April 20, 2008

The Democrats' Dilemma: Picking an electable candidate

Paulette Garin, Mike Hebert, Marge Krupp, Jeff Thomas (l-r)

First Congressional District Democrats met in Franklin Sunday for their annual convention, and the elephant in the room -- who wasn't actually there, of course -- was U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI.

Speaker after speaker took up the cause, following the lead of 1st CD chairman Ray Rivera of Kenosha, who announced at the start, "I hope to be 100% behind the person taking on Paul Ryan. I hope we all can get behind an electable candidate."

A district chair who hopes to be behind the party's candidate? If that sounds somewhat strained... well, it is indicative of the dilemma the 1st District finds itself in: a surfeit of four candidates, but two of them ... well, to be blunt, two of them want to run without money. None, nada, zip. Against an incumbent with $1,623,394 cash on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission. There have been rumblings, conversations among Democrats wishing to convince those two candidates, who have run and lost before, to withdraw ... but there is nothing in the party's rules allowing any such action. For now, there is just the undercurrent of frustration, which occasionally makes it to the surface. And no official party support either.

In early April, Rivera sent a letter to district Democrats stating: "Without a significant political gaffe, it is difficult to beat an incumbent without the following: A: Fulltime candidate; B: Excellent staff; C: Exceptional fundraising capability; D: All of the above." Sunday he told those at the convention: "The number one challenge of the district is to find a candidate to run for Congress." The task is especially difficult, Rivera said, because the primary is Sept. 9, and "we can't do anything until the primary... and then it's just 60 days until the election. I think that stinks. The Congressional District, in my opinion, is a little hamstrung."

Keynote speaker State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, agreed, pointing out that there are just 79 days until July 8 -- the filing deadline to qualify for the primary, and 198 days until the election on Nov. 4. Still, he said, "Paul Ryan is a beatable member of Congress." Not that anyone thinks it will be easy. Racine County's Jeff Van Koningsveld said Ryan "is a giant ...we have to chop him down little by little. We need to tie him to this president, to this war, to Social Security, healthcare..."

The four announced candidates for the party's nomination were each given five minutes to address the delegates. Two of them discussed their positions; two appeared to be addressing Rivera's four points, above ... and sticking their tongues out at them.

Janesville surgeon Jeff Thomas, for example. Thomas, the party's unsuccessful nominee in 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006 said, "I'm going to stay in the race. I know some of you would like me to go home."

Mike Hebert of Kenosha -- who came in second to Thomas in 2006 -- was similarly unmoved by Rivera's criteria. "I'm a part-time candidate, not full-time." Nor, like Thomas, does he plan to raise any money. Hebert compares himself to former Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire (1957 to 1989), who famously ran for office by shaking hands. Hebert said he shook 10,000 hands last year, and he pointed out that the most Proxmire spent on a campaign was $175 -- "and that was for stamps to send unwanted contributions back."

Hebert heaped scorn on "this delusional administration" and said "it's very important that we get rid of Mr. Ryan, who uses cash as an intimidation tool."

The other two candidates for the nomination more closely fit Rivera's wishlist; one more than the other. Marge Krupp of Pleasant Prairie addressed the issue directly: "I quit my job over a year ago to run full-time. I have the fund-raising skills to beat Ryan. I have a full-time professional staff." Her latest FEC campaign report shows $74,376 raised, with $22,153 coming from herself; expenditures so far total $50,048, with $24,328 cash on hand and debts of $19,392. Krupp has said the race against Ryan will cost $2 million.

Krupp said Ryan's voting record has backed President Bush "94% of the time. He votes against Wisconsin's working men and women. Paul Ryan stands against affordable heath care." She said American citizens are under domestic surveillance as "tools meant to keep us safe are used against us. We're in the Iraq recession and few know it."

Paulette Garin of Kenosha had a similar message, outlining a campaign platform of universal healthcare, education, the environment and fiscal responsibility. "The GOP is trying to privatize unemployment insurance," she said. "One way or another, we must make sure every American has healthcare."

She pointed out that defense spending has increased 62% under Bush -- "and that's not including the Iraq war." Garin's campaign report shows $8,946 raised, with $2,724 from herself; expenditures so far total $6,612, with $2,334 cash on hand and no debt. Garin rejects a focus on campaign funds, however, noting, "if we base this campaign on dollars raised, we keep the Republican incumbent in office."

Needless to say, neither Thomas nor Hebert has filed any campaign finance report...

The next official step in the election begins June 1, when candidates may begin collecting signatures to support their candidacy. The necessary papers to gain inclusion in the primary must be filed by July 8; until then 1st District Democrats have four candidates, and none.
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ADDENDUM, 4/21/08: I just received the results of a questionnaire distributed after the Walworth County forum on Feb. 23, at which all four candidates spoke. The three dozen or so Democrats who filled out the form clearly divided the candidates into two tiers: Paulette Garin and Marge Krupp on top; Jeff Thomas and Mike Hebert on bottom.

When asked, "Do you think any candidate should NOT be in the primary?" their response was clear: Thomas got 34 votes; Hebert received 4. Which candidate are you likely to support? Garin received 21 votes; Krupp got 6.

On issues and impressions, Garin clearly led in every area, with Krupp in second place. Thomas and Hebert both occupied a definite lower rung. The full results are below; click to enlarge:

The 1st Congressional District Democrats have a new website, HERE.


  1. If you are looking for electable, scratch these four off the list.

  2. Uh, excuse me. But, there is at least one little detail about that questionnaire that really should be included when referring to it. The people who filled out said questionnaire were members of the democratic party (which makes them not representative of the general voters of the district). Also, the questionnaire was not sponsored by the democratic party of any county and absolutely not by the CD. The results of the questionnaire were withheld until it could be used to have the greatest impact in a negative way towards Marge Krupp in particular. The man who wrote up the quesionnaire, Steve Herr (remember him? He was beaten in the 2006 primary by Thomas, Hebert and even Ruth Santa Cruz Bradley) was asked to NOT do this "survey" because the results would not be indicative of actual, common voter preferences. I won't be surprised to see him up on the stage with Thomas and Hebert someday.

  3. I was at the debate. The room was stacked with "Garin for Congress" supporters as shown by their T-shirts. So of course Paulette got higher numbers.

    Also, I know of at least one Krupp supporter leave the room before the event ended. It ran a good two hours.