Ed Thompson for Congress???

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. I also polled Thompson 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…

45 Comments
  1. As a student, I really don’t have much of any money to donate to political candidates. Not nearly what I’d like… but if Ed Thompson runs I guarantee I’ll be writing some kind of check, even if it’s only for $50 or something. This could be huge, and I agree completely with your advice about running as an Independent. He can win that way and down the line maybe run for re-election in the LP’s ballot slot.

  2. Should he decide to run, his may be the most winnable higher-level libertarian race in the country.

    Huh? You just said you think he should run as an Independent.

    Independent does not equal Libertarian.

    I give up.

    On a side note, he has/had an excellent website!

  3. Mike – the big L, small l thing. No matter the party, or lack thereof, Thompson is a libertarian.

  4. Please Ed, run. And please run as an independent. Do not run as a Libertarian. The LP’s reputation/current platform is potentially crippling.

    I see the LP strictly as a means to an end. And if it’s not an effective mean, then bypass it and just get to the end.

  5. Ditto – I would LOVE to see Ed run and I’ll happily put my money where my mouth is (so to speak!).

  6. Dennis,

    No one can accurately say that I have not supported LP candidates with a considerable amount of time, money and energy. However, in many races, the party tag can be a detriment.

    In my opinion, the only reason to run a political campaign is to win. I know many in the LP don’t share that opinion. For Thompson to win, he may need to strip off some of the LP baggage as well as to appear more independent.

    In this particular case, I don’t see any advantage for Thompson to run as an Libertarian, and see potential disadvantages. Why take the risk?

  7. Exactly, Stephen. The LP is a detriment because the party’s extreme* positions can easily be used against a candidate in the media.

    * While we libertarians might not consider the LP’s platform extreme, the fact that their positions are so different from those of Republicans or Democrats makes them extreme to the public. And it’s the public’s perception that matters in an election, after all.

  8. CM,

    You should be in my Campaign Management class. You’d have gotten an A for that last sentence.

  9. MORE ANALYSIS

    Doyle (D) McCallum (R) Thompson (L) Young (G)

    Overall 45 41 11 3
    In Dist 3 43.3 35.5 18.2 2.8

    According to the Post Election Poll: http://www.edthompson.com/pollresults.php

    7* Okayâ┚¬Â¦ suppose that before the election, you found out that Ed Thompson had a good chance to win the election. If you knew Thompson could win, would you have voted for Republican Scott McCallum, Democrat Jim Doyle, Libertarian Ed Thompson, or Green candidate Jim Young?
    34% Scott McCallum
    37% Jim Doyle
    23% Ed Thompson
    3% Jim Young
    2% Not sure

    If you ratio up Ed’s numbers and ratio down the republicrat numbers, caused by “wasted vote syndrome”, and apply this to the third district you get:

    Doyle 33.6%
    McCallum 27.1%
    Ed 35.9%
    Young 2.8%

    So Ed would have won that district.

    Also, in another poll question:

    11* Nextâ┚¬Â¦ Ed Thompson
    39% Favorable
    39% Unfavorable
    23% Not sure

    If you ratio up Ed’s approval rating based on 18.2% of the votes, rather than 11%, you get;

    Ed Thompson approval rating in Third District 64.5%

    People with 64.5% approval simply do not lose elections.

    OTHER POINTS

    I can also tell you that fundraising is much easier when the public perceives you have a chance to win. In the Third district, people think Ed has a chance to win.

    The district is also spread out over many TV markets, making Ron Kind TV ads less effective, and Ed yard signs, bumper stickers, radio interviews, and personal appearances more effective.

    The public perception of a “culture of corruption” in the government continues.

    The tavern leagues in Ed’s area generally supported him in 2002.

    Maybe the national LP will be able to help more? In any event, Ed is far better know among national libertarians than he was in 2002, which makes for great internet fundraising.

    They would not be able to keep Ed out of any debates in a congressional race.

    The biased 6% Rule does not apply to congressional races.

    Tommy Thompson might endorse Ed, as Kind is a democrat and the republican is a tokan candidate.

    To win, Ed must run as a left-libertarian on the issues, against corruption, against taxes, against wasteful spending, against prison building, against the war, against the Patriot Act & eavesdropping, for term limits, for medical marijuana, and for the Constitution.

    from Rolf

  10. That’s what I was saying Stephen! I think appealling to a voter’s emotions and immediate concerns is the best way to get at them. Have the facts available to those who need it, but they are a minority.

