U.S. Senate 2018: "The Donnybrook Of All Political Fights"

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Premiere Date: 
December 29, 2017

U.S. Senate 2018: "The Donnybrook Of All Political Fights"

The race for U.S. Senate, that will pit Tammy Baldwin against two potential Republican challengers, is called a donnybrook by political scientist Mordecai Lee. Panelists Bill McCoshen and Scot Ross give their takes on the race, which McCoshen says will be nearly as dramatic as the 2012 recall elections.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

We move along from the race for governor to a closer look at the 2018 U.S. Senate election. Incumbent Tammy Baldwin faces, among other challengers, State Senator Leah Vukmir. It's a race that is sure to be, in the words of UW Milwaukee political scientist Mordecai Lee, "a Donnybrook."

Mordecai Lee:

I think this is going to be the knock-down, drag-out fight we've never, ever experienced in Wisconsin. It's going to be unbelievable. It's going to be negative. It's going to be expensive. It's going to be hard to remember these are two individuals. You know, Tammy Baldwin was never thought of as a strong politician when she was willing to give up her seat in Congress, in Madison, and run for statewide office. There had never been somebody who had declared their sexual preference, who was not heterosexual who had won a statewide election. And so it was assumed that she was the underdog against Tommy Thompson, who everybody knew, who appealed to the middle, and yet she pulled off a brilliant victory with one ad, the ad that said "He's not for you anymore." In other words, Tommy Thompson is not the person you voted for. So I think it's important not to underrate her political skills, because she really showed her chops in that first election. But because this is an off-year election that skews Republican, I think she's got an uphill battle. But nonetheless, both sides are mobilized. We're already seeing TV ads and hearing radio ads, so I think this is going to be the Donnybrook of all political fights we've ever seen in Wisconsin.

Frederica Freyberg:

So, Scot, do you think it's going to be "the Donnybrook" of all political fights in Wisconsin?"

Scot Ross:

Yeah, I think both the primary and the general are going to be incredibly competitive. I think Tammy has advantage in the general, which is fundraising. She's got amazing fundraising prowess. The base of Wisconsin's Democratic electorate absolutely loves her, and she ain't responsible for any of the garbage that's going on in Congress currently whereas things like that tax break, you know, that just passed that is so wildly unpopular, both of the Republican candidates for Senate have embraced it fully. It is a big fight. You've got Dick Uihlein versus Diane Hendricks, and which billionaire will prevail, right?

Frederica Freyberg:

You think so, too?

Bill McCoshen:

Yeah, it's hard to imagine any race being more dramatic than the recall in 2012 for governor, but this one's going to be close. It will be $50, $60, $70 million in mostly out-of-state money coming' in here. Tammy Baldwin's a top ten target by the Republican National Senatorial Committee. She's not number one, but she is in the top ten. She did beat my former boss, Tommy Thompson, largely because western Wisconsin was really strong for her, but remember, that's Trump country now. That's changed a lot. We've had three-- it doesn't happen often-- but we've had three incumbents ousted in the state of Wisconsin: Gaylord Nelson in 1980, Bob Kasten in 1992, Russ Feingold in 2010,  so it has happened in off-year elections, so don't rule out the possibility that a Republican could win this seat.

Scot Ross:

One thing about western Wisconsin is that it wasn't competed for by Democrats. Ron Kind didn't have a race, so there was no message saying, "Hey, what's going on in Washington D.C. under Barack Obama's-- actually success?" There wasn't any TV went it came to, you know, the Clinton campaign. There was no TV with Sean Duffy, so that didn't exist in this. I think the big thing here is, how are the Republicans going to come together after this primary, which is going to nasty because the way Leah Vukmir wins is she starts putting up ads saying Kevin Nicholson is a Democrat, here's him speaking at the DNC, and I don't know how you outspend to win that.

Bill McCoshen:

There's no question Leah is the favorite in that race. She's got a record, and Scot thinks it's an accomplishment for Tammy Baldwin, I think it's a negative that she's not part of the mess in D.C. She doesn't have a record of accomplishment in her six years there, and Leah Vukmir does, and I think that will be the greatest contrast in the fall election is a lady that gets stuff done and one that doesn't get much done.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well Republican candidates are using her opposition, as we've discussed, to the new tax cuts against her, but I read this from Tommy Thompson with interest, saying that people where he's from in Juno County, he says, "A business tax cut from 39 percent to 22 percent doesn't mean jack to them." How true is that?

Bill McCoshen:

Well, I think it's true right now. I think the Republicans have done a horrible job of selling this thing. The good news for Republicans is folks should start to see these tax breaks on their February, you know, checks, so that's -- by the time the election rolls around in November, they will have ten months of tax cuts that Tammy Baldwin's going to have to defend voting no against, and the Republican, again, I think it will be Vukmir, will be able to be on the attack.

Frederica Freyberg:

You can't wait to be able to get in on this.

Scot Ross:

Yes, Dick Uihlein and Diane Hendricks, the billionaire Republicans, will get their tax breaks, that's for sure. My real interest is what happened this week, which was that the Club for Growth came out against attacking Leah Vukmir, and do you know what they attacked her for? Voting for $87 million in tax increases because she supported Scott Walker's budget in 2011.

Bill McCoshen:

This is the club for un-growth. They supported Mark Neumann against Scott Walker in 2010. They supported Eric Hovde against Tommy Thompson. And now they're supporting a former Democrat, Kevin Nicholson, against Leah Vukmir. They have no relevance in the state of Wisconsin.

Frederica Freyberg:

Wow, well, you're hear from them.

Bill McCoshen:

More than likely; that's okay.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, I can see that this race is already getting people fired up, namely you guys.

Scot Ross:

This is our opportunity to-- I think it's Democrats' opportunity to be able to talk about the bad stuff that's going on, to connect folks to what's going on with Trump at the federal level, and you know, again, with Tammy, she's got one of the premiere pieces of the Affordable Care Act puzzle, which is allowing people under 26 to stay on their parents' healthcare. It is wildly unpopular what the Republicans are doing with the Affordable Care Act.

Bill McCoshen:

Having been on the other side of Tammy with Tommy in 2012, I will say that she's really smart, she works very hard, and she'll have a ton of money, and for Democrats, the good news for them is, she brings out the base, no question about that.

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