Why I'm Voting For Tommy
Let's not bury the lead. Next Tuesday, I'm going to be voting for Tommy Thompson in the Republican U.S. Senate Primary.
Let me be clear. I agree with Governor Walker that GOP voters in Wisconsin have "the best field of primary candidates in the country". I will have no problem supporting whichever of the candidates emerges victorious. I hope the three losing candidates - whoever they may be - continue to be involved in Wisconsin politics.
I also know all four candidates (some better than others) and personally like each one of them. I wish them all the best.
That said, my vote on Tuesday is going to Tommy.
First and foremost, I think Thompson will be the most electable candidate in November.
2006, 2008 and 2010 were each "wave" elections in Wisconsin. In 2006 and 2008, Democrats pretty much won everything there was to win (J.B. Van Hollen notwithstanding). Heck, Dawn Marie Sass even got elected State Treasurer! In 2010, the tide turned and Republicans were swept into office.
Unlike the last three elections, I believe 2012 will show a return to historic norms. In other words, I think that there is likely to be a lot of ticket splitting.
While I also think that Mitt Romney has a decent chance to carry Wisconsin, history tells us that the Republican Presidential nominee hasn't won Wisconsin since 1984. Coupled with the fact that Obama currently leads Romney in Wisconsin in most polls, Republicans must find a Senate candidate that can draw support from voters who also vote for Obama.
I see Thompson as that candidate because ... well, he's done it before. Four times in fact. Scott Walker notwithstanding, Tommy Thompson stands as the most successful Republican politician in Wisconsin in my lifetime. The margin of victory in his races - 7% in 1986, 16% in 1990, 36% in 1994 and 21% in 1998 - are unbelievable to this day.
I realize that 1998 was 14 years ago - but a lot of people who voted then are still voting in 2012. What's more, a many of those voters remember Thompson from his years as Governor and still like him. In most parts of the world, you say "Tommy" and people think of "The Who". In Wisconsin, "Tommy" means Thompson.
Some people argue that putative Democratic nominee Tammy Baldwin is such a flawed candidate that any Republican can beat her. Maybe - but maybe not. Baldwin will have Obama at the top of the ticket and the support of every liberal activist group in the country pushing to elect the "first" this or "first" that to the Senate from Wisconsin. In other words, I think the race will be close - and the GOP should take nothing for granted.
I've seen Tommy Thompson on the campaign trail first hand and I'm here to tell you, he's a force of nature. With the possible exception of Scott Walker, I don't think there's any other politician in Wisconsin who can go into any town in Wisconsin (large or small) and know every restaurant, hardware store and place of worship. Tommy not only knows them, he's been inside all of them and probably is on a first name basis with all the regulars.
I confess that when I first heard that Tommy was running, I wondered whether he still had "the fire in his belly". Having moderated a candidate debate and interviewed his for my radio show, there's no question in my mind that Tommy is just as engaged as he was in 1994. A little more grey hair perhaps - but just as engaged!
During the campaign, I've heard a lot of talk about which candidate is "the most conservative". Frankly, with this field, we're really talking about angels dancing on the heads of pins. All four candidates are solid conservatives.
That said, I respect Thompson's track record for innovation. I remember when Wisconsin was a welfare magnet. I remember the days before school choice when inner city kids were completely trapped in failing schools. If all states had programs like Badger Care, there probably would have been no political will for the train wreck that is Obama Care. Thompson deserves a lot of credit for these reforms.
Take the strength of the field, add in a mid-August election and then mix it all with some political fatigue - and you have a Primary race that is completely up for grabs. I really have no idea who is going to win this thing.
I do know though that on Tuesday morning, I'll be voting for Tommy Thompson.