Should Ed Thompson Run for Congress in Wisconsin?

Matt Dolbey of reported that Ed Thompson will not be running for Congress in Wisconsin’s Third District:

Former gubernatorial candidate and Libertarian icon Ed Thompson said Saturday he would not enter this year’s 3rd Congressional District race challenging Democratic incumbent Ron Kind.

Commenting at the state Libertarian Party convention Saturday, Thompson, who got 10 percent of the vote in the 2002 governor’s race, said despite seeing some favorable polling and some strong encouragement he’s “definitely not going to run this year.”

“I’d love to beat him,” Thompson said of Kind.

Thompson, the supper club-owning brother of the former longtime GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson, said some top state GOP members asked him to run as a Republican. But he said he woke up one night and thought, “I can’t be one of those.”

A Green Bay-area Republican, Rep. Frank Lasee, who attended and spoke at the convention said, “I wish you would’ve.”

Thompson — now serving on the Tomah City Council after a stint as Tomah mayor — said a poll he saw had him receiving 24 percent of the 3rd District vote if the election were held now, regardless of what party he ran under. Thompson said he’s busy expanding his restaurant in Tomah, and it’s somewhat late to join the race now.

I also received an advance copy of this article by Justin Somma and Rolf Lindgren which analyzes the top-line polling results cited. Since I’m the one who conducted the survey, I have additional cross tabulation data which supports Somma’s analysis. I called Ed Thompson to obtain permission to publish some of these supportive data and he said I could do so.

While on the telephone, I also asked Thompson if he would absolutely rule out a run for Congress. As I wasn’t at the convention, I’m not sure of the exact context of the Thompson quote. Contrary to the aforementioned report, Thompson indicated to me that there was still a remote chance that he could be persuaded to run for office in 2006. In a telephone conversation with Thompson insider Rolf Lindgren, the same general message was confirmed. We’ll get to that issue in a minute — let’s look at some polling data, first.

The telephone survey of 377 likely voters was conducted on the week of March 8 through March 14, 2006. The margin of sampling error is +/- 5.0 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Here’s the topline data:

———-Total Raw—–Total Percent

What is your general impression of Democratic Congressman Ron Kind?
Never heard of him——-15—–4.0%

What is your general impression of Republican real estate broker Paul Nelson?
Never heard of him——230—–61.0%

What is your general impression of former Tomah Mayor and current City Councilman Ed Thompson?
Never heard of him——-85—–22.5%

If the congressional election was held today, would you vote for:
Democrat Ron Kind——150—–39.8%
Republican Paul Nelson—-42—–11.1%
Independent Ed Thompson-58—–15.4%
Undecided or other——127—–33.7%

Under which party affiliation would you be most likely to vote for Ed Thompson for U.S. Congress in Wisconsin’s third district?
I would vote for Thompson under any of the conditions listed above—–91—24.1%
I would not vote for Thompson under any of the conditions listed above–70—18.6%

Cross-tabulations provide the following for those who are not undecided in this potential three-way matchup:

Favorable View of CandidateNeutral View of CandidateUnfavorable View of CandidateUnfamiliar with CandidateFavorable View of CandidateNeutral View of CandidateUnfavorable View of CandidateUnfamiliar with CandidateTotal Raw
If the congressional election was held today, would you vote for:
Democrat Ron Kind89.4%8.6%2.0%0.0%1351330151
Republican Paul Nelson26.2%21.4%2.4%50.0%11912142
Independent Ed Thompson66.7%31.6%0.0%1.8%38180157

Somma wrote:

Thompson is viewed favorably by 21.8%. Taken alone, he’s outgunned 2 to 1 by Kind’s 47.5%. However, 39.5% are neutral about Thompson. Considering Thompson’s political alignment, this block is likely comprised of mostly people who know his name, but don’t know enough about him to form an opinion. In addition, 22.5% have never heard of him. By election day, they will have, so lets distribute 18.5% of that 22.5% as a statistical match among the other categories, so that those who have never heard of Thompson lowers to 4%, which is the number of people who have never heard of Kind. The new numbers look like this:

Favorable: 27%
Neutral: 48.8%
Unfavorable: 20.1%

His assessment is probably correct to slighly pessimistic. While one can’t poll on what might happen, the following may shed some light on the potential picture:

