Friday, April 23, 2004

Wisconsin's Russ Feingold is up for reelection to the U.S. Senate this fall. At a debate among his prospective challengers yesterday in Milwaukee, it became clear that Republicans intend to make Feingold's lone vote against the Patriot Act the centerpiece of the fall campaign. His vote was called "cowardly," "un-American," "unpatriotic," and "wrong." His civil-liberties objections are not well thought out, and he was making a statement and being a maverick. In general he is, as we will hear over and over, Out of Touch With Wisconsin.

(Seems to me taking the time to actually read a bill few senators read, and to stand up on the Senate floor and make an argument against the bill while the Twin Towers were still smoking and when no bill could have been more popular, is the precise opposite of cowardice. But that's just me.)

Feingold's most serious opponent is, in my view, millionaire businessman Tim Michels of the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha--the most Republican area of the state. Michels said of the Patriot Act, "All it does is say you don't have to call the terrorists first to tell them you're going to tap their phones." All it does? Well, thanks for clearing that up, Tim. In another drastic oversimplification, Michels calls the war in Iraq "maybe the most important thing to happen in my lifetime." (He's 42.) Michels has already gained the endorsement of Wisconsin Right to Life, one of the most virulent anti-choice groups in the country--so you can expect more sanctimonious platitudes from him before the race is over.

The other challengers include attorney Robert Gerald Lorge of Bear Creek, whose father was a state senator (and whose website leads a visitor to believe his number one priority is ending "Chinese Communist slave labor," which must be a hell of a problem in Outagamie County). Lorge says he'd have problems with the Patriot Act if a Democrat were president, but "I trust this president with it"--which has to rank high on the list of the stupidest political quotes of 2004.

Also in the running are car dealer Russ Darrow of West Bend, whose primary advantage seems to be that his name is plastered on the bumpers of millions of cars in the state. When asked last year why he was running for the Senate, he said it was because he could afford it. He gets points for honesty, at least, and for sparing us a bucket of pondwater about following in the tradition of great Wisconsin Republican Senators. (Of course, there haven't been that many. The LaFollettes were Republicans, but they'd be Democrats today. Joe McCarthy was a Republican, though.) Also running is badly underfunded state senator Bob Welch of Redgranite, who is fast becoming a perennial Senate candidate, but who actually seems to have some specific ideas for what he'd do in office, as opposed to mouthing platitudes and slamming the incumbent.

Wisconsin's Republican primary isn't until September 14, so Feingold will be outnumbered by his challengers in a game of political whack-a-mole all summer. Good thing they're all numbskulls.

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