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It took Senator Tammy Baldwin precisely 0.64 seconds to completely reverse her position on the Senate’s duty to “advise and consent” on presidential Supreme Court appointments. That’s about how long it took for President Trump to utter the name “Judge Neil Gorsuch.”

In 2016, when a nominee of President Obama was forced to sit in the proverbial waiting room for most of the year, Baldwin joined the chorus of feigned outrage from the left. But now that a new president – one who she doesn’t like as much – has made a nomination of his own, she’s completely reversed her position by supporting a filibuster to clog up the pipeline to the high court.

A new Politifact column declares Baldwin’s new position to be a full flip-flop. When Politifact calls out a Democrat, you know the case must be airtight. They write:

When [Merrick] Garland was nominated in March 2016, Republicans moved to block his nomination, which prompted the ire of Democrats.

Baldwin declared: “It’s the constitutional duty of the president to select a Supreme Court nominee, and the Senate has a responsibility to give that nominee a fair consideration with a timely hearing and a timely vote.”

But now that Baldwin is in the minority and facing a Republican nominee, she is supporting a filibuster that creates a roadblock to reaching that final vote. Her claim to “support” a cloture vote makes no sense since that isn’t up to her party — cloture would be pushed by Republicans and is only needed if Baldwin and other Democrats pursue a filibuster.

On the day Trump announced his nomination of Gorsuch, Baldwin said she would give him a fair hearing, but apparently she immediately suffered a severe case of amnesia and declared two days later her intention to vote against Gorsuch – before ever meeting with him. The hypocrisy didn’t slip past Governor Walker:

President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court last March following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. In the spirit of Obama’s own “elections have consequences” declaration, the Republican-controlled Senate decided not to take action on the Garland nomination. They cited a longstanding precedent that a lifetime appointment to the high court shouldn’t be made in the waning months of a presidency.

As the election’s outcome made plain, the argument seems to have held true that a Supreme Court nominee in the last few months of a president’s term might not reflect the sentiment of the time, and many voters made their decision in large measure because of the grave importance of who would fill the Scalia seat.

And of course, after the election of now-President Trump and the glorious departure of Obama, Garland packed his bags. Trump selected Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee on January 31.

Suddenly, Democrats whose hair was ablaze at the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings and an “up or down” vote on Garland…well, their hair is still ablaze, except now they’re angry the American people elected a Republican president and dashed their hopes of regaining control of the Senate.

The halls of Congress reek with hypocrisy. Suddenly, Democrats like Baldwin who hugged the Constitution while demanding a “timely hearing and a timely vote” on Garland are now hell bent on doing everything possible to stop Gorsuch – by all measures one of most qualified candidates for the Supreme Court imaginable and as close a fit to the strict constructionist, originalist judicial philosophy for which Justice Scalia was legendary.

In fact, Gorsuch has famously said that a judge who likes all the outcomes of his or her decisions is not a good judge – judges should apply the rule of law objectively, not manipulate it to create outcomes they like. This speaks volumes about Gorsuch’s sterling character – and Democrats’ rabid opposition to him speaks volumes about theirs.

For their part, the Republicans argue that, unlike their opposition to Garland, blocking a SCOTUS nomination made literally within days of a new president’s inauguration is unprecedented. That’s not stopping Democrat Senators from flip-flopping en masse like a sinking boatload of wet waffles – even some from states Trump won, like Wisconsin.

Baldwin’s staff is trying hard to muddy the waters with as much double-speak as they can muster, but Politifact does an excellent job of cutting through the nonsense her office is putting out:

In an email, Baldwin spokesman John Kraus said the senator’s position is consistent because she supported a hearing, a committee vote and a floor vote for both nominees.

Politifact goes through the byzantine Senate rules behind the filibuster to explain why Baldwin is a hypocrite. Essentially, a filibuster is the use of Senate rules to create a debate of infinite duration, thereby blocking any final vote on the nominee (only in Washington, eh?). A filibuster can be stopped by the use of cloture, a vote that sets a limit on debate – that vote requires 60 votes, so Democrats theoretically have enough votes to stand in the way.

The Baldwin spokesman slyly told Politifact that the senator supports a vote for cloture, but since she’s in the minority, her party wouldn’t even be in a position to make such a motion. Her position on cloture is as meaningful as my position on the clothing lines at Kohl’s. Politifact explains further:

But cloture is a maneuver executed by the majority party (Republicans in this case), so Baldwin’s “support” for that is both unnecessary and irrelevant.

The filibuster/cloture tactic has only been used four times for nominees to the Supreme Court since 1968 – and this one would be in the first few months of a presidency. The obstructionism and the hypocritical double-speak to justify it is hard to fathom. Fortunately, the Republicans can and might (and should) simply change Senate rules (with a simple majority vote) to eliminate the 60-vote cloture requirement for Supreme Court nominees.

The Democrats used this “nuclear option” for lower court nominees, presumably to get judges approved and keep the courts moving effectively. Since the Supreme Court is, well, the supreme court, it stands to reason that using the nuclear option to get Gorsuch approved is of even more supreme importance and even more supremely logical.

Elections do have consequences, and unfortunately for obstructionist Democrats like Tammy Baldwin, Justice Neil Gorsuch will be one of them.

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The La Crosse Tribune revealed a stunning new change in Rep. Ron Kind’s strategy today after multiple stories have been surfaced about the 20-year congressman’s potential 2018 plans.