Percentage of undecided voters with a favorable or neutral perception of candidate (note: this does not adjust for name recognition):

Total PercentRaw Count

While Thompson came out slightly behind Kind, his name recognition is also lower. When people unfamiliar with the candidates are excluded, the following applies:

Favorables comparison (disregarding voters unfamiliar with the respective candidate):


When neutrals and favorables are added, Thompson actually comes out slightly ahead of Kind. If one places all the neutral and positive votes of people actually familiar with the candidates into one chart, it looks like this:

Average perception of undecided voters about each candidate with whom they are familiar (100% is most favorable, 0% is least favorable — adjusted for name recognition)

Favorability by average of perception results:
Kind — 54.3%
Nelson — 44.4%
Thompson — 58.2%

Here’s some additional cross-tab data about undecided voters:

Favorability and name recognition of undecided voters

Kind– FavorableKind — NeutralKind — UnfavorableKind — UnfamiliarKind– FavorableKind — NeutralKind — UnfavorableKind — UnfamiliarTotal Raw
Nelson — FavorableNelson — NeutralNelson — UnfavorableNelson — UnfamiliarNelson — FavorableNelson — NeutralNelson — UnfavorableNelson — UnfamiliarTotal Raw
Thompson — FavorableThompson — NeutralThompson — UnfavorableThompson — UnfamiliarThompson — FavorableThompson — NeutralThompson — UnfavorableThompson — UnfamiliarTotal Raw

Somma wrote:

The final question dealt with what party affiliation voters would like Thompson to choose for his campaign. 24.1% would vote for Thompson no matter what party he chooses. 18.6% wouldn’t vote for him at all, about the same number as those who have a negative impression of him.

Additional information provides that 81.4% of people might remotely consider voting for Thompson under some circumstances — with only 18.6% who would never consider such a vote. Cross-tabs show this number going up to 92.1% when only undecideds are considered.

As with his governor’s race, Thomson did well at home. In Monroe County, Thompson had a 70% favorable rating, as compared to Kind at 35%, and 4% for Nelson. We collected county by county data, which roughly approximated previous Thompson results.

When asked about voting preferences in Monroe County, here was the result:

Kind — 13.0%
Nelson — 17.4%
Thompson — 65.2%
Undecided — 4.3%

When one looks at the party choice question, my assessment is the same as Somma’s:

11.7% suggested he run as an independent. This is perhaps his best option. Running as an independent removes the “party” bottleneck from his voter pool. Republicans, Democrats, independents, and Libertarians will all read his literature and visit his web site before deciding whether or not they like him. This is required if he is to best approach voter blocks like the 22.5% who have never heard of him, the 39.5% who see him neutrally, the 21.5% who see Kind unfavorably, or any of Nelson’s supporters who see Thompson as a more viable candidate (shoe’s on the other foot this time, eh?).

Subjectively, the amount of Libertarian votes Thompson would lose are negligible were he to run as an independent. While a few die-hards might hold out for the party label, he’s well known and respected in LP circles already. This small percentage of an already small percentage isn’t worth consideration, in this case. He’d likely lose in a Democratic primary to Kind. If he ran as a Republican, he’d be typecast as a Republican in an district that consistently votes against them. The anti-Republican fever felt throughout country would hurt him even more. He’d also lose potential Democratic support, as well as some independent votes. Running as an independent in the congressional district which borders Minnesota (of Jesse Ventura fame) simply makes good sense.

Somma concludes:

These numbers offer both opportunity and challenge. Kind is popular, but Thompson is popular as well, though his popularity is currently more of a niche. Though he should look to this poll for guidance, we need to realize that these numbers are inherently flawed. For one, they’re early numbers, and early polling usually favors an entrenched incumbent, especially when his only current challenger is a Republican sacrificial lamb. So far all the voters have to go on is five terms of Ron Kind’s publicity — not an unbiased situation.

This fact is key, and probably introduces the largest bias to the poll: Thompson has yet to enter the race. These numbers were generated without Thompson offering a single word about his agenda or his vision. These numbers are generated without a pro-Thompson web site, news story, or even a road sign. When Thompson is out there, getting his name out, putting forth a realistic, populist, Venturan agenda, his numbers will jump through the roof. He has the ammo to isolate Kind from the grassroots left (five terms of recorded votes and campaign promises make for quite a character assassination). He’ll have the credibility and positioning to steal Nelson’s voter base. Run a tactical campaign and he’ll build momentum right up to November.

