Duffy Challenger Claims Populist Mantle

Unlike Sean Duffy, I’m not afraid to stand up to powerful interests on behalf of everyday working people. It’s become clear to me that Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters across the district are not satisfied with the status quo.

[Sean Duffy] goes so far as to shut down the federal government, costing our economy $24 billion in an attempt to deny access to affordable healthcare for the rest of us.

-Kelly Westlund in her announcement event

Her announcement event was a seated diatribe, at once a laundry list of Democratic talking points that she literally read off a sheet of paper, and an “I understand you, he doesn’t” appeal to the working class voters of the district.

Ms. Westlund
Ms. Westlund

Scripted populism seems to be the centerpiece of Ms. Westlund’s bid for the 7th Congressional seat, held and won handily twice by Republican Sean Duffy following longtime Democrat Rep. Dave Obey’s retirement.

The perils of a big government Democrat pushing the populist approach are blatant. Ms. Westlund not only supports Obamacare, she’s called for its expansion. She’s also called for a public option, doubling down on the dictates from on high that Obamacare prescribes.

That’s hardly populist. Basing a campaign on it smells of amateurism.

There’s no telling the economic fallout of Obamacare next year. By touting being on the side of working people, who may soon lose their employer sponsored health insurance or even their full-time status because of the law, Ms. Westlund could look like just another double-talking liberal.

Mr. Duffy

On the other hand, trying to paint Mr. Duffy as a wealthy elitist comes across as a stretch. His image is hardly that of a rich Republican; he’s often seen wearing jeans, and his ads have portrayed his hobby as a competitive lumberjack.

Mr. Duffy is personable, young, and downright cool. He certainly doesn’t fit the “fatcat” mold into which Ms. Westlund tries to force him, the mold from 2012 in which Obama successfully smelted Romney.

But I doubt Mitt Romney’s ever thrown a hatchet at a log.

The Democrats are also using the government shutdown and debt limit scuffles as a mallet in this race and others.

Ms. Westlund complains that there are a lot of government workers in the 7th “and when those federal workers weren’t getting their paychecks, that’s money that wasn’t being reinvested in our local communities,” she said.

Let’s just forget that they got back pay.

Let’s also forget that Ms. Westlund is opposed to a Gogebic taconite mine in Northern Wisconsin, which is certain to bring a lot of jobs – and a lot of money to be reinvested in local communities for decades to come. Income taxes will be paid, houses will be bought and property tax collections will go up. And government workers’ salaries will be funded along with schools, road, and so on ad infinitem.

If residents of the northwoods are concerned that their children are their regions’ chief export, then Ms. Westlund is regressive to their concerns, not progressive.

Whether the shutdown technique will work is hard to know. While for most the shutdown had little if any impact on their lives, it’s widely seen as a reckless move, and most voters don’t like recklessness. By next year’s elections the shutdown will be either forgotten or a Democrat weapon of diminishing impact.

Ms. Westlund’s main attack on Mr. Duffy seems to be that he’s a “Tea Party Republican” extremist. But according to Wisconsin Public Radio: “While Sean Duffy doesn’t think the Affordable Care Act should be defunded, he is demanding that the individual mandate be delayed a year, and that President Barack Obama and his family join the new insurance exchanges.”

Forcing Americans to buy a new insurance plan they can’t afford and fining them if they don’t isn’t very populist. It’s downright dumb. Delaying the individual mandate until the many kinks in the law can be worked out is fair, and so is asking for the same treatment for everyone regardless of their ability to bend Democrats’ ears.

Bending the ears of Washington Democrats is what Ms. Westlund said she did recently as she explored the possibility of running for the 7th, and it seems she caught some wind among the D.C. elite.

In fact, the Democrats and their big-money PACs have already runs ads against Mr. Duffy, the irony of the decade in the northwoods.

Amid all this, Ms. Westlund’s most glaring deficiency might be her abject lack of experience in either the private or public sector. A 30-year-old “freelance consultant,” Ms. Westlund “now owns a consulting firm that partners with local farms and businesses for economic and community development projects, according to a news release from her campaign,” a vague description if ever one was offered. “She previously served as executive director for the Alliance for Sustainability, a nonprofit environmental organization in Chequamegon Bay,” according to the Wausau Daily Herald.

In addition to being a devotee of left-wing causes, she’s been on the Ashland City Council since 2011. Ashland is a far-northern Wisconsin town of 8,216 according to the 2010 census. She’s had less time on this city council than Mr. Duffy’s had in Congress.

While Ms. Westlund might not have the bona fides to be in Congress, she’s not to be underestimated because the DNC and Team Obama are not to be underestimated.

Ms. Westlund is right about one thing, though: voters are not happy with the status quo. They’ve had it with being nickel and dimed by the government and with dictates from Washington bureaucrats in comfortable offices that pay little regard to the impact on their lives. They’ve had it with a regional economy that produces good kitchen jobs at best, one in which the best jobs have long since moved away. Most of all they’ve had it with double-talking politicians who claim to be for things that they really aren’t.

Kelly Westlund might be inclined to oppose the influence of big corporations, but when will that opposition be at the price of jobs? She’s certainly inclined to support the expansion of big government and big taxes, which rarely poll well with the little guy. She might claim to detest the kind of money it takes to run a congressional campaign, but her allies are already running ads.

Blue collar voters have a choice in what they buy from which corporation. They don’t have a choice in paying taxes.

Except when it comes time to vote. Will voters pick a flame-throwing big government liberal with a script that tells her how to care about working people? Or will they choose a conscientious, common sense Republican like Sean Duffy?

Another question is, will ads funded by secretive PACs as opposed to actual campaigns in the light of day win out?

It’s up to voters.

About the writer: Chris Rochester has worked in communications and finance for a state Senate and congressional campaign, consulted on numerous Assembly and local races, and has held leadership roles in his local Republican Party. He's communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.