Rolf Lindgren gave me a call last night and stated that Ed Thompson might consider running for U.S. Congress in Wisconsin’s Third District. Knowing that my good friend Rolf has the tendency to become overly enthused at times, I gave Ed a call to see what might be going on.
For those of you who don’t recall, Thompson ran for governor of Wisconsin in 2002 and won nearly 11% of the vote as a Libertarian. He was the mayor of Tomah, Wisconsin at the time — a seat he won with 58% of the vote. Thompson currently serves on the Tomah City Council as a result of a race in which he wasn’t even a candidate. As I recall the story, Ed’s townspeople ran a write-in campaign for him (without his knowledge or approval) for the city council seat. The other candidate only got 3 votes — his own, Ed Thompson’s and his girlfriend’s. Thompson runs Mr. Ed’s Tee-Pee restaurant, is the brother of former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and is the subject of the (really good — I’ve seen it) documentary titled A Remarkable Man.
After his gubernatorial run, I studied Thompson’s polling data.statewide in 2004, and found that his level of support did not decline even two years after his race. My crude graphic (click to enlarge) indicates Thompson’s 2002 vote broken down by county in the 3rd Congressional District. Note that Tomah is in Monroe County, where Thompson enjoyed the greatest level of support. That Thompson’s support radiates from his home base indicates my personal impression of him — those who know Ed Thompson like (and will support) Ed Thompson.
Rdeacon provided a reasonable assessment of Thompson’s chances at the FSP forum:
But it wasn’t Thompson’s 11% that I found exhilarating. It was Thompson’s 18%.
[…Rdeacon’s data from District 3 counties…]
In Congressional District 3, Thompson’s vote total increased by 7.2%. The Green Party candidate’s vote total actually dropped by 0.2% in the district, so this wasn’t just a tendency for the district to vote “third party.” It was Thompson.
And understandably so. Thompson’s home town of Tomah (where he served as mayor) is smack dab in the middle of the district. He was recently elected to Tomah’s city council in 2005 without even campaigning for the position. According to the chart above, Thompson actually won the 2002 gubernatorial race in the township of Monroe (where Tomah is located) and Juneau. He scored over 20% in 8 of District 3’s 18 townships.
Keep in mind that these amazing numbers were generated with Thompson having to campaign for governor in 7 other Congressional districts.
But great numbers alone don’t make him a contender. If numbers were the only factor in play, they would put Thompson into the mid-twenties — not enough to win in a three way race. There are other planets aligned that give Thompson the opportunity of a lifetime.
Did you know that Ed’s brother Tommy Thompson, former Governor and Presidential Cabinet Member, might be running for US Senate? Tommy has immense popularity and will walk all over Herb Kohl if he decides to run, especially with a powerful Green Party candidate (Rae Vogeler — www.voterae.org) draining votes from Kohl’s pool.
What does Tommy offer his little brother other than the obvious paper campaign name recognition boost? He also might be open to joint campaigning within the district, if he’s brave enough to break ranks with his party and support a member of his family. Combine this factor with standard campaign dynamics and Ed Thompson can pull more than 30%. In a three way race, high thirties can be a winner.
Here is a brief rundown of the campaign dynamics for the 2006 District 3 race as it stands, November 22, 2005. On the surface, five-term Representative Ron Kind (www.kindforcongress.org) seems untouchable. Kind most recently defeated Republican Dale W. Schultz in the 2004 contest by 56% to 44%. In 2002 he won 63% to 34%, with a libertarian drawing off 3%. In 2000 he won 64% to 36%.
This year his GOP challenger is a third-stringer named Paul Nelson, who has never held elected office and currently works as a real estate agent. Nelson is half the candidate Schultz was (Schultz served in both houses of the state legislature), so in a vacuum, Kind would have the 2006 race wrapped up.
But if Ed Thompson is in the game, the dynamics change.
First, if you review the numbers from the 2002 gubernatorial race, McCallum lost 6.5% in District 3. Doyle only lost 1.7%. Many of Thompson’s gains likely came from Republican voters as in the district is only slightly biased toward Democratic voters (52%). If the GOP fields a weak candidate in a race where Thompson is present (and Nelson is a weak candidate), Republicans will quickly defect to Thompson. I would imagine the number of defecting Republicans would increase if Thompson gains traction — especially if big bro Tommy appears in public with him a few times during the race (though this is not a guarantee, Tommy turned a cold shoulder to him in 2002).
Second, Kind isn’t as strong as he used to be. His margin of victory in 2004 was 12%, down from 29% in 2002 and 28% in 2000. His platform is also making him look like a cog in the Washington machine, a paradigm that isn’t going to win an election in 2006, even if you’re a Democrat. The “progressive” left and greens will go along with Kind as the lesser of two evils, but if Thompson if in play, and he strategically targets voters on the left, he can extract quite a few points from Kind’s totals.
In other words, Thompson is capable of drawing many voters from both sides of the spectrum. He has the opportunity to ride a name-recognition tsunami. He has the numbers to be a contender, especially when he no longer has to campaign statewide.
As Rdeacon stated, Ed’s opposition would be Ron Kind, the Democrat incumbent, and Paul Nelson, a Republican challenger. My opinion is the same — the GOP challenger is weak, Kind has some vulnerabilities, and Tommy Thompson might be able to help break down some GOP resistance, especially if Ed runs as an independent (which would be my preliminary advice) candidate.
It is tough to imagine any Libertarian in the district not supporting Thompson. The races he has won (City Council and Mayor) were non-partisan. While a devout libertarian, his appeal is more populist in nature. I see absolutely no gain for him to run as a Libertarian candidate, while it has the potential to hurt him a bit. I know Ed well enough that I can’t see him running as an R or a D. Running an independent race seems to give the best of all possible worlds, without causing potential damage to his campaign. Of course, I expect some criticism from LP members for saying this, but my opinion is that Ed’s mission, should he accept it, is to win the race — not to promote the party.
What I don’t have (yet) is good recent polling data on Thompson in District Three, nor do I have any meaningful data about his opposition. Based on our phone call, both Ed and I agree that such data is extremely important before he makes any determination about running for Congress.
Ed sounded a bit hesitant about running, but said he would consider it if his chances of winning look good enough. The level of support he would receive is as important as those baseline polling numbers. Additionally, those numbers require a few thousand dollars to obtain. If some of you wish to make the financial commitment (I don’t know Wisconsin campaign finance code, so I don’t know the contribution limitations) to get the polling operations underway, I’ll be happy to contact the right people in Wisconsin to get an exploratory committee started. I’m also curious about the amount of support (financial and volunteer) Thompson would get from a national libertarian audience.
Should he decide to run, his may be the most winnable higher-level libertarian race in the country. For him to decide to run, he’ll need to see a lot of your support. The comment section below is a great starting point…