After a bitterly fought Democratic primary in Madison, the candidates running to represent Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional District are by comparison downright chummy.
State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, who was the target of a series of negative ads by his main primary opponent, state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, said those attacks — especially criticism over reaching across the aisle to try to work with Republicans — have actually helped him in the general election. And he clearly is in no hurry to get into any mudslinging before the Nov. 6 general election.
"We haven't at all gone into negative mode," Pocan said. "It's been a really positive campaign."
His Republican opponent, Chad Lee, agreed.
"People are just tired of the bickering," Lee said. "It's refreshing."
There would be little advantage for either man to start launching nasty attacks in the race, as Pocan is a heavy favorite to win the overwhelmingly liberal district, made even more Democratic by Wisconsin's recent redistricting. The 2nd Congressional District has been in Democratic control since U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin won it in 1998. Lee lost to Baldwin by a 62-38 margin in 2010.
Baldwin's decision to run for U.S. Senate has left the seat open, but many assume Pocan will step in as her successor.
"Pocan is almost seen as the incumbent," said UW-La Crosse political science professor Joe Heim. "He came out strong out of the primary."
Heim said Pocan's years of leadership in the state Assembly, where he is widely viewed as a chief strategist for Democrats in the Legislature, has helped him build name recognition and respect in Madison.
Differences on health care, more
Pocan, a 48-year-old small business owner who has served in the state Legislature for 14 years, holds political views far closer to Baldwin's than his challenger.
Pocan supports the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature health care reform law, while Lee says lawmakers should "tackle tort reform" to help reduce the cost of health care. At a forum in DeForest last week, Lee said the health care law adds taxes the country can't afford.
But he told the State Journal in a recent interview that he supports some aspects of the Affordable Care Act, saying, "I think it's good to take care of people with preexisting conditions."
Lee, a 29-year-old former small business owner and vice president of a technology start-up he says will be "the next generation of Google," said that instead of one broad health care measure, there should be specific pieces of legislation that address issues like tort reform, purchasing insurance across state lines, and workers being able to keep insurance plans when they change jobs.
Pocan says Medicare and Social Security need to protected. Lee argues both programs are at risk of insolvency in the long run and need changes. Lee pointed to Galveston, Texas, where county employees pulled out of the Social Security system in the 1980s and have controlled their private retirement plans with a couple of other counties as an example. But he said he doesn't want to privatize social security.
Lee has said options include increasing the age of eligibility for enrollment in Medicare and Social Security for those under the age of 55, or changing Medicare into a voucher program, which is essentially the plan crafted by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville, the Republican vice presidential candidate.
Both candidates say their focus is on jobs and the economy.
If elected Pocan wants to address the so-called "fiscal cliff," year-end tax hikes and spending cuts that could jolt the U.S. economy. His campaign added that negotiations over the fiscal cliff are expected to extend into the coming year, leaving the next Congress to deal with them.
Lee also said his priority would be fiscal issues.
"The first thing I think we need to do is pass a budget," he said.