In The News
Plale’s loss to Larson and Walker’s tactics may expose the price of being an attack dog
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
A major upset on the Democrat side, some major fissures on the Republican side and that stubborn Wisconsin independence in the primary. Perhaps Wisconsin voters can be stampeded by strident attacks on the radio, outside ad money and slick TV platitudes. But then again, in pockets on Sept. 14, maybe not. The price of attacking too hard may be measured not only in losing but in winning.
There was one major upset that rejected much of the negative ads, automated calls and floods of fliers. The upset undid a Democrat accused of playing footsie with the principles he once avowed. The Senate District 7 contest was the ugliest primary happening in the state, and that’s saying something. It brought up every dirty trick in the book -- radio and right-wing pundits making hay out of ancient brushes with the law, third party ads from voucher school advocates who were saying nothing about children. In fact, you had to cover the children’s ears from these attacks.
East Side and South Side, the district was turned off. Sixty-one to 39%, the more than 13,000 voters sent incumbent Jeff Plale packing, choosing personable county supervisor Chris Larson, who it turns out is neither as wildly liberal as he was painted but is definitely committed to clean energy and union jobs -- something Plale had once been elected on.
The GOP fissure was within the nomination to face Tom Barrett for governor, Barrett having a primary walk-through on the Democratic side and wisely saving his money for the big show Nov. 2. The GOP winner went so far to the dark side that he may face a larger price than just spending most of his money. He has to regain credibility within his own party.
After last minute hysterics and accusations against his opponent, followed by naked pleading from his radio host supporters for voters to stay on the Republican side in this traditional straight ticket primary, County Executive Scott Walker won over Mark Neumann. It looked at the end like a comfortable victory, 58%-40% -- until you look inside these numbers and remember they reflect the diehard Republicans around the state.
County by county figures reveal that Walker ran even or behind in many of the rural counties. He badly needed that 73% to 77% of the vote in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, a statistical home turf advantage he will not enjoy Nov. 2.
To win this primary in the last month, after internal polls showed the race tightening, Walker unleashed his old demons, the "say anything to score points" debater and the “take no prisoners” extremist pitchman, aiming at his once dear friend Neumann. In doing so, he violated the so-called Reagan 11th Commandment (“Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican”). A number of traditional Republicans throughout the state, already skeptical of his managerial competence as the vote showed, will not soon forgive him. The 321,000 who voted for him on the GOP side must first face a massive 221,000 who didn’t. – and many who won’t.
The near upset came in the Milwaukee County sheriff’s race where David Clarke was on a seesaw throughout the night’s count with Milwaukee police lieutenant Chris Moews, a political unknown who ran a strong convincing race. Clarke finally pulled ahead with 53% of the vote, but in raw numbers only 30,539 votes to Moews’ 26,727.
Clarke has pretended to be a Democrat to be elected, but now he knows reality. The footsteps behind him are not going away, not with a mere 4,000 vote difference. So much for his plans to run for future office in Milwaukee County.
Another interesting signal of Democratic campaign thinking was in the lieutenant governor’s race, where the voters clearly determined that a veteran Fox Valley Democrat used to beating Republicans was a better fit on the state ballot for Barrett than a fellow Milwaukeean. So the voters, with two established liberals to choose from in a field of four, backed Tom Nelson over veteran state Sen. Spencer Coggs. It was a massive choice, 51%-21%.
The Republican side of the Lt. Gov. Face-off Nov. 2 brought a small slice of Sarah Palin when former TV commentator and avowed “real conservative” (meaning media wink-master) Rebecca Kleefisch topped the field of five with 45% of the vote. Her closest opponent, Brett Davis, with 26%, had counted on a last minute media blitz and robo-calls from Tommy Thompson (who still called himself “Governor” in those calls).
But Kleefisch won despite a TV ad that draws hoots of laughter wherever young voters gather -- you know the one in which she announces she’s a mom who would rather drive a minivan to Madison than support a more efficient train.
The other tea party echo was expected, since Ron Johnson’s money easily seduced the GOP into giving him its nomination and backing. The appeal is that he is a self-made cipher, a total unknown able to spend millions and hire the sort of political marketeers who can remake him into a TV personality. He is primed along with third-party admen to outspend incumbent Russ Feingold four to one in the campaign for US senate, hoping all the while the media doesn’t make him answer serious questions about governing.
Milwaukee area Assembly races were a mixed bag for organized labor. While Senate District 7 (connecting the East Side with South Side lakefront suburbs) was more than ready to change from Plale to Larson, change is much harder to sell in the southwest Assembly District 7. There labor had backed the energetic Scott Dettman, but came up 1,000 votes shy: 1,207 to 2.143 could not unseat longtime incumbent Peggy Krusik, who had worried many former backers with her recent votes and behavior. But Dettman came closer than expected for an unknown and will more than likely be back.
For unions, there was a surprisingly strong win in Assembly District 8 by community organizer JoCasta Zamarripa triumphing handily despite the four-color fliers (and whisper campaign) from former Ald. Angel Sanchez. A third candidate, Laura Manriquez, barely registered with the voters. The percentages were 53, 21 and 17. Zamarripa will take over for Pedro Colon as the lone Hispanic in the state Assembly.
The Coggs political name in Milwaukee may not have carried Spencer to the top in the statewide lieutenant governor’s race but it sure worked for county supervisor Elizabeth Coggs who dominated Assembly District 10 in the race to replace retiring Annette (Polly) Williams. (In all these state legislature races in Milwaukee, the Democrat has historically won the general election.) Coggs' reputation and campaigning deservedly carried the day with 67% of the vote.
That left as a far distant second (27% and perhaps an equally deserved loss), a candidate the Milwaukee Area Labor Council had first supported – until Stephanie Findley either foolishly, or playing both sides to win, took money and posed for the holy pictures of slick mailed brochures from a notorious D.C. based voucher foundation noted for meddling in local elections.
The misleadingly named American Federation for Children (AFC) is rolling in Action Fund money and networks, as every candidate should know, and Plale certainly knew when he called on them to help his Senate campaign.
To be clear, many union candidates accept voucher schools as a legal reality but they prefer public education and say so in labor interviews, as Findley did and won major union backing. But once she took AFC money she opened the door to their campaign literature that, without advance permission, pictured labor leaders known in the community – a move that has brought loud complaints against the shenanigans of this well-heeled voucher machine, and also rebounded to Findley’s detriment.
It’s worth noting that AFC spend some $50,000 to $100,000 by early expenditure records on many area races. It is also worth noting that their candidates lost every time. One of the more reprehensible mailers supporting Plale accused Larson of being a bad county supervisor and a fake champion of the worker. It was concocted by AFC. They provided help not just for Findley, who says she has returned their campaign contribution, but for Angel Sanchez in his race against Zamarripa, and for Michael Erdmann in his race against District 17’s Rep. Barbara Toles. She swamped him with 84% of the vote.