Dem primary to replace Rep. Baldwin gets nasty

2012-07-19T06:45:00Z 2012-08-28T19:39:00Z Dem primary to replace Rep. Baldwin gets nastyCLAY BARBOUR | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6129

The race to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin has turned into a nasty fight between legislative colleagues, one championing experience and pragmatism, the other touting passion and exuberance.

When Baldwin announced in September her run for the U.S. Senate, eyes turned to 47-year-old state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison. The 14-year legislator seemed the obvious choice to fill her seat. He replaced Baldwin in the Assembly, was a top party strategist and engineered the Democrats' 2008 Assembly takeover.

So it was a surprise to some when, an hour before Pocan's press conference announcing his candidacy, state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, sent out a statement entering the race. The 33-year-old was first elected to the Assembly in 2008 with Pocan's help, and was seen as a potential rising star. Still, many thought her too inexperienced to be a serious contender.

But in the past 10 months, the race for Baldwin's 2nd Congressional seat has turned into a fight over experience, approach and resolve.

On one side is Pocan, a liberal who argues that 19 years in politics taught him the value of working across the political aisle. On the other side is Roys, who said such thinking has allowed Republicans to push the country farther to the political right. Roys said she plans to be a "progressive beacon."

"Roys seems to be making a kind of Democratic tea party argument," said Mordecai Lee, UW-Milwaukee political science professor and former Democratic state lawmaker. "It will be interesting to see if that can overcome Pocan's establishment support."

Bomb thrower to deal maker

Pocan and Roys are the two biggest names in a field of four Democrats vying for the nomination. Also running are Matt Silverman, 30, a Madison lawyer and Dennis Hall, 63, a security consultant.

Silverman, who has raised just $16,900 through June 30, knows he is facing an uphill fight. He has tried to battle this through some unconventional campaigning. Last month he walked across the entire district, trying to meet people and get some name recognition. The trip was more than 500 miles long, crossing 60 communities, and took Silverman 30 days to complete.

Hall, who said he raised a little more than $11,000, though the Federal Election Commission shows no reports from him, has some political experience. He was a member of the Janesville City Council in the late 1970s and served as its president in 1980.

The winner in the traditionally Democratic district will face the lone Republican in the field, Chad Lee, a 29-year-old businessman who ran against Baldwin in 2010 and lost by a wide margin.

Since entering the race, Pocan has collected endorsements and money in equal measure, raising more than $724,000 through the end of March and landing the endorsements of 26 unions, two former governors (Govs. Tony Earl and Jim Doyle), nine state legislators and five current and former Madison mayors.

It's an interesting change for the one-time backbencher who was originally known more for throwing bombs than making deals.

The GOP was in control of the Assembly when Pocan was first elected in 1998. The young lawmaker quickly developed a reputation for his quick wit and sharp tongue.

"John Gard can't spell 'university' ... let alone fund it," Pocan said in 2005 of the then-Assembly speaker, a Republican from Peshtigo.

In 2007, he jokingly questioned whether state Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, was a female impersonator after a woman reportedly tried to use Suder's credit card in a gay bar. A few months later Pocan was paired with Suder to craft a compromise on electronic tracking of sex offenders. Turns out the two men worked well together.

"There are those who scream and holler and put out a news release, and there are those who get things done," he said in a recent interview. "I decided I wanted to be the kind that gets things done."

Though he may no longer lob political missiles, Pocan remains fiercely partisan, and doesn't hesitate to direct stinging rhetoric toward GOP opponents.

In March 2008, he took over as chief strategist for the Assembly Democrats and helped the party win a 52-46 margin in the Assembly — its first majority in 14 years. The party lost its majority two years later, but still his fellow Democrats laud him for his political acumen.

"The thing about Mark is not only has he had service, but he has had years of good service," said Corkey Custer, a member of the Dane County Democratic Party executive board and longtime party advocate.

Not as green as young

Roys has heard all of the talk of experience. She doesn't buy it. She points out that she is already older than U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan when he was first elected, and only a few years younger than Baldwin was when she went to Washington, D.C.

