Thursday, October 27, 2016


By Dominique Paul Noth

Late and ugly ad blitz trying
to pick away at Feingold.
You wouldn’t know from the advertising blitz screaming at you. But the  Republicans clinging to – or tolerating - - Donald Trump are in big trouble with voters. Like the Obamas and Joe Biden, the electorate wants to take not just the candidate but anyone who supports him out behind the gym.

The fear of that paddling explains this spurt of secret money. Third party advertising has stepped in hard, knowing that Trump and his allies have turned off any faucet and are floundering rather than thinking of helping candidates down the ballot survive. Even solidly conservative commentators have abandoned Trump, wondering how any in the party can still support him.

Wisconsin is a particular hotbed. The Democrats are hard put to combat this unmatchable outlay. In fact, many Democratic  campaigns are candidly scrambling in the face of the avalanche of late anonymous money for GOP candidates not running for president.

Hillary Clinton’s clear advantage has run into an artificial wall -- not of Trump’s building but of  financiers who quietly hate him but also want to stop her bills that might cut into their amoral profits. So down the ballot they are trying to salvage seats important for her control of Congress and also important to correct misshapen state houses across the country.

The top anonymous spending in Wisconsin goes to the campaign to prop up Sen. Ron Johnson, who is losing in all the polls but dominates the airwaves with polished ads – some family friendly, some openly gruesome -- accusing Russ Feingold of being a political insider (ignoring his actual record in the Senate), even  accusing him of abetting Iran in nuclear proliferation, one of the sickest misdirected ads in the heritage of “Daisy” back when LBJ ran against Goldwater.

This ad tries to equate the 10 years the pact lasts – providing plenty of time to work on Iran’s internal politics – to the 10 seconds that can be counted off by schoolchildren before the nuclear bomb explodes.  It’s either frightening or laughable depending on the TV audience.

As JS columnist Dan Bice reported, it took only five rich Republicans to dump $1.7 million into the advertising coffers of Johnson (television and radio), which is partly why you can spin the dials in vain. Every stop brings an ad slamming Feingold. 

Their effort was led by $1.3 million from ABC Supply’s Diane Hendricks, the Wisconsin billionaire who also gave a million to salvage Scott Walker.  The Koch brothers are also reported to be separately dropping big money into Johnson’s third party pockets.

Interestingly Johnson is not part of the panicked GOP effort in six senate races,  rushing in  $25 million (the most going to Nevada). So national Republicans, it seems,  have given up while roof supplier Hendricks is trying to build a shed for Johnson to hide under. 

The main culprit still backing Rojo, Reform America Fund, is a right-wing super PAC headquartered in Black Creek, Wis., with many Wisconsin ties including  the late Terry Kohler (he died in September) .  Perhaps not coincidentally, the group’s  FEC filings leaped from zero in August to $1,723,095 in October and it is now upping the frequency of its filings.

Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers creation, is fielding reports disguised as news stories  several times a week attacking Feingold and meanwhile sinking money into state Assembly and Senate races. 

Tom Nelson also under ad attack.
Tom Nelson, the popular Outagamie County executive,  is  seeking Reid Ribble’s House seat (Congressional District 8)  and has been doing well on issues.

But suddenly the GOP’s unknown Mike Gallagher, who is wrapping himself around the American flag and Donald Trump (a reach of unusual girth), is receiving nearly $1 million in secret money, forcing Nelson’s campaign team into emergency counter-revenue-raising. 

Recently, probably using this money, Gallagher’s campaign chopped up a debate video to make it sound like Nelson was questioning Gallagher’s courage as a marine when Nelson was attacking Gallagher’s inexplicable support for Trump.  See for yourself.

The Nelson campaign (which I had ahead anecdotally even in an often Republican region) is disturbed how money  alone is closing the gap in a  swing district. So they have made the opposition money a key to their campaign plea to voters: “Friend -- We have the chance to win our swing district here in Wisconsin on November 8. But outside money is threatening our chances in the final stretch” goes one plea through ActBlue.

In the same territory, popular Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen looked pretty safe in District 30  until money and partisan attacks came charging in against him in the Green Bay market. 