The Tribune revealed today that Kind plans to hold office hours at various locations within the district in order to connect with constituents. Reports the Tribune:

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind has announced plans to make his staff available to constituents in each of the 18 counties of Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District over the next two weeks.

No doubt, throughout the land triumphant flourishes permeated village squares and Walmart parking lots at the news that Kind’s staff plans to hold office hours on Feb. 28, March 1, March 2, March 3, March 7 – all at various locations throughout the Third congressional district.

Reports of Kind now holding office hours in his district come after questions emerged about his potential run for governor. We speculated about the possibility that he might run for governor and took a look at whether the GOP is planning to seriously target his district in 2018. Is Kind trying to build support for a run for governor, or – more likely – shore up his image as a constituent-connector?

Is holding office hours – a top-flight story in his hometown newspaper – a sign that the congressman has changed strategy in order to emit an appearance of increased constituent relations? Or perhaps it’s a complete coincidence.

The people of Kind’s district, nonetheless, are no doubt honored that their congressman has bestowed upon them an opportunity for even the briefest of hearings, even if the precious opportunity precipitated upon them from on high only upon chatter that the screws might be tightening on his comfortable position in the next election cycle.

Funny how politics works.

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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.

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Rep. Ron Kind – whose gubernatorial ambitions, or lack thereof, Morning Martini has tracked for years – is once again stringing along his Democratic groupies when it comes to his interest in running for governor.

The congressman from La Crosse just told WPR he hasn’t ruled out running in 2018:

“I’ve been troubled, as many people have throughout the state, in regards to the direction of where we’ve gone as a state, the unnecessary division, pitting people against each other, dividing families,” Kind said. “We deserve better leadership, but no decision’s been made on my behalf.”

Like the star quarterback telling a half dozen ladies he might take them to the prom, Kind continues to tease Wisconsin Democrats desperate for a candidate strong enough to knock off Scott Walker.

Will he run? If he does, he has a lot of factors to weigh, including the increasing distance between himself and the mainstream of his own party, competing pressure to stay in his rightward-trending district, and the possibility of a damaging primary.

If he ran for governor, Kind could face a challenge from the left, a front on which he’s vulnerable for any number of reasons. For one, he’s been on the outs with labor interests in his district for some time, particularly because of his open-armed embrace of multilateral trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP. The erosion of support by the union left was also evidenced by his Bernie Sanders-inspired primary opponent in the 2016 election. At least one union actually endorsed his opponent, Myron Buchholtz. Superdelegate Kind was also hounded by a pro-Bernie gaggle at the Democratic National Convention for being too moderate on trade issues.

Still, 2016 was a hopscotch for Kind, who eventually trounced Buchholtz and strode onto a general election in which his oddly named opponent, “scattering,” barely amounted to a blip (translation from geek humor: he ran unopposed). However, the strain between Kind and labor remains. The strain between Kind and the newly empowered and proliferating far-left, for whom Kind is far too nuanced and rational, is also growing more pronounced as Sandersism takes hold within the new Democratic Party.

Ironically, Kind has long marketed himself as a leader in the “New Democrat” caucus, a group of middle-of-the-road Congressmen who, with the upheaval that’s dragged his party to the precipice of socialism, now appears to be a relic of the days of Clinton. The New Democrats should re-brand as “The Tattered Wreckage of a Dead Dream.”

As one of few remaining rural, flyover state Democrats still in Congress, he admitted to voting against Nancy Pelosi in recent House leadership elections, telling the Wisconsin State Journal that a new minority leader would be “a breath of fresh air.” In the same article, Kind was critical of Hillary Clinton. “She didn’t set foot in Wisconsin once after the primary. I knew that was going to be a problem,” he said.

After the results of the November elections hit, Kind no doubt started seeing the ground moving beneath him as his electorate’s gradual transformation became manifest – or at least the electorate is realizing how far left the Democratic Party has drifted away from New Deal populism.

Voters are changing their voting patterns accordingly.

When Kind was first elected in 1996, President Bill Clinton was reforming welfare and trumpeting that “the era of big government is over,” an apparent last gasp of the Democratic ideals of the Kennedy era. Such notions are thoroughly in the mainstream of Republican thinking today, but it’s utterly unthinkable rhetoric from a modern Democrat – except the likes of Jim Webb, whose moderate candidacy for president went over within the post-Obama Democratic ranks like ketchup on ice cream.

How much has the electorate changed in Wisconsin’s Third? In 2012, the first presidential election after redistricting made the district even more blue by removing parts of right-leaning St. Croix and adding parts of left-leaning Portage, Barack Obama won with 54.8 percent. In 2016, the same electorate voted for Donald J. Trump by 49.3 percent; Hillary Clinton won just 44.8 percent, about the same amount as Kind’s last Republican challenger, Tony Kurtz.

Kind endorsed Hillary and pledged his superdelegate vote for her.

In addition, the two state legislative seats in which an incumbent was defeated in 2016 (both Democrats) were in Kind’s district. Rep. Chris Danou lost to Republican Treig Pronschinske 52-48 and longtime Sen. Julie Lassa lost to Patrick Testin, who hadn’t held elected office before challenging Lassa. Lassa lost by 52.4 to 47.6 percent, losing every county in her senate district save one, Portage, the most liberal.

In the era of Trump, Kind is buoyed by a sort of Bermuda Triangle of liberal enclaves – the City of La Crosse (the rest of La Crosse County went for Trump), Portage County, and the City of Eau Claire.

