I really wish I would have made Sunday’s session. However, allergies really knocked me flat, so I missed the big surprises of the convention – Dick Leinenkugel dropping out, and Ron Johnson earning both Leinenkugel’s and the party’s endorsements. Let’s see if I can play catch-up as part of the wrap.
Before I get to the main part, I do need to clarify to those not familiar with what an RPW endorsement means. It gives the endorsed candidate access to party money, staff and lists. It does not either make the endorsed candidate’s ballot access easier (much less guaranteed) or make the other candidates’ ballot access harder. All candidates still need to circulate and get the same number of signatures on nomination papers filed with the Government Accountability Board.
- Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s Friday pitch to the delegates was enough to carry himself to a bare plurality in WisPolitics’ straw poll of 457 of the the attendees for the 2012 Presidential nomination. He received 87 (or 85, depending on where in the write-up one gets one’s numbers from) votes, with former governor Sarah Palin second with 68, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (widely seen nationwide as the Next-In-Line™) third with 65, Newt Gingrich fourth among the “official” candidates with 45, Ron Paul 5th with 32, and Mike Huckabee tied for 6th with 18. Notably, 55 people specifically wrote in Paul Ryan, who was not listed on the ballot, while 31 people wrote in somebody else not on the ballot (which also included Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Mike Pence and Rick Santorum) or otherwise said “other” and 6 declined to vote.
- There were also two other questions on the abbreviated straw poll – whether the attendees supported the endorsement process, and whether they supported the Tea Party movement. By a vote of 316 yes to 74 no to 58 no preference, they supported the endorsement process. By a 425-20 margin, they support the Tea Party movement. Do keep those results, especially the second, in mind, for a few of the other items.
Speaking of that second result, it is a recognition that the RPW under Chairman Reince Priebus has made significant strides in regaining its small-government mantle after the Thompson-Graber-Schultz-Gard era.
- Owen Robinson and Deb Jordahl thoroughly blew apart the street theater the Mark Neumann campaign successfully sold to the LeftStreamMedia. Unlike the LSM, Owen actually interviewed RPW Exective Director Mark Jefferson, who said that the convention hall was limited to credentialed delegates, alternates, guests and media, and that at that point, nobody from the Neumann campaign had complained to the RPW about the situation.
Jordahl noted three elements that would earn the Twitter #fail hashtag for those who actually pay attention. First, after trying to get a massive protest organized through his “50,000 Facebook friends”, he was only able to get a few dozen to show up, and most of those were from his campaign staff. Second, among those few dozen was at least one credentialed delegate, who as a delegate had full access (and indeed, voting rights in the endorsement process). Third, Neumann himself promptly went back into the hall and voted in the endorsement process.
I might have noted this before on the blog, but Neumann hadn’t exactly been trying to court either the party regulars or the Tea Party movement crowd in the first 7 months of his campaign. When he finally tried to tie himself to any portion of the Tea Party movement, he chose the national Tea Party Express rather than any of the local groups, such as the Racine, Wausau or Oshkosh Tea Party groups.
- The lieutenant governor’s vote showed a couple of interesting “insider baseball” elements. First, regional campaigns, such as the one Dave Ross has been conducting, don’t exactly work. Second, running a campaign based as much on one’s gender as anything else is not a winning strategy in the GOP. Third, record does matter, even if one reaches out significantly to the Tea Party movement and has significant “insider cred”. That 2007 vote for the Doyle budget kept Brett Davis from topping 50%.
- Dick Leinenkugel’s drop-out from the race was only a bit of a surprise because of his previous service as Democrat Governor Jim Doyle’s Secretary of Commerce. I truly wish I had been able to interview him, because his subsequent endorsement of Ron Johnson, which was a huge surprise, certainly appears to invalidate at least part of the conventional wisdom that Leinenkugel was a stealth Democrat candidate.
Something I had not had the opportunity to mention prior because I didn’t quite complete the background research also breaks part of that conventional wisdom – the only state or federal-level donation I could find from Leinenkugel was a single 2004-cycle donation to the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee. Again, keep that in mind.
- Speaking of surprises, the biggest surprise was the party endorsement of Ron Johnson on the second ballot. Johnson is, outside the Tea Party movement (and even within parts of it), a rather blank slate on specific issues.
There is a recognition that in a high-cost race, one-on-one campaigning simply isn’t enough. That lesson was driven home in 2004, when the NRSC and a previous RPW leadership took their wads of cash and went home after Tim Michels upset their prefered candidate, Russ Darrow, in the primary. The victim of that was Dave Westlake, who went out of the endorsement race on the first ballot with 15.1% of the vote.
Repeating one of the themes in the lieutenant governor’s endorsement race, record matters. In this case of political neophytes, it was Terrence Wall’s donation record, littered with donations to various Democrats, from Jim Doyle to Tammy Baldwin, that overwhelmed everything else. It even overwhelmed a closing trend on Russ Feingold in polls. He didn’t get higher than 23.6% of the endorsement vote, and that was on the first of the two ballots.
- It wouldn’t be a convention without a review of the hospitality suites. Even though the food offering was weak compared to previous conventions, and everybody who had food the first night ran out very quickly, Paul Ryan’s suite (guest-hosted by Jim Sensenbrenner after the Ryans had to leave early in the wake of Jenna’s mother’s passing) did not disappoint. Ron Johnson’s hallway spread the first night probably was pretty impressive, but by the time I got to it, everything was gone.
The best theme was Ben Collins’ military theme. He had ammo boxes and a pair of shooting games (one electronic, one airsoft gun). The RACC highway signs were pretty nice as well, but the fact they were stuck on a different floor than the main set of suites hurt the attendance.