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Sunday, June 26, 2022
GOP needs better talent in 2nd District

Todd Stevens

GOP needs better talent in 2nd District

One more round of midterm elections is in the books, and it was a sweeping victory for Republicans nationwide. While the GOP victory may not have been as dominant as many had projected, the Republicans were still able to take the U.S. House of Representatives, grab a lion's share of the country's governorships and oust Democratic senate stalwarts, including Wisconsin's own Russ Feingold. But here in Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional District, Democratic Representative Tammy Baldwin didn't even flinch.

Baldwin soundly defeated her opponent, Republican nominee Chad Lee, and was never threatened at any point during the race. It's an occurrence that has become a regular tradition for Baldwin, having defeated challengers Peter Theron, Dave Magnum (twice) and Ron Greer all by margins greater than 20 percentage points.

But it's easy to forget that 2nd District voters didn't always gift wrap the seat for Baldwin. Before Baldwin, the district was represented by Republican Scott Klug. And in 2000, when Baldwin's Congressional office still had that new car smell, she faced an intense fight from Republican candidate and UW-Madison history professor John Sharpless. Even living in a district anchored by the most liberal city in the Midwest, Baldwin was barely able to pull out a victory by a mere percentage point. So what has changed between 2000 and now to make Baldwin so politically invincible?

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In an interview, Sharpless himself was quick to point out that redistricting has made the 2nd District much more liberal, and Republicans looking to challenge Baldwin face a far more difficult task than he did.

""I ran in a different environment. That was a different district, before it was gerrymandered to work for Tammy,"" Sharpless said, referring to the new 2nd District boundaries instituted in 2002 that included the liberal stronghold of Beloit. He also referred to Baldwin's incumbency status as a roadblock for new Republican opponents.

""Once in a while people already in office can be effectively challenged, but it's rare,"" Sharpless said. ""It's a very tough hill to climb for Republicans [in the 2nd District].""

However, an equally important factor lies with the Republicans themselves. Since 2000, they simply have not ran a candidate that was anywhere near as strong as Sharpless.

Lee is no exception. Two weeks ago, as he sat in a meeting with The Daily Cardinal Editorial Board sipping on a Monster energy drink, the 2010 Republican nominee demonstrated he was nowhere near qualified to sit in the hallowed halls of Congress. When we asked Lee about his plans to work with Wisconsin Republicans to reappropriate high-speed rail funding to state highways, he had absolutely no legal grasp of how this could be accomplished. When asked where he would make cuts in the federal budget, Lee could not provide an answer, insisting that his experience conserving his cleaning service employees' cell phone minutes made him qualified to analyze national-scale spending bills.

Granted, Lee came across as very earnest and well-intentioned. But earnestness doesn't pass legislation.

Since Sharpless, none of Lee's Republican predecessors have been particularly daunting candidates either. Greer was a homophobe who would make James Dobson look compassionate. Magnum was a UW-Madison dropout who tended to have issues paying income taxes. And Theron, while an obviously intelligent man and also a college professor, was one of the worst fundraisers Wisconsin politics has ever seen.

Even the relatively modest Sharpless had to admit that his campaign had certain strengths others didn't, noting he had the advantages of ""being a professor on campus and a bit of a curiosity to the press.""

Yet still, particularly in a year when frustrations against incumbents and Democrats could have made Baldwin vulnerable against the right candidate, the Wisconsin GOP sends out the same weak opponents, ripe for the slaughter. Meanwhile, potential strong candidates, such as moderate Oregon assemblyman Brett Davis, look to advance their political careers elsewhere.

Baldwin knows her way around the issues. She knows how to fundraise. She knows her constituents. She knows how to speak to a crowd. Basically, Baldwin is pretty good at her job in Congress and equally good at campaigning. The 2nd District will stay a deep shade of blue unless the GOP finds a candidate who can match Baldwin in all of these areas.

However, Republicans seem content to continue underachieving. In 10 years, the GOP went from a scholar of American history with a Ph.D to a twenty-something man who runs a cleaning service and has never held elected office. This is the wrong direction. If you think that's elitist, fine. But I hardly think it's wrong to expect our political leaders to be the best America has to offer. I can only hope that one day the Republicans of Wisconsin will agree.

Todd Stevens is a senior majoring in history and psychology. We welcome all feedback. Please send responses to opinion@dailycardinal.com

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