US Senate race: Fox Valley will be key to victory in November

2012-08-16T07:00:00Z 2012-08-28T19:38:57Z US Senate race: Fox Valley will be key to victory in NovemberCLAY BARBOUR | Wisconsin State Journal | cbarbour@madison.com | 608-252-6129 madison.com

The day after officially becoming the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, Tammy Baldwin jumped in a car and headed to Appleton where she planned to discuss the economy and how trade deals were costing America jobs.

It may seem an odd message for a candidate usually tarred with the mantle, "Madison Liberal," but it is an approach tailor-made for a portion of the state wrestling with job losses and the gnawing fear that Washington, D.C., has forgotten how to solve problems.

Baldwin, a 14-year veteran of the U.S. House of Representatives, plans to spend a lot of time in the region over the coming weeks. That's because her best chance at statewide office requires she do well along a stretch of Wisconsin that runs through the Fox Valley and turns west toward the Minnesota border.

It's a section of the state that helped deliver victory to Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in 2004 — and helped snatch it from his hands in 2010.

"We must remain competitive in that area to get to 51 percent," said John Kraus, Baldwin spokesman. "And we feel confident that we'll accomplish that."

Name recognition

On Tuesday, the race to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl became official. From now until November, it's Baldwin versus former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Thompson, 70, has never lost a statewide race. He beat out three competitors for the chance to face Baldwin and is so well known he could run on his first name alone.

Baldwin, 50, is popular in her home district but relatively unknown elsewhere. Though she won re-election easily in 2010, she carried only three of the six counties in her district outside of Dane. To beat an icon like Thompson she will have to overcome her lack of name recognition, as well as the traditional stigma attached to politicians from one of the state's urban centers.

"She's going to have to convince people in the rural areas that she is not an extreme Madison liberal who thinks the answer is more government," said Matt Batzel, Wisconsin Executive Director for American Majority, an organization that specializes in getting conservatives elected across the state. "More government will not sell in most areas of the state."

On Tuesday, the central part of the state voted overwhelmingly for Republican candidates Eric Hovde and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, both of whom were considered more conservative than Thompson. Representatives from Thompson's campaign did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment.

In 2004, Feingold won 54 of the state's 72 counties. And while he won Dane and Milwaukee counties by large margins, the 18-year senator also carried other important counties in this area like Brown, Chippewa, Eau Claire, Outagamie and Marathon. Six years later Feingold lost those counties, and the race, to millionaire Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson.

"Winning here is key to winning Wisconsin, for the Senate race and the presidential," said David Littig, UW-Green Bay political scientist and professor emeritus. "It can be more conservative, but it does swing. Obama won here in 2008."

Littig said Gov. Scott Walker recognized the area's importance so much that he practically moved there during his fight against the recall in June.

"And it seems like Baldwin is doing the same thing," he said. "But she will have to work hard, because she will have an uphill fight in this region."

Electing liberals

Scott Spector, Wisconsin Progress executive director, spends most of his days trying to get progressives elected across the state. It's his job to find, train and advise liberal candidates. So, he is acutely aware of the challenges.

"Democrats have a real problem reaching out-state, middle-class white voters," he said "These are people losing jobs, and if you want them to listen to you, to follow you, you need to have an answer for them."

So far, that has been the main thrust of the Baldwin campaign; rebuilding infrastructure, strengthening the country's manufacturing base, and reducing the tax burden on small businesses.

"To get through the primary, Tommy had to double down on tea party extremism," Kraus said. "He will have to own that as he tries to put his party back together. Meanwhile we have been traveling the state, talking about jobs and building support."

But even those who think Baldwin has a chance to pull an upset acknowledge she would have to out-perform expectations in many parts of the state.

"She doesn't have to win in all of them, but she has to lose by so little that it would end up a net gain," said Charles Franklin, Marquette Law School political science professor.

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(2) Comments

  1. PennyWise
    Report Abuse
    PennyWise - August 16, 2012 8:59 am
    TLDR: Baldwin is a liberal and therefor won't get elected.

    I did make it to your last lines. Obama is the rich and the Republicans are the good guys who should get this guy out of office in the worst way possible.

    Words don't describe your explanation. You support a guy who's ultra rich with no economic plan and another (VP candidate) that was never worked a day in his life but wants the poor to suffer so he can make the conservatives happy?

    No middle road for you and your diatribe, is there. Thanks for making the country what it is today.
  2. Arnold Harris
    Report Abuse
    Arnold Harris - August 16, 2012 8:22 am
    With Governor Tommy Thompson's victory over Hovde in the Aug 14 2012 Republican Party Primary Election for the US Senate seat being vacated by retiring Herb Kohl, "significant underdog" well describes CongresswomanTammy Baldwin's electoral chances in the Nov 6 2012 general election.

    Governor Mitt Romney's selection of Congressman Paul Ryan as vice presidential running mate may not necessarily boost his chances of beating an incumbent president, but it has in fact energized and consolidated the entire Republican Party base as few other vice presidential candidates could have effectuated.

    Congresswoman Baldwin, a relatively mild-mannered public official, made few enemies during her years representing the Wisconsin 2nd Congressional District in Washington. It was relatively easy for the Democrats to get an overt homosexual elected to Congress in Dane County. The same will hold true for Mark Pocan.
     
    But that will not save her from what is likely to come in this election. If the Marquette University Law School polls indicate a close race between Thompson and Baldwin, people with no connection whatsoever to the Republican Party campaign will turn this election into a popularity contest between overt homosexuality on one side vs heterosexuality on the other side.

    That is the kind of admittedly-ugly campaigning that no homosexual ever is likely to win against other than in cities such as Madison, La Crosse and some neighborhoods in Milwaukee. But on a statewide basis in Wisconsin, where Governor Walker beat the most heavily-fought recall campaign in this state's history, and where Justice Prosser kept his seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court? I seriously doubt that is possible. The temper of the outstate electorate has changed in Wisconsin, and it has changed rightward.

    The plain fact is, Congresswoman Baldwin would have been better advised to keep what could have been hers for a working lifetime, a safe and more or less totally protected seat in the Congress of the United States. Instead, with eyes wide open, she released the tame bird in her hand to chase a wild raven through the upper branches of a tall tree.

    Republicans are well aware that beating President Barack Hussein Obama Jr is indeed a long-shot. But keeping control of the US House of Representatives and gaining control of the US Senate is eminently achievable. The accomplishment of just that effectively would render Obama's second term one long, agonizing lame duck session with nothing accomplished or even possible so long as Obama should remain in office. In order to achieve just such a set-up as I have described here, the Republicans would be fools not to take advantage of any and all political ammunition available to them.

    Moreover, with the power of control over the entire US Congress in their hands, and the proclivity of Obama to use measures of questionable constitutionality to get around congressional oversight, the Republican leadership could potentially build a winning case for removal of the president by impeachment. What Republican congresses could not fully achieve against Andrew Johnson in 1868 and William Jefferson Clinton 130 years later, could in fact succeed against Obama.

    As most people understand, attracts the mean, the nasty, the ruthless, the power-hungry, and the rich. So don't even think of acting surprised, if an when all the above unfolds
    .
    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI

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