Mandy Wright
Mandy Wright, seeking to reclaim her Assembly 85 seat, is being similarly burned not as much in air time but in fliers and phone calls, the traditional way to spread falsehoods in this region.  These are not only from AFP but American Federation for Children, again getting into many local races despite its pretense of being a national voucher school advocate. Its main money distributor in Wisconsin is Scott Jensen, whose conviction in past ethics probes signals his campaign style. For years, many of AFfC’s ads have been the lowest forms of political behavior.

AFP and AFfC are also pouring an amazing $800,000 into state Sen. Tom Tiffany’s search for survival in state Senate District 12 – and that is astonishing.

Votes looking up for Van Stippen
It signals understandable fear over the attention being drawn by Democrat Bryan Van Stippen who was once considered way behind but is making headway not only on general issues but also on Tiffany having the state senate’s most dishonorable voting record on environmental concerns. Van Stippen also held a recent fund-raiser in Milwaukee.  Northeast Wisconsin has long been considered the lone area of the state remaining strong for Trump but if that is changing all manner of things are newly possible. Van Stippen’s campaign is actually looking up after the attacks, according to several knowledgeable residents.

Despite Trump’s steady decline in most of the state, the Republicans hope the old game of money, money, money can keep them competitive.

It is an unusual situation. Trump’s own campaign is not raising money for today.  Those few national Trump ads you see are lingering third party sores. But big spenders (who like not having their names known) are force feeding money into the last week of the election for Republicans down the ballot.

It’s touchy separation – how do you distance yourself from the Donald without offending his hard-core supporters? How do you convince the growing chorus of Trump detesters in your own party that you did not help cause his elevation?  (Because you know you really did with your own rhetoric and preferences.)

The Wisconsin battleground has become even more volatile since early October when I outlined the state senate possibilities and went district by district with maps on the best chances for Democratic pickup in the Assembly.

Now I have to add another to the Assembly takeover possibilities if this indeed turns into a wave election for Hillary Clinton.  I neglected and shouldn’t have:

Nanette Bulebosh
Assembly District 27: Straddling Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties with about 57,000 residents, the district was a stroll two years ago for first-time GOP  Rep. Tyler Vorpagel, who picked up support from an incumbent who decided not to run.  Things are changing now, to the point that Nanette Bulebosh, an education and library specialist who has volunteered in many Democratic campaigns and is well known in the community, starting flashing her personality and savvy to a constituency that is growingly skeptical about how state government has been run since 2011. 

When pressed, Vorpagel agrees there should be property tax relief, but his ideas are  extremely cautious while Bulebosh’s dig deeper. Similar line-walking is evident with higher education, where he agrees with the cuts so far but says he will work to smooth them. Bulebosh is far more forthcoming  that Walker’s education policy is death by a thousand cuts. If her message gets through, and this is a  big turnout year on the Democratic side, this race should be on the map. 

Other things have changed in the fast-moving political environment. 

Mark Harris on campaign trail.
Despite the expensive ads against him, and despite political games intended to keep the popular Winnebago County Exec on the shelf, open District 18 seems headed Mark Harris way, and he got another boost with a fund-raiser and silent auction in Milwaukee Oct. 17.

Another Democratic pickup seems in the cards in District 14 where Waupaca Mayor Brian Smith is trying to oust GOP Sen. Luther Olsen, who was almost ousted in a recall.

But that’s only two. The third and perhaps fourth are uncertain, though clearly Brian Van Stippen is scoring points in District 12. 

Diane Odeen is X factor in
Democratic takeover
But also in the running is District 10. To help her  campaign, candidate Diane Odeen came to Milwaukee October 26 for a small but generous fund-raiser,  including fellow graduates of Emerge Wisconsin who have also won public office  (state Sen. elect La Tonya Johnson, who longs for Odeen as a colleague, and MPS board member Claire Zautke).

Odeen so far has not been hit with the big money negative ads her peers in other contests are suffering. She  may be benefitting from being under the radar, she told me.

The heavy TV ad blitz against Feingold is not being suffered in District 10, which is about as far west as you can get in Wisconsin and hence in the Twin Cities  TV market.  So Feingold, who has actually visited and talked to people in this area – which is a lake home paradise but also features pockets of poverty – seems to have an edge with locals that will help Odeen, who is running against Sheila Harsdorf, another Republican  who fought recall but now faces lingering hostility for participating in that lead paint immunity effort in 2011.

