Skip to comments.(Ex-Governor) Tommy Thompson (R, WI) Looms Large
Posted on 05/13/2006 12:33:59 PM PDT by Diana in Wisconsin
Before Tommy Thompson threw it out, the script for next week's state Republican Party convention in Appleton had a familiar look.
There were the cocktail receptions and hospitality suites, the party-building exercises and keynote addresses, all building to the predictable selection of U.S. Rep. Mark Green as the party's nominee for governor.
But then Thompson wrote a scene for himself that could elevate him from supporting actor to leading man, promising to use the event to announce whether he will run for governor of the state he led for 14 years, or possibly for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Herb Kohl.
Earlier this week, he told a reporter in Washington the decision could come as early as Sunday.
To say Thompson's stunt is a distraction is putting it mildly. Five years after leaving office, the 64-year-old former governor is still hugely popular; his pending announcement has overshadowed a convention that was to celebrate Green's bloodless ascent to the party's top spot after Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker dropped out of the race in March.
Making the process even more maddening for some Republicans is the fact that no one seems to know what he's going to do.
Most have a theory. But the normally decisive Thompson is exhibiting the same sort of hand-wringing he displayed in 2000 when President Bush asked him to be his secretary of health and human services. (He eventually said yes.)
"Everyone knows Tommy's been calling around the state. He's been doing it for weeks," said Rick Wiley, executive director of the state Republican Party. "It depends which day you catch him, is he calling asking about 'Can Mark Green beat (Democratic incumbent Gov.) Jim Doyle?' or 'Should I run against Herb Kohl?' It kind of depends on the mood he's in each day."
But Wiley said the party is proceeding on the assumption Green is their candidate. "It's going to be Mark Green's convention."
Even so, that Thompson is toying with the idea so late in the game "is kind of a put- down to Green's candidacy," said David Littig, a UW-Green Bay political science professor who follows state politics.
"Basically what's he's saying is that Green is not the strongest candidate for governor that he could be," Littig said. "If that becomes the major story coming out of the convention, they've lost the opportunity to pull behind the candidate."
Thompson, who didn't respond to a request for an interview, no doubt was moved by a recent poll by Strategic Vision of Atlanta that suggests he could walk away with the race without spending a dime.
The survey of 800 likely voters in Wisconsin - which the firm said it paid for itself as a marketing tool and that Thompson had nothing to do with it - said Thompson would beat Green in a hypothetical Republican primary 69 percent to 20 percent, with 11 percent undecided.
The same poll showed Thompson beating Doyle in the general election 58 percent to 30 percent, with 12 percent undecided, while giving Doyle a slight edge over Green, at 45 percent to 43 percent - a statistical dead heat - also with 12 percent undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
But what's motivating Thompson the most is his deep loathing of the office's current occupant, said Thompson's closest political confidante, former Administration Secretary James Klauser.
"He's very upset with what he regards as Jim Doyle trying to turn everything (Thompson) did during his administration upside down," Klauser said.
That includes Doyle's opposition to expanding the school choice programs Thompson initiated in Milwaukee (Doyle ultimately agreed to higher enrollment caps in a deal with the GOP-led Legislature), efforts to broaden the safety net of the state's pioneering welfare-to- work program, and balancing the state books through increased borrowing and transfers from special-purpose reserves.
"Sure, Doyle came in at a difficult time in the economy. But he didn't bite the bullet. He borrowed the money," Klauser said. "Tommy feels the state's future has been mortgaged."
Doyle campaign spokesman Anson Kaye doesn't dispute the governor has been trying to undo some of the decisions made by Thompson and the Republican-controlled Legislature, which he said have threatened middle-class families, schools and the elderly while saddling his administration with the biggest budget deficit in state history.
"The one fact that shines through all of the talk swirling around the Republican primary is that Wisconsin Republicans are dissatisfied with Mark Green," Kaye said.
Green, who said he considers Thompson a good friend and a mentor, said he shares the former governor's grievances with Doyle, adding, "I fully believe I'll have Tommy's support."
He maintained he isn't bothered by Thompson's public musings and dismissed speculation he might drop out and run again for Congress or seek to become lieutenant governor if Thompson jumps in the race.
"We are printing our football schedules. We are setting up our parades and picnics," he said. "I have every reason to believe I'll be moving forward as the Republican candidate for governor . . . and I plan on being the next governor of Wisconsin."
What does he make of the Strategic Vision poll? Not that Thompson can't lose, but that Jim Doyle can.
"The poll shows tremendous dissatisfaction with Jim Doyle and the direction he's taken this state in," Green said.
"Clearly I don't have the same name identification as Tommy or Jim Doyle," the Green Bay Republican said. "But what these polls show is the more (voters) hear our message, the greater our chances and the more momentum we pick up."