"What matters to voters is whether you stand up for them," she said in an interview, echoing the sentiments of her recent campaign commercial, which seems to question Pocan's integrity.

Roys won't acknowledge the ad questions his integrity, but says in the 30-second clip, "Here's the kind of experience I don't have. I don't cave in when things get tough, and I don't make back-room deals."

Roys has hammered Pocan for taking PAC donations, essentially threw a clean campaign pledge back in his face and criticized his support for a pair of Gov. Scott Walker's economic development bills.

She said Pocan and the others missed a valuable moment to make a stand on those bills. She said this is becoming a trend with some in the party.

"Too long, a lot of Democrats have employed a play-it-safe strategy," she said.

She also tried to link Pocan to Republican power brokers Koch Industries.

Pocan had a fundraiser at the offices of Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti, a large Washington, D.C., law firm that represents dozens of corporations, including Koch. The firm also represents politicians on both sides of the political aisle.

"This was a Democratic event hosted by former Democratic staffers and other contributors with nothing to do with Koch Industries," said Dan McNally, Pocan's campaign manager.

McNally also pointed out that the event under scrutiny has hosted Democratic heavyweights Cindy Brown, former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, and Will Stone, former chief of staff for retired U.S. Rep. Dave Obey.

Crossing the line?

Roys' message has its appeal among some members of the party. She has raised more than $392,000 and has received the endorsements of five national women's organizations, three state legislators and two former Department of Natural Resources secretaries.

But some party advocates say she must tread lightly. It's one thing to fight hard during a campaign. The problem comes when the jabs cross the line.

Ron Biendseil, vice chairman of the Dane County Democratic Party, said that when he talks to people in the party, most seem happy with both candidates.

"People have their favorites, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of animosity one way or the other," he said. "I think as long as both of them fight fair, most people will be happy with either candidate."

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(34) Comments

  1. Tpartywarrior
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    Tpartywarrior - July 25, 2012 6:47 pm
    Who cares, it's only Madison....30 square miles surrounded by reality.
  2. Report Abuse
    - July 24, 2012 5:17 pm
    I don't feel she knows that at ALL
  3. Report Abuse
    - July 24, 2012 5:14 pm
    They are both horrible but roys is just plain scary. It's like she feels she has to out "libera"l Pocan to prove she will serve the far left more feverishly.
    Report Abuse
    GOOD DOG HAPPY MAN - July 24, 2012 3:18 pm
    Why are Demonrats so mean and nasty?

    Why won't they compromise?

    Why all the hatin', Satan?

    Ronald Reagan was right, though when he said, "It is not like democrats are stupid, they just know so much that isn't true."

    No wonder everyone including many Reagan Democrats loved this man!

  5. klp
    Report Abuse
    klp - July 24, 2012 10:29 am
    I honestly question Pocan's ability to represent all members of this district. I'm currently one of Pocan's constituents and I've been unable to get responses from either him or his staff. Pocan talks a good game about working with people on the other side of the aisle, but in reality he doesn't appear to be able to accept criticism, dissent or any opinions other than his own. I don't think he's mature enough to represent everyone. I think he'd be an excellent representative for the Democratic Party, but that's not the job description.

    I frequently disagree with Tammy Baldwin on the issues, but at least I've found her responsive and open to communication about my concerns. The same can't be said for Pocan.
  6. TheIndependent
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    TheIndependent - July 23, 2012 4:52 pm
    If you think special interest money is the number one issue then why are you voting for someone who takes special interest money? Silverman and Hall are the only candidates not taking any PAC money in this race.
  7. FiveHole
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    FiveHole - July 22, 2012 3:24 pm
    "I don't cave in when things get tough"

    Women who don't support aborting children in less than ideal circumstances are those who don't cave when things get tough.

    Roy not only caves herself, she enables those who cave.