  11. I’d rather see him endorse the winner of the state primary (Green or Walker) and run as Lt Governor in order to veto that saddle-head currently in Madison.

  12. Is there any sign that Ed is interested? Or is this hot air?

    And to differ with people above, the objective should be a viable party that routinely elects large numbers of people, not one person in office someplace.

  13. If Ed Thomson won a US Congress seat as a Libertarian, it would be a huge boost to the party. The PR from that would be extremely valuable.

  14. What are the laws and regulations regarding changing parties once elected for Wisconsin and the US Congress?

    I am curious simply because what we need are Libertarians *in office.* How they get there is irrelevant to that “L” being next to names in important positions, in my perspective — so long as they do so in an honest manner.

    To Mr. Thompson: Run as an Independant, and if possible revert to Libertarian once elected.

    To Mr. Hess: If pressed, absolutely run as a Republican and follow through with your intent to redeclare yourself as Libertarian once elected.

    Let people see what we do with power once we have it. Make a Libertarian candidate something electable.

    Do the job.

  15. Thompson could eliminate some competition by running as a brownshirt. I mean Republican. THEN, Tommy would likely step in and endorse. I would be a likely scenario that he would win. Then change parties in office. That would create some massive backlash with the brownshirts. They are happy to have your money and sweat, but you need to shut up and stay in the back and be quiet while they marginalize and use you. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Ron Paul’s are the exception rather than the rule. Brownshirts have absolutely no intention of deliberately electing anyone remotely supportive of liberty. But of course, it would put a Libertarian in office. In fact, it could create some added media attention to the LP, but you can bet it would be negative from both “sides”! Bad publicity is better than no publicity I say. I think it would be in the powers-that-be’s best interest (long term) to keep mum on a change though, and they probably would.

  16. George,

    Ed told me that he might consider only if data indicated that he had a reasonable chance of winning.

  17. Even if Thompson runs in this district I think there’s another race that has a better chance of electing a little-l libertarian to Congress: the Florida 21st. Frank Gonzalez ran as a Libertarian in 2004 in this district and won 27% of the vote. That’s a good sign of his ability to perform in the district when all of the odds are against him. He was a candidate from a third party with little to no support finacially or in terms of volunteers. He’s running again in 2006 as a Democrat, which hopefully will bring with it financial support and volunteers from the Miami area. But the change in party affiliation doesn’t indicate a changei n ideology, he’s still very libertarian. Check out his website: http://www.electfrank.org/

  18. Yes, I am familiar with the Frank Gonzalez campaign as I followed it. I was disappointed, since the Republican didn’t even have to campaign. The Democratic ticket will win wider support among blacks and whites. Plus Republicans are under fire so this may be a winnable one. Thanks for the heads up!

  19. Listen to the archives of Ed Thompson’s weekly Tomah radio commentary at http://www.b945country.com. Scroll down on the right menu bar to “Common Sense,” click, and find the archives.

    He might be able to do a lot of good as a radio personality.

    As to whether or not he would run? If he had enough money I think he might, but otherwise . . .?

  20. Maybe this Libertarian vs. Independent issue should be polled. This looks like a great opportunity.

    Two polls, same demographics, same dates, different actual voters:

    “Would you support Republican Bill Smith, Democrat Dave Smith, or Libertarian Ed Thompson?”

    “Would you support Republican Bill Smith, Democrat Dave Smith, or independent candidate Ed Thompson?”

    Whichever option polls higher… go with that.

    Once he’s in office he can switch over. And once there’s an actual Libertarian in Congress it’ll be 10 times easier to elect a Libertarian to Congress on the L ballot line.

    Just my 2 cents.

  21. I am more excited than I’ve EVER been as a Libertarian. For those who don’t know, I am once again working with Michael Badnarik in his run for US Congress in Texas, District 10. This race is already as exciting than the presidential race minus getting to see 42 states for the first time. We have a full time staff of 6, a 3000 square foot office and have raised (drum roll please…) more than $120,000!! AND IT IS ONLY FEBRUARY FOLKS! I could go on and on about why I am excited about our race but I’m mainly writing to say that I am even MORE excited than I already was to hear about Ed Thompson possibly running for Congress. I would vote that he do it as a Libertarian, like Badnarik. These are the big guns of the party right now – how AMAZING would it be to all of a sudden have 2 elected Libertarians in Congress? I know how dedicated Ed would be if he decides to run. 110% and then some – like Badnarik. Go Ed Go!