The tectonic plates have shifted on the Democratic side of the ballot since 1996, too. Sanders obliterated Clinton in the Third District – the Democratic Socialist won the district with an astounding 61.3 percent of the Democratic primary vote.

Kind’s district might be increasingly vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean Kind himself is, too. Though the district’s voting patterns seem to be shifting Republican, especially in the rural areas bounded by the Bermuda Triangle, Kind is hardly the poster child for the “new left” that pawns off responsibility for Hillary Clinton’s abysmal candidacy on conspiracy theories of Russian hacking, fake news, or a nexus of corruption in James Comey’s office. He’s not likely to be seen flipping over cars, smashing windows, or throwing rotten fruit at controversial alt-right agitators. Perhaps most scary to the coastal elites that run his party, Ron Kind is pro-Second Amendment. It would be fair to assume he actually owns guns – AND USES THEM TO SHOOT ANIMALS!

No, Ron Kind is rather astutely in touch with his electorate, even though he’s become quite comfortable with accepting millions of dollars from special interests via his lofty perch as ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, a vaunted position that allows him to amass war chests of millions of dollars each election cycle, which he typically spends airing recycled TV ads depicting him throwing a football and watching the Packers. His image could be summed up in two words: Captain Wisconsin.

Captain Wisconsin is at no risk of losing in the near future; the 53-year-old has a job for life in Congress if he wants.

He also seems to be quite unambitious, at least when it comes to any aspirations for higher office. He passed up running for U.S. Senate in 2012 (presumably the Democrats preferred a cleared field while the flame thrower-wielding Republican candidates formed a circular firing squad and torched their own chances of taking the seat). He passed up a run for governor against Walker in 2014, leaving the Democrats with Mary Burke and her hairdo. He deferred to Russ Feingold for U.S. Senate in 2016, who shocked the world in his failure to take down Ron Johnson. He’s also passed up other leadership opportunities in the House.

Then, there’s the issue of the Democratic bench in Wisconsin, a topic we’ve clobbered for years on this website. It’s so thin that former state Sen. Tim Cullen, who was among those who famously took a vacation to Illinois in a failed attempt to stop Act 10, is actually considered a strong contender for 2018. Susan Happ – the failed attorney general candidate from 2014 – has been discussed. Jennifer Shilling, the Senate Minority Leader who came within 60 votes of losing her own seat in the state Senate in 2016, is still somehow being mentioned. Add to that the usual cast of yet-uncasted characters in the Mary Burke mold, people who can be mutated into featureless canvasses onto which any generic Democratic persona can be grafted, an approach that flopped like a wet waffle with Mary Burke.

Ron Kind For Governor would tickle the Democrats to no end. He is the Democratic bench in Wisconsin – and he’s perhaps the one Democrat with a very, very, very good shot at defeating Walker (that’s three verys more than anyone else). But there’s also the issue of time. Though he’s not old – at 53, he’s a puppy compared to 72-year-old Tim Cullen – the clock is nonetheless ticking. If he passes on 2018, he will be nearly 60 before his next shot at governor comes around, and that’s if Walker gets re-elected. (Kind will be 54 this year, 55 at the time of the 2018 election, and 59 at the 2022 election).

Any Democrat with the exception of Kind running against Walker would be an admission by that party that Walker is unstoppable – akin to their failure to put up even a token challenge to Annette Ziegler for Supreme Court.

Kind would have a unique appeal statewide to the vast sea of moderate, inconsistent, politically independent voters. Voters who lean left and those who lean right will both find something to like about his positions. He’s also extremely disciplined in his message, to the point of being the embodiment of the quintessential Ivy League plastic politician. Think Cam Brady, Will Ferrell’s parody of the entrenched, self-interested congressman in The Campaign.

But perhaps Kind’s greatest strength is the intangible reason why he’s so popular in the Third, anecdotally at least. (I’m qualified to peddle anecdotes about voters’ perceptions of Kind because I worked on Tony Kurtz’s 2014 campaign against him). People LIKE Ron Kind. They see him as a nice guy. Invariably, they think he has their interests in mind out in D.C., neverminding the coincidental nexus of his voting patterns and his vast list of PAC contributors. Were he to run for governor, he would need to translate that reputation, which he’s spent twenty years building in west-central Wisconsin, to the rest of the state.

Were he to run, he’d have to come up with something better than telling people he likes football and guns.

The Walker machine would face a formidable foe in Kind, but they’ve proven extremely effective at what they do, which is to win. How could they do that against Kind? Labeling him a “career politician” is a nonstarter – Walker is one, too. How about a “Washington insider?” That hasn’t hurt him in the past, despite his opponents’ best efforts. But perhaps a better strategy would be to use the populist upswell that manifested in the Sanders surge and Trump triumph against Kind. Introducing Ron Kind to both Trump and Sanders supporters as both a thoroughly embedded establishment insider, a vocal supporter of Obamacare (right) and even more unabashed proponent of anti-labor trade deals (left, labScreen Shot 2017-02-17 at 10.10.12 AMor) could throw a wet blanket on enthusiasm for a Kind candidacy during a potential primary.

Dampening enthusiasm among Democrats, especially the new breed of rabid ones who want to see a Socialist winter descend on the country, could be a winning strategy. Wisconsin as a whole overwhelmingly voted for Sanders (see the map). Meanwhile, shoring up traditional Republican and Trump Republican support for Walker…think “Working and Winning for Wisconsin”…would keep the Walker fires stoked and drive turnout.