There could be familiarity with or fatigue with the Harsdorf name since she took the assembly seat of her brother, Jim, and then his senate seat. Odeen is counting on fatigue since her own energy is making her better known in person to voters than Harsdorf, who’s been in the state senate since 2000.

There is no reliable polling in the district, but many residents commute to Minnesota for jobs.  Odeen mentioned that the better living and employment conditions there under a Democratic government will resonate. They also give the lie to Gov. Scott Walker’s constant  arguments about cost of living differences between the states.  In fact, Odeen slyly suggests, Walker’s job numbers may be getting an artificial boost from all those residents who actually gainfully work in Minnesota. 

Without decent polling this is a race hard to calculate.  But Democrats in the area feel  positive about it. And Republicans? They are profoundly sad the big money train doesn’t run through District 10.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for 

Thursday, October 13, 2016


By Dominique Paul Noth

Last column, I laid out the possibilities of the Democrats taking back the Wisconsin Senate. Somewhat likely. But in the Assembly the odds are gigantic. The Republicans have a 63 to 36 edge.

People better at math than I am say Democrats need to pick up 14 seats to take control.  They also say that’s impossible given how extremely the state was gerrymandered after the 2010 census. Few districts started out competitive based on the old voting patterns and there are even fewer now.

But if this turns out to be a wave election up and down the ballot, these smart politicos say, there could be an outsized impact. Major polls now suggest the people want the Democrats in control, and that could include state houses.

Even cutting deeply into the Assembly majority – say by eight or nine -- could have a positive effect, especially to curb Gov. Scott Walker’s tendencies.

A lot of money and pleadings are going on down the ballot to keep Republican voters in their own lane and try to protect locally from what is happening nationally. 

But nationally the country is pretty well off by every measure – economics, jobs, more health coverage, etc.  Wisconsin? It's lagging most of its neighbors in almost every category – jobs, environment, school funding and transportation.  So if people want a state legislative change, the evidence is firmly on their side.

Walker’s answer to everything has been that at least he held taxes down (questionable if you look at where state revenue went and the built-in inequities). To many even in rural Wisconsin that translates into holding down the quality of life.  

AD1 challenger Lynn Utesch
Democratic candidates who have risen out of these communities are now looking to bring change to places they never dreamed of influencing before.  It’s not just the national Republican swoon. Education and ecology are two enormous issues in rural areas and districts around bigger cities, and several Democratic candidates have the edge.

With attached map links to guide you, let’s take a numerical stroll among the most interesting races, possible and previously im.  If you have friends in those areas, they need to know this time they have real chance and choices.

Assembly District 1: Issues of clean water, better agriculture and local control are hot buttons right now and they’ve pushed Lynn Utesch into prominence in a race that once looked assured for the Republican.  But there is a difference between making noises for the ecology, as GOP Rep. Joel Kitchens has done, and knowing what you’re talking about, which is Utesch’s stock in trade. 

The district covers much of Kewaunee County, a sliver of Brown and all of Door County, so Utesch’s roles in Kewaunee CARES and in pushing the Gaylord Nelson environmental vision are having resonance.

Assembly District 14: This would normally be the longest of longshots for the Democrats – except the target is Republican Dale Kooyenga who has not done much for his Brookfield area district, except to drop conservative nostrums in every speech.  But he has done a lot of mental damage to the big city that many Brookfield residents believe they are a part of. He’s demeaned Milwaukee deliberately, thinking that is how his community wants him to behave.

If Milwaukeeans know people in his district and start talking things up – such as “Would these suburbanites like an all-boys legally troubled boot camp plopped in their own backyard rather than on Center St.?” -- he could face some embarrassing questions. 

Just October 12, the state DPI confirmed that he had been wasting a lot of taxpayer money and time on a bad “MPS Takeover” plan. His OSPP no longer has a target left given how well MPS had improved schools even before he interfered.

You shouldn’t have to live 10 miles away to realize he knows diddley about education. How he’s gotten away with this in Brookfield is hard to figure since back in Madison you can find a number of Republicans unhappy with his tampering in Milwaukee politics. 