He’s correct. I’ll add that while Kind looks strong, a five term incumbent has a long congressional vote record to attack. A bit of opposition research on his record combined with some issue polling would expose a considerable amount of weak spots in Kind’s armor. Combine this with the established reality that people who know Ed Thompson vote for Ed Thompson and there is the very real potential of a win. A busy speaking tour and heavy distribution of the recent film documentary about him could have a most dramatic impact. Having a marginalized Republican in the race combined with a popular Republican as a brother won’t hurt, either.

Back to that conversation I had with Thompson. I’ve personally known Ed for a couple of years and know that he genuinely enjoys listening to people — especially those that support him. To me, he sounded as though he might run if he felt he had enough solid support behind him. If you wish to see him enter this race, I’d suggest popping him a quick message encouraging him to do so. I’d also indicate how much money I’d be likely to contribute and any special skills which might assist him in his campaign.

Somma wrote, “The stars have aligned in Wisconsin’s CD3. It would be a political sin to pass this up.” Those of us who feel the same way should use the link I just provided to put our money where our mouths are.

Stephen Gordon

I like tasteful cigars, private property, American whiskey, fast cars, hot women, pre-bailout Jeeps, fine dining, worthwhile literature, low taxes, original music, personal privacy and self-defense rights -- but not necessarily in this order.

  1. I’ve been told that Ed decided not to run, so I will let this issue drop. My research was a good exercise, and I hope it convinced Ed to make a CD3 run in 2008 (not sure if he specified his intended office to Stephen).

    Ed’s decision not to run may well be a blessing.
    April is very late to make an announcement, so it’s
    probably for the best, especially if he plans to run
    in 2008. As Kind will no doubt destroy his
    opposition, the opportunity will remain for Ed’s 2008
    run. It will be tougher, as the partisan crowd turns
    out in droves for a presidential year, but there are
    opportunities as well. LPWI members should keep a
    close eye on Kind for the next two years. Every vote,
    every step. You can build a lot of ammo for Ed’s 2008

    Good luck until then,
    Justin Somma

  2. I’m still holding out hope for 2006 — or at least further exploration to see if such a race is feasable. I also pledged a minimum of $500 if Ed will run.

  3. It’s somewhat disconcerting that while so many would consider voting for Ed Thompson as an independent, substantially fewer would consider voting for him affiliated as a Libertarian: same candidate but now a minor political party affiliation.

    Why is the Libertarian Party label such a negative? This is partly a rhetorical question (look at our positioning the past two decades) and part honest inquiry (I’d really like to know; too bad this polling can’t answer this question).

    Or is this simply a variation of the dominance of the two-party system, in this case where a known, respected community member can challenge an incumbent (and a weak other major party challenger) as an individual, but as a third-party candidate is saddled with the label of a minor party in an election in which most voters would then think they’re throwing away their vote if they voted for him?

    Maybe our best candidates should run for partisan office as independents first, then affiliate as incumbents.

  4. In 2004 in Colorado, there was a credible independent candidate for the State House, Joe Jabaily (not a libertarian but by all accounts a decent guy), who ran so well the House changed its rules the next year to accomodate his possible victory.

    Tragically, he was fatally injured during a bicycle race that summer of 2004 (the police messed up blocking the road for the race).

    The Democrats didn’t put up a challenger to the Republican incumbent, largely because of Jabaily’s candidacy. The Republican, Jim Welker, just announced he won’t run for re-election.

  5. Correction:
    The Democrats didn’t put up a challenger to the Republican incumbent in 2004, largely because of Jabaily’s candidacy.

  6. Daniel,

    Remember that 24% said they would vote for Ed under any party label.

    Most libertarians would vote for Ed under any party label.

    Only 2% said they would vote for Ed, only if he ran under the Libertarian party label.

  7. Daniel –

    For more info on why the libertarian party label is currently a negative, check out the Libertarian Reform Caucus web site at: There are some great articles on that site about problems in the LP and what needs to be done in order to get better.