There’s also the matter of the Tomah VA “Candyland” scandal, which will be used against any politician with even a Kevin Bacon degree of connection to the Tomah facility that was revealed to be doling out highly addictive opiate painkillers to veterans in unimaginable quantities, resulting in deaths and drug diversion. Far from being twice removed from Tomah, Kind has in fact represented the area for decades, and of all the state and federal politicians whose constituencies overlap in Tomah, Kind is most directly that facility’s overseer in Washington. He would have to answer for that in any high-profile race he undertakes.

Kind will no doubt be facing competing pressures – pressure from within Wisconsin to run for governor, and pressure from Washington to stay in Congress. Kind’s district is already being targeted by Republicans for 2018, one of 36 Democratic-held seats that Trump carried that are on that list. A group called American Action Network is already running ads hitting Kind for his support of Obamacare.

Even with a pittance of outside involvement and money, absent the influx of many, many millions of dollars, Kind is unlikely to be unseated in 2018. But, if he gives up the seat to run for governor, there’s a pretty good chance that a Republican would replace him given the makeup of the district, its history (moderate Republican Steve Gunderson represented the district before Kind) and, of course, the deep Republican bench in the district.

Possibly the top contender would be Republican Tony Kurtz, the 50-year-old veteran, former Apache helicopter pilot, and farmer who pulled nearly 44 percent against Kind in 2014 despite a massive cash disadvantage (although Kurtz outraised Kind among individual donors toward the end of the campaign). Kurtz fits the district well, is extremely popular among the Republican base, and is a superb retail campaigner who could win over Kind’s coalition of moderates and independents in a race without Kind on the ballot. Other possibilities are former state Senator Dan Kapanke, who came within a hair of knocking Kind off in 2010, Sue Lynch of La Crosse, the former president of the National Federation of Republican Women, and any number of Republican officeholders in the Third – Sen. Howard Marklein of Spring Green comes to mind, as does freshman state Senator Patrick Testin of Stevens Point.

To be sure, there are Democrats who could vie for the seat. State Rep. Steve Doyle of Onalaska, Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse, and state Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire are among them (Wachs has also been mentioned as another possible gubernatorial candidate). Wisconsin Rapids’ 28-year-old mayor, Zach Vruwink, has also been mentioned anecdotally as a potential future candidate.

But it’s time to return to reality. In all likelihood, Kind won’t be giving up his well-paying job-for-life in Congress anytime prior to the time he chooses to retire to a life of fishing, hunting, and watching the Packers from his barcalounger. It’s not likely that Kind will abandon the cushy enclaves of swanky soirees at Bullfeathers and the comfortable social circles of D.C. for a tumultuous – hellish – waltz into the Walker buzzsaw, only to take a five-figure pay cut for a job in which he’ll constantly be butting heads with an almost-certain long-term Republican majority in the state legislature.

He’d be crazy to do so. And if I’ve learned one thing about Ron Kind after being represented by him for 20 years and working on a campaign against him, he’s certainly not crazy.

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Rep. Sean Duffy has announced he will not challenge Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018.

His statement, published in the Journal Sentinel:

“After much prayer and deliberation, Rachel and I have decided that this is not the right time for me to run for Senate. We have eight great kids and family always comes first. Baldwin will be beat because her radically liberal Madison record and ideas are out of synch with Wisconsin. I look forward to helping our Republican nominee defeat her. I’ll continue to work my heart out for the families of the 7th district, and I’m excited about the great things we will accomplish with our united Republican government.”

We’ll update this later.

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It looks like Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald agrees with Morning Martini that Sean Duffy is in a good position to take on Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018. A talked-about possible candidate for the office himself, does this mean Fitzgerald is throwing cold water on those rumors?

We’ve previously written about the Duffy versus Baldwin dynamic. Because Duffy is demonstrably stronger in northern Wisconsin than other Republicans, and theoretically stronger elsewhere because of his early support for Trump (who won Wisconsin, and won big in rural areas of the state), he is uniquely positioned to be the leading contender against Baldwin.

That calculus is this: Duffy was a strong Trump supporter from the very beginning. This turned out to be genius; Duffy’s district swung heavily for Trump in both the primary and general elections, and newfound GOP voters in rural areas could prove crucial.

Broadening the scope to the prospects of the Senate GOP in 2018, I write:

If Trump’s tenure as president is a success, it’s very possible – I daresay likely – the Republicans could gain a filibuster-proof majority in 2018. Most importantly for Wisconsin, the Badger State could oust one of the farthest-left Senators currently in the Senate and replace her with a commonsense, well-liked, and steadfast conservative.

Hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, who hasn’t said whether he’ll run again, could be formidable because of the name ID he built in 2012 and because he’s (to paraphrase Trump) very, very rich. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch would also be formidable since, in all likelihood, she would have the support of the southeastern establishment.

The biggest obstacle to the GOP toppling Baldwin in 2018? A brutal primary like the one in 2012 that left eventual nominee Tommy Thompson essentially broke, paving the way for a surprisingly astute Baldwin campaign messaging apparatus to paint the former governor as “not for you anymore.”

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In a post last weekend I make the case that Rep. Sean Duffy is picking Madison – a city that isn’t well-regarded by much of the state – as a foil to gain support for a potential statewide race. After Duffy called the state’s capital a “communist community” on cable news, Dane County progressives took the ostensible bait by drawing the comments out into an extended Twitter war.

