candidate from the field of 4 vying for the GOP slot in the November US Senate election in Wisconsin is pretty tough.  Normally, WI Republicans are lucky to have one real conservative to back.  This time we have 4 legitimate conservative options to pick from.

It feels a bit like being forced to choose your “favorite” child.  You love them all, in different ways and for different reasons, but you cannot put one above the others because you love each of them with all of your heart.

Never the less, we are forced to choose.  So who, and how, are we supposed to pick one over the others?

Let me take a crack at it, and see if you agree with my analysis.  (The following is in no specific order.)

Tommy Thompson

Where would Wisconsin be without the beloved Governor Tommy Thompson?  He was conservative in Wisconsin when it was just starting to become cool to be conservative.  He is as iconic in Wisconsin politics as Ronald Reagan is in US politics.

Tommy is the quintessential old-style politician.  He seems to know everyone, and remembers them by name, no matter what small town or big city he is in.  His smile is infectious, as is his pleasant demeanor.

This experience, familiarity, and likability makes Tommy probably the best positioned to win against Tammy Baldwin, which is a very important quality.

On the issues, he is a conservative, but not in a pure Tea Party 2012 sense.  He is the kind of conservative that was around in the 1990’s who were not generally philosophically opposed to government spending, especially the large price tag kind.

Tommy’s reform of Welfare was a great example of the kind of conservatism he believes in.  W2 did not strictly limit the spending on welfare, but imposed responsibility requirements into the program.  It appears that those well-intentioned reforms were not nearly strong enough, and we still see generations of families dependent on the state for the sustenance.

That said, my biggest issue with Tommy is not his stance on issues, it is 2018.  As in, will he even be around in 2018?  He is at best a one term option, and right now we cannot send someone to Washington who is not able to stay as long as necessary to fix what is wrong there.

It is also important to remember that Tommy will not likely be as fearful of the voters, and may go all John McCain on us once he gets to D.C.

Jeff Fitzgerald

Jeff Fitzgerald is the David in this race of Goliaths.  He is the current Speaker of the State Assembly, and the brother of the former (and soon to be again) State Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Jeff comes from a political family very familiar with Wisconsin politics.  Jeff has proven he has learned these lessons well while serving as the Speaker during the Act 10 passage and subsequent controversy.  His ability to hold his coalition together even in the heat of the recall efforts was remarkable.

Fitzgerald also appears to be every bit as conservative as Scott Walker or Ron Johnson.  His position on the issues is right in line with the Tea Party crowd, and he would be a very fine addition to the US Senate given his experience fixing what was broken in Wisconsin.

But that effort is a double-edged sword.  Because he was the Speaker during Act 10’s passage, he would be a very juicy target for the left and national democratic groups should he face off with Baldwin.  She likely will not need much help raising money, but if Fitzgerald is her opponent, you can be certain she will not.

That underscores the other issue Fitzgerald has to overcome – his lack of funds and fears he cannot compete with a well funded Baldwin.  This is a real concern and should not be dismissed.

Eric Hovde

Eric Hovde is a newcomer to Wisconsin politics, having spent his entire life outside government, and a significant portion of it outside Wisconsin.

Hovde is the owner of multiple community banks, the smaller more locally focused financial institutions.  This has allowed him to be fully exposed to the wreck that is government regulation of the financial sector and more importantly the unfair advantage the big banks have with government.

Money buys favors in Washington and Hovde has seen Wall Street do that first hand, and loathes it to his core.

Hovde has patterned himself somewhat after Ron Johnson. (Perhaps too much so if you ask Mark Belling, who regularly complains about Hovde’s ads being straight “ripoffs” – his words not mine – of Johnson’s in 2010.)

Hovde’s appeal is that he is NOT a government lifer, and has only decided to get involved after watching government and politicians make a mess of things in the financial sector.  Similar to Johnson’s witness to Obamacare’s disastrous outcome, Hovde watched as TARP and bailout after bailout was dumped in the laps of Wall Street.  This finally spurred him to do more that yell at the TV, and he decided the Senate was a good place to start.

Hovde’s lack of experience is also a potential danger, too.  While Johnson was able to avoid any serious mistakes and beat Russ Feingold, there is no guarantee that Hovde can pull off the same trick.  It is possible that he will do what “normal” people do, which sometimes translates poorly into the political world.

One big mistake could cost the GOP a valuable US Senate seat, and that may be enough to stay away from Hovde.

Mark Neumann

Mark Neumann is no stranger to Wisconsin political observers, and perhaps most voters.  Neumann was beaten by Scott Walker in 2010 in the GOP gubernatorial primaries.  Before that he ran for US Senate, and served in the US House.

Neumann is a successful businessman, and part-time political type.  He is also a strong fiscal hawk.

