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Is The GOP Primary Over Before It Begins?

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on April 27, 2009

Even though not one of the major GOP candidates have formally announced that they are in the race for governor, it is already becoming a highly debated race, with a lot of jockeying for position between Scott Walker and Mark Neumann.

It all started years ago, when Walker was forced out of the primaries when he couldn’t gain enough traction to even get close to Mark Green. Walker started out shortly after that laying the groundwork to get an early jump on the 2010 elections so that he would have enough money to run a more effective campaign. Unfortunately for him, the most recent finance statements show that he has about a quarter of the money that Governor Jim Doyle has. And a lot of that money has come from only southeastern Wisconsin.

The race really picked up early last week when James Klauser wrote an open letter showing his support for Neumann. Klauser was one of Tommy Thompson’s main guys and is still considered to be a major player in WISGOP, especially when one is following the money.

Walker responded by issuing his own special announcement that he would be having a special announcement this coming Tuesday. Neumann then responded with confirming that he will run, and that he would be making his formal announcement some time between now and the fall.

Walker responded by filing his papers late on Friday afternoon, and then making his announcement via Twitter.

I will readily admit that I don’t care for Scott Walker’s type of leadership, or lack thereof. But even as I look at this past week as objectively as I can, it already doesn’t seem to bode well for Walker. I get the impression that he was caught off guard by the Klauser letter and the fervor it created. Walker was again knocked off stride in what he was hoping to be his big breakout week by Neumann’s understated confirmation of his intent to run, and then issued that Twitter announcement which made him look kind of desperate. While a number of bloggers and news sourced did mention it, it doesn’t seem like he was getting quite the draw he was hoping too.

Looking at where these two stack up against each other, one would have to admit that it appears that Neumann is already coming out with a distinct if somewhat small advantage.

The most important comparison would be money. Walker, who has been actively fundraising, doesn’t even have half a million dollars yet. While I have not seen any reports on Neumann’s war chest, he is a former U.S. Congressman and I would not be surprised if he still has a bundle in the bank. Add to that Klauser is well-known amongst the well-monied, and the fact that Neumann has considerable personal wealth, it is easy to believe that the money advantage goes to Neumann.

Other important factors are name recognition and location. As I said, Neumann is a former U.S. Congressman and came darn close to beating Senator Russ Feingold when they faced off a decade ago. Walker, who has done years of taxpayer-funded bike rides around the state, on the pretense of promoting Milwaukee County, still doesn’t have the same recognition. To make things worse for Walker, there are many people that live west of Waukesha County or north of Washington County that want as little to do with Milwaukee as possible. Even when Walker is able to get his name out there, he is often forgotten when it is also found out that he is from Milwaukee. Nuemann, who hails from Nashotah, doesn’t have that problem. Both advantages go to Nuemann.

The one are where Walker should outdo Neumann is activity. Walker has stayed in politics, supposedly doing the job of County Executive and making sure he does regular political showboating events to keep his name out there. Neumann dropped out of the public eye after losing to Feingold. But Neumann has been working behind the scenes to be sure, but probably not much that anyone in the general public could readily read off.

Unfortunately for Walker, where he should be shining, a recent poll, from a right wing group nonetheless, shows that Walker and Neumann are at a statistical tie when they were compared one on one against Doyle.

I think a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that Walker has been putting himself out there, but not always in a positive manner. He has had some serious blunders along the road and they have hurt his reputations. Some of these blunders include still not resolving the pension scandal (in fact he has made things worse); initially stating that he would refuse to take stimulus dollars, then applying for them, then twisting his stance so much that not even he knows what it is anymore; having almost all parts of the county, most notably the transit system and the infrastructure, going to rot directly due to his decisions; and having the state need to come in and take over the Income Maintenance program. I think more and more people will become disenfranchised with him when they realize that there taxes will go up due directly to his grandstanding and personal aspirations.

The final point is the overall package that each candidate presents. Walker has his one-plank platform regarding taxes. He has done a pretty good job of making people think he hasn’t raised their taxes, and perception is the reality all too often in politics. But outside of that, Walker doesn’t have a lot to fall back on. People will quickly grow bored with him when they ask him questions about equal rights for homosexuals, abortion, CCW or anything else and all he answers are no more taxes. I also can’t help but think that Walker did hurt himself a lot when he pulled out of the last primary against Green. People will remember that Walker was having problems with raising sufficient money and getting his message out there in an effective manner.

Neumann on the other hand, has been actively participating in private schools and in many of the conservative social values, including denying equal rights to gays, anti-abortion, etc. And as James Wigderson points out, Neumann also has a reputation for being tough on taxes when he was a congressman.

In summary, I would say Neumann offers to be a more attractive candidate to most of the GOP voters. On top of that, I also think that Neumann would have the better chance to beat Doyle in a general election. Even with how bad Doyle has been screwing up on some things, Walker has managed to make himself look worse.

And it should go without saying that this is still way too early to make any kind of guarantees about this race. Many strange things can and will occur between now and September 2010.

For other views, I would recommend Wigderson’s piece from above, as well as James Rowen, Cory Liebmann and Zach Wisnieski.

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