Chris Rockwood
His opponent, Chris Rockwood, in the past has been a sacrificial lamb for the Democratic Party, a good speaker and capable political operator living in what has long been a terrible region to be a Democrat. But Rockwood points out that no one recruited him this time – he became so furious after hearing Kooyenga talk about Milwaukee schools that he volunteered to take him on, knowing the odds.

Now, after the national debacle for Republicans, along with the particular enmity Kooyenga has developed in Milwaukee, Rockwood emerges as prescient engager.  I don’t know if a wave could swamp Kooyenga, but I frankly have my fingers crossed.

Assembly District 21 (Oak Creek and South Milwaukee):  Here’s a strong chance for a pickup within spitting distance of a solid Democratic stronghold.  Republican Jessie Rodriguez is personable but her main focus, and the focus of her legislation, are voucher schools. Oak Creek certainly doesn’t give a fig about that, what with strong public schools and a record in both parties for moderation and working together. Their mayor is a Republican highly regarded by both sides. Their senator is Democrat Chris Larson, who pulled 6,895 votes out of Oak Creek and South Milwaukee in his losing April battle against Chris Abele. If that sort of thinking remains, that’s a lot of voters who could be looking Jack Redmond’s way.

GOP’s Rodriguez won a special election in 2013 and ran unopposed in 2014, but she won in 2013 by successfully branding the Democrat as an interloper. Rodriguez was only eligible then because she lived in the district’s narrow strip in Franklin, a bit of gerrymandering that cut out other potential GOP candidates.

Though she’s moved closer now, she’s the one whose interests look interloperish.   “No one has really stepped up to challenge her – the only backing she has is really AFP and AFC [the Koch brothers group and the voucher advocate group],” noted Dan Bukiewicz, Oak Creek resident and president of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council.

Jack Redmond
This time her opponent, Jack Redmond, has lived in the heart of the district for 25 years and is both a Teamsters business representative and an employee at UPS as well as active in community affairs.  

So Redmond knows a lot of people, they know him, and subsequently he  has powerful grassroots and union support – nothing Rodriguez’s right-wing backers can exploit.   His issues are the working man, more attention to infrastructure and public education, and his experience in negotiations will be a healthy change for Madison.

Assembly District 31: Anger over gerrymandering and what’s happened to public education underline a strange case of young college David taking on female Goliath in the Beloit area.

Republican Rep. Amy Loudenbeck is a true Tea Party baby having first been elected in 2010. So far her principal legislative accomplishment has been helping lift the financial cap on the state voucher school program.

It’s not just politics that ticked off Clinton Anderson, a junior psychology major at UW-Whitewater who easily won the Democratic primary. He knows he has an uphill race against Loudenbeck because of gerrymandering.

What upset him is the way Beloit was carved up to create a Republican leaning 31st, since he can literally step across the street from his house and be represented by a Democrat (Mark Spreitzer, District 45).

Anderson doesn’t give himself much of a chance unless this is an election determined to reverse the mistakes of 2010. “Obviously the same ole same ole isn't cutting it in Madison, so maybe someone like me might be a good change," he told a TV interviewer.

Assembly District 38 (a bit of Waukesha County, then  Jefferson County and the east portion of Dane): In 2012 Democrat Scott Michalak could only muster 40% against veteran incumbent and spouse of the lieutenant governor Joel Kleefisch, but there are signs that Kleefisch’s behavior is going to make this closer four years later.

From voter fraud on the floor of the Assembly in 2012, the male Kleefisch’s portrait in news stories has gotten uglier.

In 2013 it was interceding on behalf of a DNR violation by a supporter.   Also three years ago it was cribbing legislation and press releases. Two years ago it was attempting to sneak in a special law to please a rich constituent. Last year it was for turkey poaching.  And this year he helped Wisconsin make national television (uncomfortably) when HBO’s John Oliver skewered him over the voter ID bill

The Oconomowoc legislator apparently so assumes no Democrat can win that he isn’t worried about obeying the law. 

Michalak, a hearty outdoors type with a basic message of reform, seeks to make the race a squeaker this time even in strongly conservative territory.

Assembly District 40: Think Outagamie, Shawano, Waupaca and Waushara counties and consider the inroads other Democrats are making in this territory, which could well spill over into this Assembly race.