His finest moment in politics may be when he took on his own party in Washington over spending and won.  It was Neumann’s efforts specifically that likely led to the balanced budgets in the 1990’s under Gingrich and Clinton.  He was a constant thorn in the free spender’s sides and would not just go away.

However, Neumann’s tenacity is not always focused in the right places.  He is now as famous for relentless and vicious attacks against Walker in the run for governor in 2010.  He said some very rough things, and broke Reagan’s “11th Commandment” – Do Not Speak Ill of Thy Fellow Republicans.

Neumann would be a tough sell for some voters still enjoying the afterglow of Walker’s huge win in the recall elections.  In fact, the ill will may be enough to keep those voters home against Baldwin.  If not at home on election day, you can bet that they will stay home over volunteering at victory centers before the election.

Can we really have a candidate that may just “un-inspire” our base when we need them the most in November?

So who to pick?

For me, the best option is Eric Hovde.

Hovde brings to the table the best combination of personal experience in the private sector, conservative positions on the issues, youth and energy, Tea Party ethos, and financial backing.

Hovde could be the most powerful voice in Washington against corporate welfare, bailouts and financial over-regulation.  He could be a household name in short order, and perhaps may be able to steal the argument against Wall Street excesses away from the Occupy crowd and move it in the right direction toward free market capitalistic principles and away from the socialism so loved by Occupy and the left.

Hovde may make a mistake or two in the campaign, but that is a risk worth taking.

For me, it’s Hovde in August, and any of these 4 fine men in November.

May the best man win.

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  1. Nathan, They all have their warts. Your conclusion avoids the hard questions:
    -How does Hovde who spent an entire working career dealing with East Coast RINOS money avoid being beholden to those same interests that made him wealthy?
    -How does Hovde explain away that while he gave hundreds in campaign contributions to Dem Jim Doyle he never gave a penny to Ron Johnson, the man he supposedly models himself after.
    -How does Hovde explain that he only recently (Feb this year) registered to vote in WI elections.
    It is all about the unknowns with Hovde as it was with Obama. For my State and Country, I’ll stick with the known proven FISCAL HAWK -MARK NEUMANN!

    • “How does Hovde who spent an entire working career dealing with East Coast RINOS money avoid being beholden to those same interests that made him wealthy?”
      So you are either advocating guilt by association or decrying his becoming wealthy? Not sure what the issue is here, but I would submit that a man of means is less likely to be influenced by big money interests than a man of more limited means.

      “How does Hovde explain away that while he gave hundreds in campaign contributions to Dem Jim Doyle he never gave a penny to Ron Johnson, the man he supposedly models himself after.”
      Hovde never claimed to be patterning himself after Johnson, those were my words and thoughts. He gave a single donation to Doyle of $500, which is not entirely unusual for a businessman in his circumstances. There is no pattern, and those who point it out are petty and childish, IMO.

      “How does Hovde explain that he only recently (Feb this year) registered to vote in WI elections.”
      Uh, he lived in VA, not WI. Are you saying he should have voted in WI illegally to make you happy? He is from WI, and has business interests here and on the east coast. He chose to live on the east coast to manage his affairs. Are you now saying that only a person who only lived in WI is qualified to run for Senate? In that case, Ron Johnson is out since he is from MN, Tommy Thompson is out since he lived in DC for a while, and Neumann is as well, since he did while a Congressman.

      “I’ll stick with the known proven FISCAL HAWK -MARK NEUMANN!”
      That is your choice, and I will not argue Neumann’s hawk stance on spending. I will point out that he has run for every office in the state (so it seems) and last time around tried to personally destroy a good and decent man (Scott Walker) for personal gain. He seems far more interested in “being a Senator/Congressman/Governor/Fill-in-the-blank” than he is in getting something done. He is the very epitome of the political class, except he hasn’t won many elections. I would have a lot more respect for him if he used his means and ability to start a Super PAC dedicated to promoting fiscal discipline.

  2. Tommy is the best problem solver we have ever had. He reacted differently to problems we had then and will take on the problems we have now. Hovde sounds great will take years to have any effect. Will he be a Ron Johnson, a Russ Darrow or a David Souter??
    Fitz is great, but no campaign ready.
    Neumann is great on numbers, but not so great on creating solutions to problems.
    Who will be the most likely to help solve SS, Medicare and rip up Obamacare??

    Who will go in there and make himself felt immediately? Yes and Tommy will live to be 150, I swear. Have known him for 40 years and cannot ever keep up with him, he is a maniac campaigner.
    Tommy has a reservoir of friends that love him and will come out to vote for him. if this was two way race it would be tight, but 4 way, Tommy by 5 lengths.

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