Is the GOP Serious About Targeting Ron Kind?

The Republican Party could be putting plans in place to give Democratic Congressman Ron Kind the sort of challenge he hasn’t faced in his 20 years in the House.

A fundraising solicitation email from Mark Morgan, executive director of the state Republican Party, pinpointed Kind’s district, the Third congressional district of Wisconsin, as being on the GOP radar. After Trump’s decisive win in rural Wisconsin, Morgan tells supporters:

“…Now we know which House seat is our best shot at a GOP pickup: Wisconsin’s Third District – one of only a handful of Democrat seats carried by Trump in the country.

Of course fundraising solicitations portraying a particular win or loss as hinging on the $20 contribution of some typist or trucker are standard business in politics, so for the state party to imply Ron Kind’s seat hangs in the balance might be tabloid trash that today passes for real reporting, but to those who have been in the game it’s not exactly a shocker.

The email does, however, cite a Journal Sentinel article probing the question of Kind’s conundrum as a flyover Democrat in a Trump congressional district. While the solicitation didn’t specify which article, it may have referred to this one where the Journal Sentinel took a look at each Wisconsin congressional district. It’s worth quoting their analysis of the Third in full:

This is one of just a dozen Democratic House seats in the country carried by Trump last fall. It had been regularly voting Democratic for president. But it saw a huge shift toward the GOP in 2016, part of the massive rural swing that delivered Wisconsin for Trump. Kind was unopposed for Congress by Wisconsin Republicans, who had no real way of knowing what a golden opportunity this blue seat would have been for them in 2016.

In a highly read analysis I posted this weekend, I threw a bit of cold water on the idea that Kind is or will ever be a golden opportunity to Wisconsin Republicans. The article notes, however, that Kind will be under pressure to oppose Trump.

Now it looks like Kind will be highly targeted by the GOP in 2018. The fact that his southwestern Wisconsin district voted for Trump may pressure Kind to look for some common ground across party lines with the president. But Trump’s edge in the district was narrow (just 4 points), and Kind will be pushed by his own party’s voters to oppose the president.

Kind’s dilemma is this: if he vociferously opposes Trump, he alienates an energetic portion of non-ideological populists among his electorate. If he demurs, he ticks off the far left that already thinks he’s squishier than a rotten banana.

If the state GOP follows through on making Kind a target, they’ll join at least one national group called the National Action Network so far that is also running ads against Kind for his support of Obamacare, but there’s no indication whether this is a token shot across the bow or the harbinger of a bigger campaign to come.

Politico also reported that Kind’s district is one of 36 on a list of target districts – districts that Trump won that are held by Democrats.

In his email, Morgan also said:

We need your help to recruit top-notch GOP challengers and give them every resource they will need to defeat DC insiders who have been in Washington too long and have lost touch with everyday Wisconsinites.

That candidate is likely Kind’s 2014 challenger Tony Kurtz. An influx of support from outside the district to match Kind’s Political Action Committee donations could level the playing field and give Kurtz a real shot.

Addendum: a curmudgeonly Facebook commenter pointed out that the opening paragraph should be regarded in error in view of Dan Kapanke’s highly competitive 2010 campaign against which Kind barely held on. We are not in error, and the curmudgeon is wrong. While the RNCC, Kapanke campaign, and other groups assembled a nearly victorious effort against Kind, key here is “nearly”; our lede refers to an unprecedented effort against Kind, one that wins, not one that comes close.

About the writer: Chris Rochester is editor in chief of Morning Martini. He’s an armchair politico, veteran of several campaigns, and communications specialist. He's the communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.