John Nichols: How Hovde turned recall to his advantage

2012-06-13T04:45:00Z John Nichols: How Hovde turned recall to his advantageJOHN NICHOLS | The Capital Times | jnichols@madison.com madison.com

Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate will debate in Madison June 19, and it could be a critical moment for the campaign of Eric Hovde.

Hovde’s the local boy in this race, a Madisonian with roots that run deep on the east side — where my mom used to edit his dad when they both worked on the East High School newspaper.

But Hovde’s not running as an old-school Madison moderate of the Betty Smith or even the Scott Klug school.

Hovde’s running to the right. And the wealthy contender’s campaign is taking no prisoners in the process.

To a greater extent than any of the other major candidates in what has become an intense GOP contest, Hovde benefited from the gubernatorial recall fight, which was the primary focus of Republicans for the first five months of the year.

The recall contest sucked up all the political oxygen during a period when the Senate primary would otherwise have been the main focus of Republicans. That’s made it hard for the four leading contenders — former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former Congressman Mark Neumann, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and Hovde — but Hovde turned the circumstance to his advantage.

He made the smart move of buying ads that supported Gov. Scott Walker. And he made the even smarter move of using the ads to rip his most prominent rival: Thompson.

“The decisions Governor Walker had to make to put Wisconsin on sound financial footing were not easy, but they were right,” Hovde claimed. “Years of out-of-control spending and shortsighted policies by both parties — state government spending grew by 81 percent in the 1990s and 60 percent in the 2000s — left Wisconsin on the brink of an economic collapse.”

In the 2000s, for the most part, the governor was Democrat Jim Doyle. Through the entirety of the 1990s, however, Republican Thompson was in charge.

There may have been some hyperbole in Hovde’s ad. But these are hyperbolic times.

Labeling Thompson as a bigger spender than Doyle — and suggesting that Thompson’s policies were among those that “left Wisconsin on the brink of economic collapse” — did two things that are difficult in a crowded contest.

Hovde defined differences between the candidates, which he will no doubt try to sharpen in the June 19 debate. The event will start at 6:15 p.m. at Monona Terrace and is being sponsored by the Dane County Young Republicans.

And Hovde defined himself as a renegade contender who is willing to shake things up — even in his own party.

The GOP race is still a bit ill-defined at this point. Thompson and Neumann started out as the front-runners. But now that the race has moved out of the shadow of the recall, it will evolve quickly — the primary is barely two months away. And Hovde has positioned himself well to come up on the outside.

By leaping into the recall race in a savvy and slashing manner, he may have scored a few points for Walker. But he scored a lot more for himself. 

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com

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(7) Comments

  1. snow
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    snow - June 15, 2012 3:21 pm
    Not sure what Nichols is really trying to say.

    He faild to mention that Maple Bluff goes to East High School, so you think there may be a few extremely conservatvies there?

    He also failed to mention Mr Hovde spent the past 24 years in Washington DC and is a hedge fund manager (think Berne Madoff) and purchased a multi million dollar home in Shorewood Hills this past fall. So, tell me what does he know about anything dealing with Wisconsin in the last 25 years? How does he relate with the middle or poor classes? What does he know about our school systems, our needs or wants?

    But he can cry about what Thompson did and wasn't even here when Thompson was in office. Sorry Hovde, Thompson at least has been involved in the state for the past 25 years including sleeping here, can't say that about you.
  2. Nefertiti
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    Nefertiti - June 15, 2012 2:17 pm
    What?? John Nichols is supporting Eric Hovde?? Hovde is "the local boy in this race"??? I can't believe the REAL John Nichols wrote this column. He must have been abducted by the body snatchers and replaced by an alien from Americans for Prosperity. Yes, Hovde grew up in Madison, but he's lived his ENTIRE adlt life in Washington. Hovde is both a carpetbagger and a staunch right-wing ideologue. I find it impossible to believe that the REAL John Nichols would call him "savvy"! Ed Schultz, please beware!
  3. uwjeff
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    uwjeff - June 14, 2012 11:13 am
    So level with us aequlitas - how much do you get paid a week by the Koch Brothers ?? There's no way you're a true Progressive with any ounce of compassion for others or openess to 'listen' to other's view points - you do a great job of turning off anyone who reads your posts except for maybe the 1% of the wacko left --- so you must be a plant here to turn off anyone remotely open minded enough to consider both sides of an issue and any true independent. I'd be curious to how much you get paid for this as it's very effective in keeping up 'to an extreme' the portrayal many have of the classic extremely partisan and polarizing Madison based Liberal Progressive. Seriously -- you'd make for a great character (as a caricature of a Madison liberal) on SNL or the Jon Stewart Comedy Central show.
  4. JBANK
    Report Abuse
    JBANK - June 13, 2012 6:37 pm
    Hmmmm....JN writing something that doesn't involve fire, locusts or damnation about a Repub. What's up John? Trying to get the first interview with the junior Senator from WI?
  5. snootyelites
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    snootyelites - June 13, 2012 12:23 pm
    In other words Tammy Baldwin is a liberal opportunist! Mega Dittos!
  6. KamFung asChin Ho
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    KamFung asChin Ho - June 13, 2012 12:20 pm
    Are you feeling ok John? You actually just dedicated a whole column to a right wing republican without tearing him to shreds? Did he used to beat you up back at East?
  7. Clyde
    Report Abuse
    Clyde - June 13, 2012 10:41 am
    An alternate headline could read..... "How Tammy Baldwin's Low Public Profile During the Recall Effort Might Work for Her Advantage". And it might.

    Tammy stayed about as far away from the recall election as Obama did. Clearly it wouldn't be very difficult to figure out what side she's on, but she never really hitched her wagon to the unions in an up front public kind of way as many others have.
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