Walker and Neumann: The race begins

The latest issue of Wisconsin Interest - the publication put out by WPRI - has a sit down interview/debate with Scott Walker and Mark Neumann moderated by Charlie Sykes and Marc Eisen. My first impression upon reading the article is that this is going to be a fun primary.

I'll go on record right now saying that I have no horse in this race. I'm inclined at this point to support Walker, but that owes more to do with the fact that I know him personally and that I believe him to be an honest and sincere man. I have no doubt that he is going to do what he believes is best for the state. I don't know Mark Neumann and have never met him, but I do know his resume and it's as impressive as Walker's. Not that any of this really matters. I have no influence in the GOP and my own thoughts are probably not going to sway anyone's opinion, but I wanted full dislcosure.

For the most part, the interview featured standard conservative Republican talking points. This isn't a criticism, it's just that both these men are sincere conservatives who believe in their positions. The interesting part of the interview came when they were both asked about the future of the GOP and what type of message it will take to win in 2010.

Walker's response was that essentially we need a new salesman. It isn't that the GOP message is broken or discredited, but that we have failed to communicate it and live up to it. There's a lot of truth to that statement. The Bush administration did a lot of damage to the Republican brand when it failed to live up to it's conservative "ideals." And when one looks at the Democrats who won in '06 and '08, many of them ran on platforms of fiscal responsibility and economic growth. If it's a problem with the spokesman, the case can be made. After all, look at Paul Ryan. He's wildly successful in a district that went decidedly for President Obama last year.

Neumann's response to the question of message vs. messenger was quite different. He argued that it most certainly is time for a new message - not new principles or values, but an update of the traditional conservative message. This is something that has been talked about frequently here at LiB and it's an appealing argument. Neumann focused on his background as a business owner and talked a lot about green energy and green jobs. He argued that we need to reach out as a Party and voice an alternate path to a cleaner environment than cap and trade or the Governor's global warming task force. He emphasized using the private sector and entrepreneurism to create jobs, improve the state's economy and help the environment. From a tactical standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. I think most of us agree that conservative principles - especially economic ones - are still popular, but we need update their application for a new generation that doesn't remember Ronald Reagan.

Throughout the interview there were a lot of subtle jabs at each other, nothing serious, but the two men are definitely feeling each other out and trying to pick the right critique to win the nomination. Neumann is going to stress his background as a businessman and a relative "outsider" to politics. I wouldn't expect him to talk too much about his time in Congress other than as a part of his breadth of experience. As for Walker, it's going to be his success in very liberal Milwaukee County and the fact that even though the County Board there has made life miserable at times, he has consistently put the conservative principles of lower taxes and less government into practice.

The big difference between the two will be the message they use to appeal to voters. It's far too early to tell and the odds are still heavily in Walker's favor, but this is exactly the kind of primary the Wisconsin GOP needs. We are going to get a battle over the future of the party and the Republican brand/message. No matter who comes out on top, I suspect that they will be in a much stronger position than without a primary challenge. We are going to hear ideas and specifics. The primary will force both candidates to lay out their full agenda to the public and that's a good thing.

I'm looking forward to it already. And please, go read the whole thing.