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Saturday, May 25, 2024
Leinenkugel brewing up a failed campaign

Jamie Stark

Leinenkugel brewing up a failed campaign

Wisconsin's 2010 U.S. Senate race is shaping up to be nearly as interesting as a Minnesotan election. Last Friday, Dick Leinenkugel––yes, one of those Leinenkugels––suddenly resigned his post as Wisconsin's Commerce Secretary to announce he will run for Senate. The Menomonee Falls native is part of the fifth generation of the Leinenkugel Brewing company, and since 2008, oversaw Wisconsin's economic development policy.



According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, unnamed sources close to the Bürgermeister of Beer say he will be entering the Republican Senate primary. Rumors circulated for months that Leinenkugel was considering a run for governor, but Leinenkugel found the gubernatorial race already crowded by a big-name Republican in Scott Walker. Aside from former governor Tommy Thompson's tepid consideration to run, the Senate race is wide open.



Perhaps Leinie was dragging his feet and weighing his options between races until the ferocity of the tea baggers convinced him that Russ Feingold could possibly lose. But unfortunately for Leinie, Feingold will be easily re-elected to a fourth term and Leinenkugel will face an intense battle for the GOP nomination.



In Wisconsin, name recognition isn't everything. Probably because you won't find many big name Wisconsinites outside of the Packers and the Brewers. Conservative credentials during the era of Obamacare and communism may matter more than Dick's famous family. In the GOP primary, Leinenkugel faces David Westlake, a Watertown native whose tea-bagging tendencies will undoubtedly turn off moderate Republicans; and Terrence Wall, a Middleton real estate baron. Leinenkugel should be the Republicans' first choice. But if anything, Leinenkugel's entry may help the tea bagger candidate by dividing the moderate, business-minded Republican vote and leaving the more conservative wing to coalesce around Westlake.



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For the Republicans' sake, Leinenkugel is by far their best chance, and perhaps the only current candidate who can even compete with Feingold. Although partisan Republicans will disagree during the primary, Leinie's work with a Democratic governor proves he is somewhat reasonable and willing to work with both sides. True, Gov. Jim Doyle, Leinie's boss until last week, is unpopular. But to beat a liberal senator like Feingold, the Republicans would need a fervently moderate candidate, not a right-winger. Plus, the number of people who would vote for ""the beer guy"" is astounding.



Perhaps such posturing is unnecessary—Feingold will win in 2010. He has made a popular name for himself across the state, fighting for fiscal responsibility and job creation since long before the currently waning recession. The only Republican who could possibly unseat Feingold, Thompson, has sat on his hands too long in this race. Thompson would appear indecisive and slow-moving if he announced now, not qualities that would help a Senate candidate. At the Madison tea bagger rally Thursday, he may finally take a public stance. If Leinenkugel doesn't want to quickly become peripheral, he needs to learn from Tommy's mistakes and jump in quickly.



So far, the only people who have reacted to Leinie's decision are committed partisans from both sides. The Dems are smartly sitting back and poking fun at the now comical GOP race, while the Republicans quickly begin infighting for the nomination. Conservative radio host Charlie Sykes asked about Leinenkugel's decision to run as a Republican, asking ""Isn't this like running for the presidency of PETA while wearing a beaver skin coat?"" Terrence Wall already has a page on his campaign website dedicated to exposing ""liberal Leinie."" Apparently being progressive and associated with beer is a bad thing in their circles.

Tricky Dick Leinenkugel already began defending his conservative credentials, saying ""I served in the military as a marine officer during Ronald Reagan's presidency. I grew up being heavily influenced by Ronald Reagan."" But among conservatives, invoking Republican Jesus may not be enough to explain away his support for the budgetary and business policies of a Democratic governor.



With such mudslinging already underway, it's unclear whether or not Leinenkugel will win the Republican primary. He started later than he should have, but there isn't much ground to make up between himself and the two other unknowns vying for the GOP nomination.



At the very least, Leinie's foray into the senate race may even serve as a nice advertising campaign for the Leinenkugel Brewing Company. Leinie isn't the first beer mogul to attempt a bid for the U.S. Senate: In 2004, Republican Pete Coors, a well-known silver bullet enthusiast, narrowly lost the Colorado senate race to Democrat Ken Salazar. The Coors brand hasn't seen extensive boycotting by too many Democrats, at least not to the extent that my conservative grandpa refused to buy Heinz ketchup during John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid. Coors received national attention for his run, and enough free press to turn mountains blue. If Leinie is lucky, he can do the same for the family brand.



Perhaps Leinenkugel knows his chances at victory are slim, and sees this as, at worst, a way to boost his political cred statewide for a future race. When Herb Kohl is done in the U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, who currently represents Wisconsin's 3rd district just on the border of Leinie's familial home Chippewa Falls, will hopefully fill the senate seat. That could mean an easy run for Congress for Leinenkugel if he were to move into the district. Kind's territory is more than conservative enough to support a moderate Republican.



But up against senatorial giant Russ Feingold, Leinie has no chance. Unfortunately for lovers of Sunset Wheat and Honey Weiss, Leinenkugel's next seasonal brew will smack of bitter defeat.



Jamie Stark is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. Please send responses to

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