Handicapping the 7th Congressional Race

Okay, so all the cool kids are doing it, and I'd like to offer my own two cents on who may or may not get into the race to replace retiring Congressman Dave Obey. First, there will be no new entries into the Republican primary. Sean Duffy has a huge advantage now and most GOP state legislators are looking forward to being back in the majority.

As for DPW chairman Mike Tate's pipe-dream of an uncontested primary, well, it's a pipe-dream. This is an amazing opportunity for Democratic legislators and aspiring politicians for which many have waited a lifetime. No one, particularly Mike Tate, is going to stop someone who has been waiting for this day for years.

So, of the nearly 20 state legislative districts in the 7th CD, which politicians are most likely to run? Well, I've got it narrowed down to 3 state senators and only 1 state representative. Unfortunately for DPW, most of the representatives in the 7th are either too inexperienced to be a serious threat or too old to run against a young, energetic DA with a huge, attractive family. Yes, I realize that seems shallow and insensitive, but sadly, in politics, those visuals matter.

So, we're left with the typical list that includes Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, Senator Pat Kreitlow, Senator Julie Lassa, and Representative Amy Sue Vruwink. (I know, not very original, so sue me.) Will any of them run? Yes. And here's why:
  • Russ Decker is widely believed to have been the heir-apparent to Dave Obey. They are cut from the same ideological cloth and I believe that even though Obey claims to be "dog tired" he would campaign hard for Decker. Of course, his time as Senate Majority Leader will put him in a position to defend some unpopular provisions within the state budget. Still, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  • Pat Kreitlow faces a very tough reelection fight this year, but he does have a lot of name ID from his time as a TV news anchor. He has a much shorter and less controversial record than Decker and if he wants to be a congressman someday, it is better to run for an open seat than challenge incumbent Sean Duffy.
  • Julie Lassa has been in the legislature for nearly 12 years and in the senate for 7 of those years. She is a relatively low-key, but popular Senator. In both 2004 and 2008, Lassa received 67% of the vote, but for President the district was more evenly split. Bush garnered 48% of the vote in 2004. Plus, Lassa has the added bonus of not being up for reelection until 2012. It's a free shot for her.
  • Amy Sue Vruwink may be the dark horse candidate here. She represents a largely rural district, but does have the city of Marshfield - home of the Marshfield Clinic. Since her first election in 2002, she has received anywhere from 63% to nearly 70% of the vote. Though it would mean a loss of her assembly seat, the potential reward is massive and it is not inconceivable that the district will remain Democratic in 2010. If no one else steps up, look for her to take the banner and run with it.
So, where does this leave the state of the race? I'd be willing to bet that Lassa and Decker are the most likely to run. I can't believe that Decker would pass up the chance to run and remember, it's easier to run for an open seat rather than against an incumbent. For Lassa, it's a free shot at becoming a member of congress. If Kreitlow sees his senate race going south, it's entirely possible to go out on his own terms. Better to lose moving up to a congressional race than get beaten for reelection. We also have to acknowledge that personal ambition and ego are going to play a huge role in the decision-making process. In that realm, nothing anyone else says is going to matter and only they know if they see themselves as a congressman in waiting.

Why not take a shot at the big time? I don't see anyone stepping aside simply to avoid a primary battle. Mike Tate may hate the idea, but if any of the possible candidates feel that the state legislature is lost, there is no incentive to not run for congress. Obey has a huge warchest that will almost certainly go to the nominee so fundraising isn't necessarily an issue. And memo to conservatives: this is no sure thing. Duffy is now the front-runner, but only because there is no other candidate. After all, the district did send Obey to Washington for 41 years. It's still a Democratic district until we prove otherwise.

The next week or so will tell us where this is going. In addition to the 4 people I've mentioned, there will also be a local official, or private citizen announce. Bottom-line is, there will be a fun primary and general election in the 7th this year.