Madison progressives and their flagship newspaper have doubled down.

After the Duffy-Pocan-Soglin-whoever else Twitter war, Capital Times columnist Bill Berry decided to make his feelings about Duffy known to readers of the progressive newspaper of his adopted/pretend home in Madison. Note that Berry says he lives in Stevens Point, which is in the 3rd Congressional district, while Duffy represents the 7th, just a bit further north.

Berry addresses his Madison audience in a manner reminiscent of shouting into a cave through a megaphone:

This [Duffy’s communist comment] unleashed a torrent of angry replies from those who call our capital city home, but Duffy wouldn’t back off. But don’t worry, Madison. Duffy is just a nobody from up north looking for attention. He hasn’t accomplished anything of note while freeloading on the residents of the 7th Congressional District since 2010, but maybe that’s what most people a bit north of here want.

Should Duffy mount a statewide race, declaring him to be “A nobody from up north” sounds like the perfect way for The Left to lose yet another election in Wisconsin to conservatives.

Berry goes on to insult Donald Trump, who won Duffy’s district (those people must really be ignorant hill people to not only support a “nobody” but also to vote for Trump); he connects Duffy with Joe McCarthy (one of the most disgraceful politicians in American  history) apparently under the logic that they’ve both uttered the word “communist” during their lifetimes; and he runs through the usual left-wing talking points against conservative policies like school choice.

Berry also repeats a recent talking point that the Madison area has been home to most of the state’s job creation in recent years. That’s likely true, in part thanks to the growth of Verona-based Epic Systems. Madison is the state’s second largest metro area and, you know, pretty close to all the levers of state government, money, and power – as well as the state’s flagship university. Ironically, the counties around Washington, D.C. are also among the wealthiest in the country.

Berry explicitly connects Madison as the place we send so many of our tax dollars, then talks about how great the jobs situation is there – compared with the po-dunk losers in the sophisticated new economy. He says voters are clearly “confused” because they voted for Duffy and Trump. Comments like these are probably why why Berry directed his angry little column at readers in Madison, not Merrill.

Berry pretty much rubs it in that Madison is thriving while denizens of those towns up nort’ have been seeing their bread and butter manufacturing, timber, and other industrial jobs flee the country.

Cities like “communist” Madison are thriving, by the way, while many northern Wisconsin communities struggle. Duffy gets to do next to nothing for his district while collecting a generous salary and benefits at our cost and spewing stupid tweets just to let people know he’s still alive and not auditioning for some second-rate reality TV show.

If Democrats holed up in the progressive enclave of Madison think it’s unwise to double down on their attacks against Duffy by reminding people that the state’s capital is better off than what they seem to view as northern Wisconsin’s rinky-dink set of shacks in the middle of nowhere surrounded by shuttered factories and mills, then they haven’t indicated as much.

A recent Cap Times staff editorial tries to make the same case as Berry. After comparing Trump and Duffy on the simplistic basis that they have both appeared on reality TV shows, they breathlessly declare with no dearth of grandiosity that “Congressman Sean Duffy got his start in national politics the same way that Donald Trump did: as a self-absorbed reality TV star.”

(Small overlooked detail: Duffy went on to be an accomplished and well-liked district attorney in Ashland County for eight years – a launchpad similar to but longer than the one the 3rd District’s Ron Kind enjoyed prior to being elected to Congress).

They go on to state that Duffy owes his own constituents an apology for the “communist” comment by reminding their Isthmus dwelling readers that not all candidates win 100 percent of the vote all of the time:

…Duffy represents towns, villages, cities and counties that backed Democrats over Republicans for president, for the U.S. Senate and for the U.S. House in 2016, just as towns, villages and cities in Dane County backed Democrats over Republicans for president, for the U.S. Senate and for the House in 2016.

A fine and worthwhile reminder that Democracy and voting are a thing, but Duffy won re-election in 2012 with 56.1 percent of the vote, in 2014 with 59.3 percent, and in 2016 with 61.8 percent of the vote.

The editorial board goes on to demand an apology from Duffy because some of his constituents share the far-left views of the large majority of voters in Madison. Using that logic, shouldn’t Congressman Ron Kind be straight with his own voters about whether he voted for or against Nancy Pelosi for minority leader? He’s so far been mum.

After all, Bernie Sanders won his 3rd district handily in the Democratic primary. Many of his voters are blue collar Democrats who might not be enthralled with west coast elitist Nancy Pelosi pulling Kind’s strings like a marionette.

But the audiences of both pieces isn’t voters in the 3rd, the 7th, or anywhere except Madison. Thus the thesis of this little opus: the Democrats and their increasingly unappealing progressive militia have retreated into the bunkers, writing boring and predictable pieces that actually insult the vast majority of Wisconsin.

In doing so, they fail to realize their city and their ideas aren’t all that popular. Or, maybe the hicks in northern Wisconsin had their computers hacked by the Russians. But then again, people like that don’t know how to use a computer.

Update: Isthmus prognosticator Dave Cieslewicz agreed with my theory that Madison progs are walking into Duffy’s trap in his own opus in the alternative progressive Madison paper 11 days after I published my theory on Duffy’s commy comment, which today (12/22) got even more traction on the radio.

