Wisconsin Govs Race One To Watch
By Jeff Mayers, Special to Stateline
Less than seven months before the November election, Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum has fielded a new team of top advisers in a bid to win a four-year term in the face of discouraging poll numbers and an image problem.
McCallum, who replaced popular former Gov. Tommy Thompson when Thompson joined the Bush administration in January, recently changed chiefs of staff, added a senior adviser, formed a campaign steering committee and signed up a new campaign manager.
Republican Party leaders hailed the actions of the man who for 14 years was Thompson's lieutenant governor. "I am more encouraged than ever. We go into the fall feeling very good,'' state GOP chairman Rick Graber said.
But the shakeup brought some unwanted fallout the resignations of McCallum's fundraiser and his general consultant.
Brian Christianson and Dana Grigoroff had vaulted the governor to a comfortable financial lead over his four Democratic opponents and Libertarian Party candidate Ed Thompson, brother of the ex-governor.
Grigoroff left with a parting blast, suggesting that McCallum's new campaign structure raises potential ethics problems because it includes lobbyists or ex-lobbyists. "Professional political fundraisers respect the wall that is in place between lobbyists, fundraising, and legislation. It is a wall that cannot be compromised,'' she said.
The McCallum campaign said through a spokesperson that it was ``baffled'' by the statement. McCallum supporters privately told reporters the changes limited the consultants' access and that Grigoroff's comments were sour grapes
"If the governor is baffled by Dana Grigoroff's concerns, then he has no ethical compass. Bringing lobbyists into his inner circle violates the arms-length principle that is the foundation of our ethics laws," said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a watchdog group that monitors campaign fundraising.
McCabe called for an Ethics Board investigation. The board simply reminded candidates, including McCallum, about state rules governing candidate association with lobbyists.
"I listen to all kinds of people. And all kinds of people give their input. ....There have been changes, and it's uncomfortable for some people to go through change. I understand that," McCallum said.
Wisconsin Democrats are barely concealing their glee at the governor's troubles. Thompson, who became federal Health and Human Services secretary after 14 years in office in the governor's office, was dubbed ''Teflon Tommy'' by his critics.
McCallum's detractors call him the Velcro governor because whatever gets thrown at him seems to stick. Not helping things is the persistent rumor denied by all concerned that Thompson will return from Washington and run for a fifth term to keep the governor's office in Republican hands.
In addition to the invidious but frequent comparisons of McCallum to his popular predecessor, the former lieutenant governor has been dealt some bad political cards: a sputtering state economy and thousands of layoffs, a $1.1 billion budget deficit and a mysterious disease that threatens one of the state's best loved pastimes -- the traditional fall deer hunt.
McCallum's negative ratings currently outweigh his positives and recent polls indicate he would lose to any of his potential Democratic opponents : U.S. Rep. Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, Attorney General Jim Doyle, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, and state Sen. Gary George of Milwaukee.
But McCallum's foes aren't declaring victory yet. "I think the events of recent weeks indicate some serious problems (for McCallum),'' says Sara Rogers, the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO's executive vice president.``(But) Democrats shouldn't take anything for granted.'' The state AFL-CIO likely will not endorse in the September Democratic primary, she said, because loyalties on the union's board are divided.
McCallum's supporters say the Democratic candidates haven't distinguished themselves, and raise the specter of a bloody Democratic primary that will allow McCallum to beat a wounded Democrat in a close election. They also say a Milwaukee scandal that has claimed the Democratic county executive and wounded the city's Democratic mayor works to McCallum's advantage.
``I think (McCallum's) core messages are solid. He's ... coming off as a guy who wants to reform things. I don't see any Democrat capturing the fancy of Wisconsin citizens. ..We've got time,'' GOP chairman Graber told Stateline.org.