  8. jhuxley1
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    jhuxley1 - July 20, 2012 6:43 pm
    Interesting comparisons all around. Fey is correct, I think prostitution and politics are two areas were new is often better. I dont have experience with the prostitutes, but I have had enough of being treated like a John from our politicians. ;)

    Lets give the newbies a try.
  9. jhuxley1
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    jhuxley1 - July 20, 2012 6:36 pm
    I agree. It isn't important where someone was born. Silvrman and Hall are both veterans which tells me that they are willing to look at the bigger picture regardless of what it might mean to themselves. Perhaps I am biased because I was in the military as well, but recognize the differences between politicians that have served their country in combat and those who have not. Contrary to popular belief, the ones that have actually been in the line of fire tend to have a greater respect for life and a deeper desire for peace. They both have an interesting and diverse background. I will look at both Hall and Silverman. Personally, the others do not interest me much.
  10. Neaners
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    Neaners - July 20, 2012 8:19 am
    To all of you who think a "career politician" is a bad thing, I offer the wisdom of Tina Fey:

    “Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience is considered a virtue. In what other profession would you brag about not knowing stuff? ‘I’m not one of those fancy Harvard heart surgeons. I’m just an unlicensed plumber with a dream and I’d like to cut your chest open.’ The crowd cheers.” (excerpt from Tina Fey's "Bossypants")
  11. Lionhear
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    Lionhear - July 20, 2012 7:17 am
    I hope she understands she wouldn't be elected just to represent women.
  12. Lionhear
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    Lionhear - July 20, 2012 7:12 am
    ditto Obama
  13. cnlcnlcnl
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    cnlcnlcnl - July 19, 2012 8:20 pm
    If this goes through, their websites:

  14. cnlcnlcnl
    Report Abuse
    cnlcnlcnl - July 19, 2012 8:17 pm
    I hate that this article focus so much on the crap. Pocan and Roys attacking each other is crap. There is no substance in this drama, but it sure helps get attention. And, with that attention, they beat out the substantive, non-negative candidates.

    Roys and Pocan are each one vying to be a vocal liberal ideologue. While I like that in some ways, it won't get anything done. Each side has their fighting dogs, but I'd rather my district have the guy with the best negotiating skills. That'll get you something.

    Check their websites, learn and vote. (I can't post links but use a search engine)
  15. cnlcnlcnl
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    cnlcnlcnl - July 19, 2012 8:09 pm
    Is that all you know is that silverman is an atty and Hall is WI-born? You have a chance to check their websites and learn more than that!
  16. Gambrinus
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    Gambrinus - July 19, 2012 2:57 pm
    Kelda Roys liberal credentials include:

    from Wikipedia: Roys attended New York University where she designed her own major in "politics, drama, and cultural studies" Completed University of Wisconsin Law School, focusing on civil rights and international law. After law school, she served for four years as the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. Roys has served on the boards of the Dane County Democratic Party, Sherman Neighborhood Association, ACLU of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Public Interest Law Foundation, and the State Bar of Wisconsin's Legal Services Committee, which aims to improve access to legal services for low-income people. She is an expert in women’s health policy.
  17. glenrusswood
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    glenrusswood - July 19, 2012 11:26 am
    Kelda Roys
    Pretty obvious reasons
    Just observe the competition(Wesconsin not known for their integeral politicians)
    maybe could take some pointers from Pacman or Donkey Kong or someone not having as much time on their hands
  18. earneson
    Report Abuse
    earneson - July 19, 2012 11:04 am
    Politicians make me chuckle too. That's why I agree we need to give some people a shot at the job who have not made a career out of "politics" (talk about a euphemism).

    I agree. No more fantasy characters like the ones from your child's game.
    Instead, let's replace them with people who actually work for a living! I think Hall is more believable than the rest.
  19. earneson
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    earneson - July 19, 2012 10:43 am
    Both Dennis Hall and Silvrmen seem to be a very interesting alternatives. Personally, I am sick and tired of professional politicians. I say kick them all out and bring in some real people (talk about a fantasy world)!