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There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Twitter war to shape a news cycle, for better or for worse. Congressman Sean Duffy, who represents Wisconsin’s 7th district, started one recently after he called Madison a “communist community” on Fox News.

The comment might strike some as a minor gaffe, but Duffy is no out-of-control, off-script flame thrower. He’s strategically savvy and very much in control of his message.

Instead, I see a potential strategy for Duffy: leveraging his cable news appearances to grow his statewide conservative credibility. If that was Duffy’s intent, another Wisconsin congressman, Mark Pocan – who represents the Madison area – took the bait by demanding an apology.

Rep. Pocan, who is quite cordial but also very progressive, boldly went on Tucker Carlson’s new show (already famous for Carlson’s relentless grilling of his progressive guests) to explain that Duffy is misguidedly “Trumpizing” Wisconsin politics by slinging insults in the model of Donald Trump. Pocan advertised the appearance on Twitter, extending the social media battle.

Carlson read the Wisconsin Communist Party’s platform on-air and asked what part of it Pocan disagrees with. Brushing the question aside, Pocan criticized Duffy’s tongue-in-cheek response to Pocan’s apology demand. Duffy had tweeted in reply that The Left has no sense of humor and offered to send puppies to Madison’s safe spaces as a consolation.

Within one media cycle, the story had made its way into the mainstream media. More importantly, conservative commentators – mainly seated in deep-red southeast Wisconsin – saddled up to defend Duffy and, in the process, repeat and magnify Duffy’s comments about Madison being a communist enclave, as well as his poking fun at eminently mockable lefty concepts like therapy puppies and safe spaces. What do those statements have in common?

They’re ambrosia – red meat – for conservatives.

As for “Trumpizing” Wisconsin politics, Pocan might’ve missed Politics 101 and the entire 2016 presidential election. Trump was successful by constantly picking on a foil – the mainstream media, by the end of the campaign. Democrats have tried in the past few years, unsuccessfully, to use the Koch Brothers as their foil.

By picking a city he will never come close to winning in a hypothetical statewide contest – one that most Wisconsinites look at in the Dreyfusian witticism as 76 square miles surrounded by reality – Duffy couldn’t have chosen a better foil.

Duffy leveraged one comment on Fox News into a multi-day media cycle aimed at conservatives in southeast Wisconsin. A congressman from far-northern Wisconsin, Duffy would need to make rapid and solid inroads with voters in the super-conservative Milwaukee suburbs, which is an indispensable puzzle piece for any Republican looking to win a statewide race.

The question is whether Duffy is looking to mount a statewide race, which at this point is pure speculation. I’ve previously written that Duffy would be an ideal contender to run for U.S. Senate against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (also a creature of Madison) in 2018. I also said one of Duffy’s unique strengths versus other possible Republican contenders is that he’s all but immune to being dragged down by his support of Trump, as Pocan tried to do:

That calculus is this: Duffy was a strong Trump supporter from the very beginning. This turned out to be genius; Duffy’s district swung heavily for Trump in both the primary and general elections, and newfound GOP voters in rural areas could prove crucial.That calculus is this: Duffy was a strong Trump supporter from the very beginning. This turned out to be genius; Duffy’s district swung heavily for Trump in both the primary and general elections, and newfound GOP voters in rural areas could prove crucial…

Trump won Duffy’s district handily. He also won Democrat Ron Kind’s 3rd District. If the Trump trend holds, Duffy would enter the race with a decided advantage among rural voters – not just because of Trump, but because of the rural appeal Duffy has maintained since voters first sent him to Congress to replace retiring lefty Dave Obey in 2010.

Duffy has handily won re-election ever since.

In addition to winning Wisconsin overall, Trump won the all-important Fox Valley by a considerable margin. Further, a Duffy candidacy for Senate – should he emerge from a potential primary – would certainly be embraced by voters in the WOW counties, among the deepest-red counties in the country.

Pocan’s Trump attack could only enhance Duffy’s standing in much of the state’s rural counties that led Wisconsin to becoming a Trump state:

Trump-generalIf Sean Duffy wanted to expand his name ID to crucial conservative enclaves beyond his own vast northern Wisconsin district and others that went for Trump (like Democrat Ron Kind’s 3rd district) – which are areas the Democrats have relied on in the past to tip the balance in narrow statewide races – then he could’ve executed no more perfect a strategy to endear himself in places like Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties and the Fox Valley than he did via the “commy-gate” comment.

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Jay Weber just reminded us that Tammy Baldwin is now pushing to remove the wolf from the endangered species list. While those of us from up nort’ and the po dunk understand this is just common sense given the plague wolves have become, Weber reminded us that, for a hard-lefty like Baldwin, it’s going out on a political limb.

Incubated and matriculated in the progressive crucible of Madison, it’s hard to imagine Baldwin’s stepping outside her political safe space was an instinct that came naturally. She’s almost certainly making a political calculation, especially given the sudden swing of rural Wisconsinites toward the GOP, Weber noted.

Baldwin penned an op-ed in the Stevens Point Journal on the issue Sunday:

Farmers have found livestock injured and killed by wolves that are straying closer to their herds than in previous years. Families have lost pets. Parents have decided it’s no longer safe to let their kids play where they normally do. These concerns, and the expertise of wildlife science, tell us we should take on the gray wolf problem in our state by acting again to delist the wolf from the Endangered Species List and pass management of the wolf back to the State of Wisconsin.

Three days prior to the column, State Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and state Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) had urged Baldwin to support de-listing the wolf.