On paper, 10 year GOP veteran Kevin Petersen looked untouchable – but he often ran unopposed and lately supported raising the limit on campaign contributions. This is a new year where Petersen is under harsh attack for engineering an end to the moratorium on nuclear reactors, putting his district at risk of becoming a toxic dumping ground.

Dmitri Martin
His opponent, Dmitri Martin, runs a small business that helps homes become more energy efficient, GreenStar Home Performance. An active Bernie Sanders Democrat – with much of that Bernie energy and fundraising ability in his corner – Martin said it was worries about what the legislature was leaving his daughter Dhara that drove him into politics. With Republicans in power, he says, “We cannot decrease the use of fossil fuels at the rate we need and create the clean energy jobs of the future.”

Martin and Utesch have been cited in editorials as the fresh faces and community activists the Democrats need.

Assembly District 42: This is an area north of Madison that occasionally gets the progressive breezes.  George Ferriter hopes the greater familiarity with Democrats will give him a boost to knock out Republican Keith Ripp, chairman of the state transportation committee who has avoided forums or debates.

George Ferriter
“These debates allow voters to question legislators and their opponents about issues affecting our district – roads, water, schools and Enbridge oil pipelines running through our farms,” noted Ferriter.  “Why is this not happening? Is he so entrenched in his gerrymandered district the Republicans orchestrated that he no longer cares what the voters think?”

Ferriter has a lot of friends busy on Facebook to pass on his messages – but apparently not as busy as he has been at the doors. He’s a Vietnam veteran from a military family, recently retired as a mechanical engineer for Fairbanks Morse, with six grandchildren.

Assembly District 49:  No greater study in contrasts in these elections can be found than between progressive Jesse Bennett and WMC praised dairy farmer Rep. Travis Tranel. Bennett, a conservationist and goat farmer native to the region, is the latest to take on GOP’s Tranel, who was born in Iowa and arrived in the Assembly as part of that infamous 2010 splashdown. 

Assembly District 50: Juneau County has an interesting contrast in style and age. Republican Edward Brooks though 74 was first elected only eight years ago. Art Shrader, a community banker and veteran of Operation Desert Storm, is new to politics but eager to change things. 

 “Our state has simply gone the wrong way,” he said. “There are extreme agendas in Madison that have almost defied logic. I see some of these ideas that come out and ask myself, ‘Who wanted this? Who asked for this?’ and it’s not anyone in the 50th Assembly District.”

Assembly District 51:  Democrats are convinced they have the right candidate (pun intended) in Jeff Wright (sure enough and what a great name for a website), an assistant principal for the Sauk Prairie Schools whose family roots are deep in Wisconsin and whose anger over what’s been happening in the state propelled him into a winnable contest in this district west of Madison.

This district has been a closely watched thorn for the Democrats, who lost in 2014 to GOP Rep. Todd Novak by 65 votes.  So both sides are plugging hard, the Democrats through a Democratic Assembly action committee while Novak is turning to voucher school money (the American Federation for Children is off-loading funds for ads and mailers). 

Jeff Wright
Wright is a strong-voiced young candidate who started speaking up at hearings about the”deliberately destructive” state budget, an issue that has galvanized educators around the state. He told interviewers that his focus on roads and better rural broadband access is also attracting even one-time Trump voters.

Assembly District 63: Now this one is flat out of reach in Democratic calculations based on past performance. But it is the seat of Robin Vos, the popcorn man who is quickly becoming the second most disliked politician in the state for Democrats, right behind Walker.

Leader of the Majority in the Assembly (which means Speaker) he is noted for the speed with which he cuts off opposition to his ideas and the gleeful fury in his gutting of the Government Accountability Board (confirming his closeness to big business interests).  Lately he seems to be positioning himself to run for governor, even if Scott Walker wants to run. He long has been trying to steal Walker’s thunder on budget issues.

His opponent is Andy Mitchell who provides a quiet resume of family life and public interest, with  a simple platform of issues that stand in contrast to Vos’ wheeling and dealing.

No chance, the pundits say, recalling how the same candidate, Mitchell, was vanquished in 2014, 63.6 % to 35.7%.  But two years can be a long time in politics and Vos has raised his visibility in unflattering ways. Something Mitchell ran on in 2014 may have higher resonance today:  "I believe that a state representative should do the work of his constituents and not follow directives of powerful outside interest groups."