  22. Hi, this is Justin/rdeacon, the author of the analysis quoted in the article above. I thank Hammer of Truth for printing it, and I hope that word spreads about this amazing opportunity.

    In a portion of my essay that got cropped, I refer to this opportunity as a planetary alignment, because it really is. Thompson’s popularity, the relatively ungerrymandered district, Thompson’s executive and now legislative experience, and the cookie-cutter Demopublican incumbant make this an open door. If the national LP was smart (no promises) they’d devote massive resources to this campaign, and I encourage libertarians and independents from around the country to support Thompson fiscally if he chooses to run – I know I will.

    As for the libertarian/independent conundrum, I’d say it really doesn’t matter. What matters is getting the man in Congress, not what color tie he plans to wear (so to speak). Though it would be nice to build the LP brand, I’d take “independent” over a Ron Kind victory.

  23. Sorry to spam with two posts, but to reply to other concerns in this thread:

    1. Yes, the LP is far too radical, it would be nice for Thompson to win with the party label and a moderate, realistic platform, so people see past the national LP’s blather. Here’s my plug: http://www.reformthelp.org

    2. Logan – Frank Gonzalez is another great opportunity that I noticed in 04 as well. Though he ran in a two way race, he’s still worth focusing on. Another option is Don Gorman of NH, a former 4 term legislator in the most libertarian state in the nation. Alas, he doesn’t seem inclined to run.

    3. Jon – though I bashed Badnarik’s presidential run, it’s good to see him running for Congress. I hope that other LP bigwigs consider US Congress or state house before wasting themselves on senate or gubernatorial campaigns.

    Cheers,
    Justin

  24. Welcome, Justin — and thanks for the great work.

    Right now, the key seems to be in running some preliminary polling to ensure the race is viable and determining the level of national support Ed will get if he runs.

    If anyone else has a significant financial offer (to pay for polling), let me know and I’ll get you in contact with Ed.

  25. The LP MUST remain radical. I tire of the pragmatist argument that political victory must be achieved by selling out. Read about the Movemiento Libertario and see what selling out got them – just what they deserved.

    Being radical doesn’t mean that you can’t frame and position your message.

    I think the most important change that the party needs to make is to add sound currency to the platform. You absolutely cannot and will not have limited government without sound currency. Advocating this and educating people about it is absolutely paramount to future success, after the dollar crumbles and joe sixpack wants to trade all his remaining liberty to government in order to keep his mortgage. THAT is when libertarians can really step in.

    It could be ugly having too many Libertarians in place when this fiscal collapse happens. Libertarians could and very probably would be blamed, given the current silence on the issue. Sound currency and govenment spending go together.

  26. 7 people in America care about the currency, and they’re all Libertarians.

    Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you look at any poll about the “hot button” issues, I guarantee that the currency/gold standard is not even within the top 50. Nobody cares.

    I’m fine with the LP remaining “radical” in spirit. But they must stop demanding revolutionary change, such as immediate end to the War on Drugs or, on this page:

    http://www.lp.org/issues/welfare.shtml

    a call to, “End Welfare.”

    That’s all it takes for an opponent to discredit an LP candidate. The opponent shows some images of themselves helping out at a soup kitchen or meeting with people in hard hats and blueprints over a backdrop of an urban-renewal type project, and then they say, “These programs help bring jobs into our community, and help those who are less fortunate to get back on their feet. But John Libertarian wants to end welfare completely. The 40 million uninsured children blah blah blah…”

  27. What I am saying is that sound currency is an important thing for us to be talking about. You must have missed the part where I said that you absolutely, positively, under no circumstances whatsoever – in any way have limited government and fiat currency. This is something we need to talk about and educate people about.

    Libertarians are going to have to sit back and be ready for an “I told you so”. The country must destroy itself for liberty to be a viable situation. If people suddenly became principled Libertarians and voted that way tommorow, there would still be a great deal of pain in store for the nation because of the intractable gross distortions that have taken place over the past 100 years.

    You are wrong about demanding radical change. The USA will get radical change either deliberately or “accidentally”. Limited govt by choice or necessity. The easy way or the hard way.

  28. I fail to understand what the point of being Libertarian is, if you don’t want anything to change. You sound like one of these brilliant “limited government” conservatives (an oxymoron, if ever I have heard one.) that wants to limit the State with… (drumroll) more of the State.

