Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tommy Thompson faces challenges in Senate run

Former governor may not have 'cakewalk' some may expect

Tommy Thompson is set to become a major contender in the race to replace sitting U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, who will not seek re-election come 2012. As a multi-term former governor as well as a former secretary head within the Bush administration, Thompson brings a breadth of experience unparalleled by any other potential candidate for office.

But conservatives across the state needn’t celebrate quite yet -- a Republican victory in 2012 isn’t a sure thing, and if Tommy is to stand any chance of winning he’ll need to conquer some pretty intimidating obstacles to do it.

First, he’ll have to deal with the fact that it’s a presidential election year, and that President Obama is sitting pretty comfortably (for now) as an incumbent likely to win re-election. Though their respective elections are separate, the senate race’s outcome may depend heavily on the tide of the national attitudes within the presidential race as well. In short, many Congressional races in 2012 will depend on the outcome of Obama-vs.-whoever the Republicans choose to pick; thus, it’s possible that within a close senatorial race the presidential election will play a pivotal role in determining what kind of voters go to the polls.

Thompson will have to distance himself from the presidential election if the pendulum does indeed swing back into Obama’s and the Democrats’ favor. But he’ll also have to push himself away from statewide political leaders as well, namely Scott Walker. As both men have served or are currently serving as governor of Wisconsin, Tommy may inevitably be asked what he would have done in Walker’s situation -- that is, with regards to the removal of rights for state workers. If he distances himself from Walker’s position, he’ll push away his base that he’ll desperately need in what could become a close race. If he sides with Walker, however, he’ll sink his chances with independents across the state who found Walker’s actions repugnant.

Then there’s the problem of Thompson’s image beyond his political career. As the Democratic Party of Wisconsin pointed out on Tuesday, Thompson spent the better part of the past decade working as a lobbyist to some powerful organizations. The question posed to Wisconsin voters becomes, “To what extent will Thompson be working for us rather than powerful lobbies in Washington?” As a former lobbyist himself, Thompson will have a hard time quelling the concerns of state voters who want someone looking out for them.

These are just a few of the concerns Tommy Thompson will face as a candidate. Beyond them, Thompson will also have to face the ordinary challenges that any candidate for office has to overcome. Though Thompson may seem like a frontrunner right now, these issues and others could stifle his candidacy more than he’d like to admit. With the right challenger, the former governor who never lost a statewide race may lose his first come 2012.

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