Tommy Thompson’s new pal, Steve Kagen

“I look forward to meeting with Tommy and debating whatever differences he and I may have,” says former 8th District Democratic Congressman Steve Kagen of former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson in the closing line of a news release yesterday titled “Dr. Steve Kagen and Tommy Thompson agree.”

Sounding like a candidate for Senate himself, Kagen chided conservative Republicans and the Club for Growth, which has rolled out an anti-Thompson ad and may be backing Mark Neumann’s potential bid for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Herb Kohl at the end of his term. While that could be true, the Club for Growth is probably more about trying to derail moderate Tommy than they are concerned with backing Neumann, at least at the moment. They would be just as happy if they could run somebody even further off the fringe (if that’s possible.) Remember, that Ron Johnson fellow didn’t show up at all until April 2010 and by November, he was able to unseat Russ Feingold. A fast start out of the blocks is nice, but it’s nothing that having a few million to throw at a candidacy can’t make up for and Kagen has that going for him, too.

“Although the 2012 general election is fifteen months away, some Republicans are already attacking Tommy Thompson, even though he has not announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate,” says Kagen.

Kagen’s news release comes just days after what was described in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as a “stinging letter” from Jim Klauser to Mark Neumann. The characterization seems accurate. This from the August 23 column by Don Walker:

 “While I initially was encouraged by your gubernatorial campaign, I withdrew my support for your candidacy because you were trashing, actually lying, about Scott Walker’s record as county executive,” Klauser wrote.

“Now, you and your ally, a right-wing Washington D.C. political group is doing the same… trashing, lying, about Tommy Thompson’s record. I understand that several of your former employees are well placed at the “Club”. Evidentially they don’t understand any better than you do Ronald Reagan’s commandment.”

* * *

(Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” was actually coined by California GOP Chairman Gaylord Parkinson during Reagan’s 1966 gubernatorial campaign.)

Klauser was Secretary of the Department of Administration for a decade while Tommy Thompson was governor and he has never been known as a shrinking violet. His parting with Neumann during Neumann’s failed 2010 gubernatorial campaign was equally public.

As for Kagen, he used the recent Wisconsin recall campaigns very well, making the rounds for weeks among Democratic activists. Like many, he felt that Russ Feingold would make a run for either governor in a Walker recall or choose a run for Kohl’s seat. In talking with Kagen prior to the Holperin recall election, he saw a Feingold candidacy as prohibitive for him and he would not have engaged in a primary with him, so he was lobbying for Feingold to go after Walker. With Russ Feingold’s announcement last week that he would not be a candidate for anything in 2012, Kagen was more than ready to kick it up a notch.

Of course, there are other potential Democratic contenders, including U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of the 2nd District and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind in the 3rd District. There is an element of risk for either. Their districts are fairly safe for them. Baldwin has served in Congress since 1998. Kind was elected to the House in 1996 and if the redistricting plan already signed into law holds, his district will be even safer. Either would have to give up their situations for what is sure to be an expensive and bruising battle for the Senate in a statewide race. Both are said to be strongly considering running; especially T-Ball, with her powerful Madison base.

Kagen, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to lose by directly engaging the Republicans as he continues to test the waters for a statewide run. It should be no skin off anyone’s nose on his side of the partisan divide if he can throw a little gasoline on the already-burning blaze within the GOP. And while he lost his Congressional seat in the 2010 Republican tsunami, that was then and this is now.

One would have to believe that in the fight for the right, Thompson has to be a little chagrined at Kagen’s generous defense, but it’s a brilliant little piece of theater for Kagen to run up and look like he’s willing to hold hands with Tommy. With CFG already trying to position Tommy with Obama, it leverages Kagen’s opportunistic play to go ahead and pose in that picture. This may be a purple state, but the GOP isn’t a purple party. The further to the right the Republican candidate ends up having to go to get through a GOP primary, the sharper the contrast Kagen or any Democrat will be able to draw. And as for Neumann, well, he lost in 2010, too — reason enough for Kagan to prefer him as an opponent.

So maybe it means something for Klauser to be roughing up Neumann on Thompson’s behalf, but that’s also just the way it seems to be between Neumann and some of the old guard in Wisconsin’s GOP. I’ll believe Tommy’s actually running when Bill McCoshen is willing to stick his neck out one more time, after investing a lot of credibility in a Thompson Senate candidacy last year that ended up never happening. Kagen, on the other hand, may already be making his move.


Steve Kagen’s press release:

War of words breaks out between Thompson and Neumann, CFG: 

UPDATE: Neumann announces U.S. Senate bid:


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