    And between the two mentioned, I’d trust Wisconsin-born Dennis Hall over an attorney.

  20. Lynne4300
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    Lynne4300 - July 19, 2012 9:33 am
    And Pocan does NOT "understand the limits of their position". Just because he has been in politics a good number of years, does not entitle him to the position.
  21. midwest1
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    midwest1 - July 19, 2012 9:06 am
    Being public employees their wages are reported every year in the JS Online. Earned in the US, banked in the US and spent in the US.
  22. midwest1
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    midwest1 - July 19, 2012 9:02 am
    What do you care Lynn? He's not you'd work with potty mouth or not.
  23. timbo
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    timbo - July 19, 2012 8:53 am
    In making your argument that Pocan is logical successor, you leave off that he is openly gay, as is Baldwin. Not PC? His bio says “Married to Phillip Frank.” But the adjective 'gay' appears nowhere in the article. Irrelevant? Maybe. But it adds to the Baldwin-Pocan Parallel. Now I’ve mentioned, so you don’t have to. Otherwise, fine analysis.
  24. Wis_taxpayer
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    Wis_taxpayer - July 19, 2012 8:51 am
    they will as soon as Romney does!
  25. JAFO
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    JAFO - July 19, 2012 8:28 am
    Pragmatic is a word that you obviously will never understand the definition of. It describes an individual who understands the limits of their position. It actually requires the ability to include critical thinking in one's thought process.
  26. 53703
    Report Abuse
    53703 - July 19, 2012 8:08 am
    How many times are you going to run the same story? Does your paper only get headlines if you play the fight as nasty? The candidates have a right to differentiate themselves. There have been no personal attacks in this race, only important distinctions, like how the campaigns are funded. I am voting for Roys, because I think special interest money is the number one issue in politics right now. Until we fix that, we cannot fix anything else. It doesn't matter what "side" you are on, the people no longer have the true voice in our democracy.
  27. Lynne4300
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    Lynne4300 - July 19, 2012 8:07 am
    More appropriate description...Pottymouth Pocan.
  28. JAFO
    Report Abuse
    JAFO - July 19, 2012 7:54 am
    Pocan is obviously the pragmatic candidate and understands the limits of his position. Rots seems to be just like the teabaggers.
  29. JAFO
    Report Abuse
    JAFO - July 19, 2012 7:52 am
    None of them have a gazillion dollars enabling them to have passed and use any tax loopholes.
  30. Big_Joe
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    Big_Joe - July 19, 2012 7:41 am
    Pocan has earned the right, but in the coming landslide I don't think either of them could prevail.
  31. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - July 19, 2012 7:11 am
    I play Dungeons and Dragons, which is a role-playing game, and each of the characters falls into a general character class: warrior, cleric, wizard, etc. One such class is thief. Of course, you never say out loud that that's what you do. You call yourself an "adventurer" or some other euphemism.
    One such character I played, Niles the Halfling, would arrive in a new town and announce to the local merchants that he was available, for hire, to look over their businesses with an experienced eye and provide them with advice on how they could protect themselves against burglars, shoplifters, counterfeiters, etc. Later, after having used the opportunity to case a place in detail, he'd come back at night and rob the place blind. HE called himself a "security consultant".
    Not sayin' that that's what Dennis Hall does with his spare time, but I had a good chuckle when I ran across that as his description of himself.
  32. Lynne4300
    Report Abuse
    Lynne4300 - July 19, 2012 7:08 am
    Have all the candidates shown their tax returns for the last 10 years?
  33. modotti
    Report Abuse
    modotti - July 19, 2012 6:46 am
    I would have no real problem with either as my rep, but Roys' ads (including one I just saw yesterday implying that Pocan didn't stand up during the anti-Walker fight?!?!) are pushing me to Pocan's side
  34. BananaSplitz
    Report Abuse
    BananaSplitz - July 19, 2012 6:43 am
    I am very impressed with Matt Silverman and intend to vote for him. I want someone who can work both sides of the aisle and bring some fresh enthusiasm to the game.

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