Tiffany sees Baldwin taking up the issue as a gateway to bipartisan support for de-listing, a rural Wisconsin priority. “If some of her colleagues saw a Democrat like she is taking the lead on this issue, they would probably follow along,” Tiffany told WPR.

In a post published on Saturday, I made the case that that Duffy’s rural appeal and early support for Trump would be a tremendous advantage if he were to run against Baldwin in 2018:

Trump won Duffy’s district handily. He also won Democrat Ron Kind’s 3rd District. If the Trump trend holds, Duffy would enter the race with a decided advantage among rural voters – not just because of Trump, but because of the rural appeal Duffy has maintained since voters first sent him to Congress to replace retiring lefty Dave Obey in 2010.

It’s not political soothsaying that the trouncing Trump gave Clinton in rural counties could’ve changed the map for at least the next two years. Baldwin, if she’s not reading Morning Martini, appears to have arrived at the same conclusion: rural Wisconsin is now an arena in which Democrats must now do combat.

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Six years go by so fast! Elected in 2012 over Tommy Thompson, Sen. Tammy Baldwin is up for re-election in 2018. But who will face her, and where does a betting man put his money?

Perhaps the biggest question is who will emerge to challenge Baldwin. There is plenty of GOP talent in the state, from members of Congress to the state legislature to the private sector. If Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is interested, she would likely have the support of the southeastern Wisconsin talk radio infrastructure (which has been greatly weakened after WTMJ threw in the towel on their conservative talk format).

Another potential challenger includes Eric Hovde, the very, very rich (to paraphrase Trump) hedge fund manager or whatever he is who made a good run in the 2012 Republican primary. One also has to think people with high perches in the legislature like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, or some other ambitious legislator has at least entertained the idea of running.

The most often-discussed challenger, and perhaps early frontrunner to face Baldwin, is Rep. Sean Duffy of the 7th District, which covers northern Wisconsin writ large. Duffy is young (age 45), charismatic, and can easily appeal to both the rural voters who found his literal lumberjack campaigning a refreshing change from stale, sterile politics-as-usual, and the critical suburban voters of the Fox River Valley and the WOW counties ringing Milwaukee. It’s just impossible not to like Duffy – and he’s missing no opportunity to raise his profile such as by giving commentary on Fox News.

Kleefisch would also be formidable. She has a statewide office, she’s been expanding her outreach, she has strong support in critical southeast Wisconsin, and most of all – she’s incredibly likable, genuine, sharp, and steeped for years in the issues at the forefront of Wisconsin voters. A Kleefisch versus Duffy contest would be a tough decision that might come down to a pure political calculus.

That calculus is this: Duffy was a strong Trump supporter from the very beginning. This turned out to be genius; Duffy’s district swung heavily for Trump in both the primary and general elections, and newfound GOP voters in rural areas could prove crucial.

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Trump won Sean Duffy’s district, the 7th, in the GOP primary
Trump-general
Trump won the vast majority of counties in Duffy’s district in the general election

In addition, Politico cited rural Wisconsin (a descriptor fitting of Duffy’s district) as crucial to Trump winning Wisconsin:

Though he underperformed in the suburban WOW counties, turnout in the state’s two Democratic strongholds, Milwaukee County and Madison’s Dane County was smaller than in 2012 — and dramatically smaller in Milwaukee County than four years earlier. Trump also blew up Wisconsin’s 2012 map, winning 63 percent in rural areas, which made up a little over a quarter of the vote, and outpacing Romney by 10 points in those areas.

Trump won Duffy’s district handily. He also won Democrat Ron Kind’s 3rd District. If the Trump trend holds, Duffy would enter the race with a decided advantage among rural voters – not just because of Trump, but because of the rural appeal Duffy has maintained since voters first sent him to Congress to replace retiring lefty Dave Obey in 2010.

Duffy has handily won re-election ever since.

In addition to winning Wisconsin overall, Trump won the all-important Fox Valley by a considerable margin. Further, a Duffy candidacy for Senate – should he emerge from a potential primary – would certainly be embraced by voters in the WOW counties, among the deepest-red counties in the country.

If Trump a) Doesn’t screw up his first term and b) Returns the favor and offers his support for Duffy in rural, blue-collar areas of the state, that could make all the difference in retaining those voters for the GOP and unseating Baldwin in 2018.

This prognostication admittedly overlooks the potential of a Kleefisch, Hovde, or other candidacy – but the new reality that rural, outstate Wisconsin voters who once kept uber-lefty Dave Obey in office for 143 years are now a potential Republican voting bloc must be considered when weighing someone like Duffy against a candidate from the conservative bunker in southeast Wisconsin.

Perhaps the biggest threat to a GOP victory in 2018 is a brutal, costly primary like the one that left Tommy Thompson almost broke as he went on to face Baldwin in 2012. The GOP intelligentsia would be wise to consider the new map and coalesce around one and only one candidate in 2018.

Baldwin’s race is emblematic of the challenge facing Senate Democrats in 2018. While the GOP was on the offensive in 2016 thanks to the GOP wave in 2010, the tables will be turned in 2018. Of 33 Senate seats up for re-election in 2018, 25 are currently held by Democrats.

