Donkey Cage Match

The fight for the top leadership position in the Democrat Party of Wisconsin will make for great popcorn politics. The election is in June at the party’s convention. Its outcome will help define the party’s values ahead of the 2016 election cycle.

But Democrats have a problem. Outgoing chairman Mike Tate is well known in the wonkier circles of both parties for his hyperbolic nonsense press releases that steamroll the most minor of Republican missteps and trifling of Democrat victories, but he’s failed to represent the party’s values. That job went to Mary Burke during the last election, and she couldn’t have turned out to be a bigger bore. Before her were the angry faces of pro-union protestors barking in the Capitol.

With Scott Walker’s political dominance in Wisconsin cemented last November, Democrats need a new foil and a platform that stands for something beyond not being the Republican Party. They need a face and cause to rally behind. Obviously they have a taste for bitter denunciations of their opposition, which made Tate an ideal toddler for the job. Preceding him was blog-commenter Joe Wineke, who’s ineffectively lurked around Wisconsin politics for years, also as a state legislator and failed candidate for County Executive of Dane County in 2011.

He wants in on the race, and he wasn’t waiting for Tate to step aside to make those plans clear, telling Joy Cardin in November, “If Mike runs I can’t believe I could run against him,” citing how important relationships and friendships are to him.

But that would be a bizarre, backward-looking step for an allegedly progressive bastion of feel-nicery.

That’s where Jason Rae comes in.

Rae has national connections, having been a darling of heavy hitters in the party since he was in high school. In 2016, Wisconsin will naturally be an important part of the DNC’s national political apparatus — having that kind of connection will be helpful to their ground game, which State Senate Minority Leader Jen Shilling has acknowledged needs to be improved. He might provide the persona that the party faithful will rally behind, but that same bloc might also be wary of untested leadership following six disastrous years of Tate’s non-leadership.

Unless, of course, a female face is better than a young one, in which case they’ll pander to Mary Lang Sollinger, the bundler and Obama superfan who’s put together tons of cash for Democrat candidates over the years — a useful skill for the leader of a party that’s in desperate need of building a bench of candidates from scratch.

Their obvious short-term target is Ron Johnson, who’s going to be vulnerable. Much of the outcome in 2016 is dependent on the RNC’s ground game in Wisconsin, where voters are a fickle bunch who can in one breath protect Scott Walker from a recall and just months later elect Tammy Baldwin to the US Senate.

Of course, with Mary Burke in pseudo-retirement, give her enough shellack and coaching, she might be just what Democrats need to jump-start an otherwise lifeless organization.

About the writer: Nik Nelson is publisher of and Founder/CEO of OpenBox Strategies, where he connects political candidates and small businesses with excellent digital marketing tools and strategies.