As the presumptive nominee, Green has received the endorsement of many of Thompson's former supporters, including Klauser. But at least one Thompson backer, Minnesota businessman Irwin Jacobs, said he would have no qualms about the money he gave Green going to waste if Thompson jumped in the race.
"People in Wisconsin don't realize even today what they had in Tommy," said Jacobs, who with his wife and business associates have given tens of thousands of dollars to Thompson's various gubernatorial campaigns. "Tommy just is very proactive. There's no formalities with him. He's so entrepreneurial, and that's so rare in politics."
Still, since he left the Bush Cabinet last year, Thompson has landed a number of management and consulting positions. Earlier this year, he led a delegation studying HIV/AIDS in Vietnam for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"He's got the life of Riley now," said brother Ed Thompson, who ran for governor as a Libertarian four years ago but is not a candidate this year. "He's doing what he wants to do. He's globe-trotting and he's giving his talks and he's working with all these businesses and he's getting very well compensated. To me, that's a great life."
The Capitol has changed, too. With the more moderate Thompson no longer around to bully them, conservatives have flexed their muscles more. The economic growth that filled the state's coffers and helped grease the innovations Thompson pushed through has slowed.
And time has only honed the attacks by Thompson's critics, who have long accused the former governor of cronyism and building up a bloated state government.
"I'm not sure if Tommy ran he would have as clear sailing as some people think," UW-Green Bay's Littig said.
Thompson has also not ruled out a run for Senate, even though many of his friends and associates can't see him fitting his ego into an office where his would be one of 100 voices. That has sidelined another potential Kohl challenger, Oconomowoc construction executive Tim Michels, who said this week he's waiting "until Tommy decides what he's going to do, like everyone else."
Everyone should have their answers soon enough.
"He has his process," Klauser said of his former boss, assuring whatever choice he makes feathers will be smoothed and the party will be united. "He will come to his conclusion and one way or another, you can expect Tommy to be campaigning for Wisconsin this year."
Insider note: I was asked to do a large mailing for the Green Campaign this week; it's been put on hold.
Tomorrow can't come fast enough for me! ;)
"Will He or Won't He?" Ping! :)
Thompson would be better used running for senate, and campaigning alongside green.
Still sucks that Walker had to drop out.
"Still sucks that Walker had to drop out."
And it always will. But he'll get his Day In The Sun in Wisconsin politics, I'm sure. He's one of the Good Guys. It just wasn't his time, this time around. :(
I'd rather see Tommy in the Senate. Kohl is absolutely worthless, and Tommy could get so much done for our state, while kicking Feingold in the @ss every day, LOL! I'd love that, too.
Tommy's got a pretty big ego though and he HATES Doyle with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Another Governorship would set him up for the Presidency later on, and Tommy is very loyal to Wisconsin. He can't NOT see that his brother, Ed, was the reason we're stuck with Doyle right now. He may want to right that wrong as well. He's not one for unfinished business.
We'd be better off if Thompson ran for Senate, but I don't think he will. He'll run for governor, and probably win.
Another potential Senate seat down the drain.
Cheering you on from Missouri. It would be a service to the nation to get Kohl out of the Senate.
Thanks, Bahbah! We'll do our best. :)
Your First Ping! :)
What type of chance would Green have against Kohl, if Tommy were to announce for Governor and endorse Green for Senate?
We've got the Big Guns focusing on unseating Doyle here. IMHO, Green should run for Governor and Thompson for Senate. Thompson has a better chance of beating Kohl, and with Wisconsin citizens ready to remove Doyle, Green can win the governorship. Thompson has had a taste of D.C., so he's more prepared for that than most here.
NRA. Enough said. :o)
I was doing my run around Madison one morning for a conference and ran past the Kohl Center. It has a big "W" on it. I know it's supposed to stand for "Wisconsin", but I know better.
Personally, I'd like to see Tommy run for Senate--and allow the state to send us something other than two Dims to Washington.
Kohl needs to be put out to pasture. Unfortunately, the party leadership can't muster or inspire anyone with the chance of beating Nobody's Senator. It's clear Tommy can wipe the floor with Kohl. And there's virtually no one to run against him. An easy victory.
We have Green running for the governorship--creating opposition on our side race at this point is going to wear down everyone involved, and that is exactly what Doyle/WEAC/Trial Lawyers, etc. want. They want us to be divided.
Tommy might be able to survive such a situation. But he certainly won't be as invincible as he was when he served as Governor.
You just answered your own question. Not a chance. That dynamic on the state level is what shoved Scott Walker out of the race and certainly appears to be shoving Mark Green to the curb.
Tommy is the crusher of Wisconsin politics. One step forward, and all politicians in his path are flattened. Provided it's Doyle or Kohl, that's a good thing.
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