As with Wisconsin, many of those contests will take place in states that Trump won – some overwhelmingly. Townhall summarizes (see below for my own synopsis):

Indiana: Democrat Joe Donnely is up for re-election. Many analysts said Donnely lucked out with an easy win when former Sen. Richard Lugar (R) was primaried and a weaker GOP candidate ran against him in the general election. Donnely probably won’t have that luxury next go-around. Indiana just elected Rep. Todd Young (R) by a ten-point margin.

Montana: Democrat Jon Tester is up for re-election. He knows a thing or two about running races. He lead the 2016 Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He will need that experience fighting for his job in Montana, a state that voted for Trump by a 21-point margin. However, Montana has a penchant for electing Democrats statewide. While voting for Trump, Montana voters also chose to re-elect Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock.

Florida: Democrat Bill Nelson has run many races in the Sunshine State and now he’s asking voters in Florida again to send him to D.C. He’s a known entity there, holding office since 1972. However, Florida did just elect a Republican president and overwhelmingly voted for Republican Marco Rubio by an almost 8-point margin over Rep. Patrick Murphy. Rubio performed strongly in Latino districts that typically vote Democrat. A lot of candidate options are on the table for the GOP: Rep. David Jolly, Rep. Ron DeSantis, or outgoing Gov. Rick Scott. Judging how Rubio performed against Murphy, Florida GOP should consider another Latino – as that voting base shows stronger preferences for fellow Latinos, even when the candidate is a Republican.

Missouri: Democrat Claire McCaskill is up for re-election again. Her continual hold on the seat is a testament to how many times the state GOP has screwed the pooch. Rep. Todd Akin was polling ahead of her until his “legitimate rape” comments finally burned his chances in 2012. Missouri is a red state. Voters there chose Trump by 19 points, re-elected Sen. Roy Blunt by 3 points, and flipped their governors’ seat by electing Republican Eric Greitens by almost six points. McCaskill should be done if the Missouri GOP plays their cards right.

Ohio: Democrat Sherrod Brown has done well in Ohio. He’s held office there for over 20 years and won election to the Senate twice. However, if there is a year to oust him from power, the time is now. Ohio pivoted strongly to the GOP in the 2016 election. Trump won the largest margin in Ohio than any Republican in the past five elections. Republican Sen. Rob Portman won his re-election by an astounding 21-point margin. The Rust Belt looks to be turning red and it could spell the end for Sen. Brown.

North Dakota: It’s a little perplexing how Sen. Heidi Heitkamp even got elected in North Dakota. It surely is a testament to the Republicans’ bad showing in 2012. Nonetheless, the state has been returning to its blood-red roots. Voters there went for Trump by 36 points and voted for Sen. Hoeven by a 68-point margin… You read that correctly. North Dakota voters preferred Republican Hoeven 78.6 to 17 against the Democrat challenger.

Wisconsin: Democrat Tammy Baldwin is up for re-election. No state shocked the country more than Wisconsin. It hadn’t gone for a Republican since Reagan in 1984. Sen. Ron Johnson (R) came back from the dead to win re-election against Russ Feingold. Johnson clawed his way from a double-digit deficit in the polls to a 3-point victory on Election Day. Gov. Scott Walker also has an impeccable operation in the Badger State – winning election three times in a row despite a union onslaught. This will be an interesting stat to watch.

West Virginia: Once a Democrat stronghold, West Virginia is now ruby-red. Coal country is Trump friendly and voters in this state voted for the president-elect by a 42-point margin. Their legislature and majority of their House delegation has gone Republican. However, it will be quite difficult to oust Sen. Joe Manchin. West Virginia residents still appreciate their blue-dogs. Despite choosing Trump, they voted to elect Democrat Jim Justice to the governor’s mansion by a wide margin. Sen. Manchin is perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. This seat may not go red until he retires, but anything is possible when his national party brand is as hated as it is in the Mountain State.

Pennsylvania: This is last of the three major Rust Belt States in play in 2018. Sen. Bob Casey has been involved in Pennsylvania politics for quite a long time. It’s actually a family affair- his father held office before him. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey proved all the polls wrong by winning against his Democrat challenger in 2016. On top of that, Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win the Keystone State since 1988. This is a light-blue state that may be turning red with the Rust Belts.

Let me summarize. Democrats are up for re-election in the following states that Trump won bigly:

  • Montana (Sen. Jon Tester) Trump +21%
  • Missouri (Sen. Claire McCaskill) Trump +19%
  • North Dakota (Sen. Heidi Heitkamp) Trump +36%
  • West Virginia (Sen. Joe Manchin) Trump +42%

Flipping those four states alone to the GOP while holding its own ground would decimate the Senate Democrat caucus. If the Trump coalition holds, wins in the remaining five states Townhall lists are possible – if Trump plays ball. The Republicans currently hold 51 seats – flipping nine would…well, do the math.

And that’s just nine out of the 25 seats Democrats are defending in the next cycle. The GOP has to avoid running crazy candidates like they did in some races in 2012. As is the case in Wisconsin, the party should coalesce around the strongest candidates in each state, with an eye to the new populist mantle forged by Trump.

That shouldn’t be a problem considering Republican candidates have routed Democrats down-ticket in the 2010, 2014, and 2016 elections, leaving the Dems with an extremely thin bench and the Republican ranks teeming with talent.

If Trump’s tenure as president is a success, it’s very possible – I daresay likely – the Republicans could gain a filibuster-proof majority in 2018. Most importantly for Wisconsin, the Badger State could oust one of the farthest-left Senators currently in the Senate and replace her with a commonsense, well-liked, and steadfast conservative.