Congratulations, Congressman Duffy
You’re probably wondering how I could already have a post-mortem written on Wisconsin’s 7th U.S. Congressional District with the results not even all in. Well, a person could have written this a long time ago. That’s how easy it was to see this one coming and so that’s exactly what I did. (And no, I didn’t bother to write a blog piece for an alternative scenario. The chances of it being useful were simply too remote.)
Some will say that it’s not a Republican district and there is plenty of statistical evidence over the past 40 years to indicate that they’re right. But while the Republicans always cringed when anyone called it “Dave Obey’s seat,” that’s exactly what it was. And on May 5 of this year – nearly 10 months after Sean Duffy had begun his campaign to challenge for the seat – Dave Obey announced he would not seek re-election. That’s very late in the game for a November election and while some might say it put the Dems at a real disadvantage, it wouldn’t have mattered if they’d had an extra year. That’s the kind of night it was. Ask Russ Feingold. Ask Russ Decker.
When mid-term State Senator Julie Lassa announced her candidacy after a weekend meeting of Democratic leaders in Wausau, it didn’t play to universal cheers among the district Dems. When nomination papers were being passed around in June, I talked about how slowly the Lassa campaign was getting off the ground.
Early polls showed that this past summer, neither Duffy nor Lassa individually had a big advantage in name recognition. That began to change as things began to heat up and it wasn’t all just about advertising. As the summer wore on, I saw Duffy everywhere and Lassa almost nowhere, unless I deliberately went out looking. I understand that she campaigned hard, but all I’m saying is that when I keep seeing Sean and keep not seeing Julie, it’s telling me something. Sean Duffy might as well have been living in Wausau. He was picking the right events to show up at and meeting people non-stop. He was staffed with people who knew something about the people he was approaching.
I had several conversations with Sean Duffy during the course of the campaign. He knew who I was and he also knew that I probably wasn’t voting for him, but he still persisted. It’s important because most of the work that someone like me is doing with a Congressman is essentially non-partisan. Sean was coming to the people. It wasn’t just me that noticed this. Word was that the Lassa people were cranky about their numbers in Marathon County in October (and lord knows they’ve got to be cranky about them now.) But just what moves those numbers? In this case, it was a nationwide wave, but Sean Duffy also did what it took to take advantage of those conditions and he ran a great campaign.
While he was the usual non-factor throughout the process, I also think it was helpful to have an extremist like Dan Mielke running to the right of Sean Duffy. It not only gave Duffy a primary win, but it put his candidacy in a better context for voters. Having someone with REAL fringe views is something that can have value for a moderate in many situations (unless you’re in a state or district that is so red that those people can actually beat you.) If Duffy is seriously challenged from the right in 2012, that will be a pretty good indicator that a lot of people in the middle, where many general elections are decided, may see him as okay.
While it was inconvenient for Congressman Obey to announce his retirement so late in the game, I don’t fault him for it. First, he has done enough for this district since 1969 that I thought he could do any damn thing he wanted and I wish him a long, happy retirement. Secondly, take a look at the results of the Feingold-Johnson race. An incorruptible Rhodes Scholar with a stellar record and plenty of independence runs an impeccably clean operation for 18 years, visiting every county in the state every year. To come out with the kind of result he had against an essentially unknown candidate makes it pretty clear that Democrats were dragging anchor this year. Obey deserved to leave on his own terms and he did, as Chair of Appropriations. Regardless of his own re-election prospects, which were probably as good as Ron Kind’s, there was simply no reason to go back to minority purgatory at this stage of his career. I don’t blame him for reading the tea leaves on that prospect. This was a lot bigger than the 7th District.
Am I bitter about the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections? Not at all. The only thing certain is change and the pendulum is swinging a lot faster than it did years ago. Just look at what happened between 2008 and 2010. The 2010 midterm was more about voting against the direction that many see the country going in than anything else. There are no permanent or even long-term mandates on the horizon for anyone. Now that the election is over, the real work of leadership begins and we need our leaders to be successful. It is just as possible to overreach from the right as it is from the left and that’s important to remember. So congratulations, Congressman Duffy. I’ll probably be in touch.