    Radical change is necessary. Remaining “mainstream”, as if that were a good thing, can result in one thing – where we are headed right now. If the War on Drugs is too radical, what in the holy hell do you suppose we take up? Why don’t we just call that lame pansy Jeff Flake a Libertarian and run people like him… “uhhh come on, guys… we uhhh don’t have anymore uhhh excuses. Let’s be BOLD and fail trying to cut the budget by a whopping 1%!!!”

    Admittedly, the message lacks persuasive presentation. But if being principled is radicalism, so be it. Look at the Republicans “limited government” lack of principle and see what happened. Why is the necessity of principle so hard to understand?

  29. > What I am saying is that sound currency is an important thing for us to be talking about.

    We can talk about it, and the American people can ignore us.

    > If the War on Drugs is too radical, what in the holy hell do you suppose we take up?

    Instead of ending the entire War on Drugs instantly, we should advocate (1) legalizing medical marijuana, (2) ending the campaing against painkiller-prescribing doctors, and (3) if we’re feeling lucky, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. These are defendable goals in a public debate. Legalizing crack, heroine, meth, and cocaine tomorrow is not a defendable position. Even if it’s the correct position, it’s not a defendable position.

    Demanding extreme change is less likely to result in actual change than demanding small change. In the end, I want to increase liberty. We can try to hit a homerun everytime and strike out, or we can hit singles and doubles and actually score some runs.

  30. The American people already ignore us. Why is THAT so hard to figure out?

    The drug issue is a matter of semantics. The presentation is usually poor to begin with. You don’t even have it right. It’s “ending marijuana prohibition”. I agree medical marijuana is one very good way to press the issue. This would be a nice incremental way of getting there. But it should still be pointed out that prohibition doesn’t work and why.

    If sensibility is undefendable, then there is no point at all in being sensible.

    You can demand radical change and make incremental efforts. The problem with ONLY demanding incremental efforts is that you will surely lose your way. If you have no fundamental beliefs and positions, then all we offer and all we amount to is an arbitrary, cosmetic alternative. People will never “get it” – that we offer a different world view at all. And THAT is the point!

  31. David, it seems as though you are resigned to the destruction of our current social order. If this is your belief, I respect it, but you need to understand that if libertarianism wishes to exist in the political spectrum it needs to fit the existing political paradigm. This is where the Libertarian Reform Caucus comes in: http://www.reformthelp.org.

    The LRC seeks to make libertarianism a viable political force by focusing on what can realistically be accomplished over the candidate’s upcoming term of office. Call it “selling out” if you like, but if a candidate can bring America one step closer to liberty, its better for our movement than endless blather about ideology that asks for the moon and the stars but gets us NOWHERE.

    It’s better to be effective than it is to be right.

  32. DD – my opinion is that libertarian educational groups (501C3s and 501C4s) should be the ones doing the educational work about issues like total elimination of the drug war.

    The more viable aspects (mmj bills, decrim in the few cities where the measure might pass) are political issues and should be approached by the party, 527s, and candidates.

    The LP is supposed to be a political tool, not an educational tool. Let’s use the right tool for the right job — it is more efficient this way.

  33. Well said stephen.

    I must comment that the LP is different (for the better) than the GOP and DNC because it does have uncompromised principles. Having said this, it is 100% OK for our candidates to be moderate so long as they recognize the principles outlined by the LP as a goal to strive for (although it may not be attainable overnight). As DD mentioned, sugar coating the libertarian principles has been tried before, and the result is the Movemiento Libertario who are very successful in the polls, but lack any guiding principle. For this reason, I am wary of the “libertarian reform caucus.”

  34. Idealism V. Pragmatism.

    That’s a very significant problem.

    I know where I stand (I consider myself a moderate Libertarian), yet I know that if we cannot get anything done, then all the ranting and railing in the world will amount to, is precisely the sort of behavior we most cannot afford: violent militarism.

    A political party must get things done. We must get initiatives passed. We must make things happen. Have progress.

    To those of you whom want everything now rather than baby steps… I can only say; cultivate patience.

    It isn’t selling out if every step you take, takes you closer to the goal. It *IS* selling out if you start walking in the other direction.

    And that’s all from this individual ranter.

  35. Go for it, Ed! A lot of us are getting sick of the Republicrats and Demicans. Both parties are avoiding major issues (Iraq War, health care, gay rights, deficit) that a third party or two could easily claim as their own. I want the Libertarians, Greens, and Constitution/Reform Parties to finally stand up and change things.