Vos has long been whipping the Assembly into line to do the bidding of others but never before has he faced such media exposure.  Now the voters are even aware of Vos’ repeated attempts to shut down open records

Assembly District 68: (Eau Claire and east) Rep. Kathy Bernier is another Tea Party baby from 2010 but she’s been challenged mightily every election since, partly because she makes it sound like Walker and GOP policies have nothing to do with the region’s problems in drawing more industry. She’s given token opposition to Walker’s education cuts, but no affect since there are too darn many Republicans and they don’t mind a selective protest vote.

This time, a truly mild-mannered lawyer, 61 year old Howard White, a lifelong Democrat involved in local issues, has stepped up in a little noticed race. White says he can “bring Chippewa Valley’s real voice back to Madison.”

Assembly District 70: It didn’t take freshman Rep. Nancy VanderMeer long to gain attention with her vote against Walker’s budget while otherwise being a good rubber stamp. But this Tomah region district has swung Democratic in past years and Mark Holbrook, a novice at running though he has supported many campaigns, has stepped up to the task largely because he doesn’t like the bulk of her votes. Other than the budget, “she voted right down the line with Republicans,” he said. “I’m not saying that voting with your party is wrong − I just think it’s wrong if it’s not good for your district.”

Holbrook certainly knows the district. Among his many jobs before he retired, he taught vocational agriculture and served as principal and assistant principal. He feels the legislature must return to issues the community cares about.  “I don’t have all the answers,” he tells interviewers, but then suggests he has the right questions and the right attitude – “an honest voice for the people of the 70th, not succumb to outside influences.”

Assembly District 72: Political newcomer David Gorski is taking on almost the poster child for that Tea Party wave of 2010, Scott Krug, who every two years is a chief target for Democrats in a district (Wisconsin Rapids south through Waushara County) they have often won.  Krug has been a notorious shadow voice for the state GOP, but Gorski seems unfazed.  (As a retired mental health counselor he could have his work cut out for him in Madison.)

Leading environmental groups are among Gorski’s backers in a region that regards ecology as crucial.  He wants to restore the meaning of the Wisconsin Idea.”The state needs to return to its historical support for both public education and environmental conservation,” Gorski said. 

Mandy Wright
Assembly District 85: This would be a Democratic pickup on the charts but it is actually looming as vindication for notable education voice Mandy Wright.  It was a strange situation. She narrowly lost in 2014 to Dave Heaton who now has stepped away.

Wright, a popular and influential Democrat in the Assembly, is heading back if she wins against radio talk show host Pat Snyder. 

The Republicans are not giving up and hope outside money remains a big advantage, if locals don’t get irritated with that. Several candidates are hearing the footsteps of right-wing groups where the donors can remain secret. 

Trying to recapture AD85 and known as a forceful fighter for public schools, Wright is facing a big threat of outside money from  Scott Jensen’s troublemaking group, the American Federation of Children, the  voucher school advocates who are making a habit of sticking their outside money into specific races.  (I’m told Mandy Wright and Jeff Wright of District 51 are not related, but both are respected educators, so this probably explains why AFC wants to stop them.)

AFC is also expected to dump $380,000 into the District 12 Senate race where newcomer Bryan Van Stippen is already facing a big ad buy by the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity.  So financial interests outside the district are hoping to steer the election back to GOP Sen. Tom Tiffany.

It will be interesting to see what voters let them get away with Nov. 8.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Reposted from October 6
By Dominique Paul Noth

Not choosing Hillary as pilot
almost as stupid as not
choosing Chesley Sullenberg.
The Democrats are praying that Hillary Clinton has long coattails and the Republicans are praying even harder that Donald Trump doesn’t. 

That’s one of the most bizarre things about this Bizarro election. When was the last time a party considered it smart to pretend to support while scurrying away from its leader?

After weeks of declaring the race a squeaker, the polls now see an undeniable national movement that puts Hillary up by six to ten points with a month to go.  Things can wobble before the Nov. 8 election -- but not just the media, for eyeballs and ratings, wants to keep this a horse race. So do Democrats. Their greatest fear is complacency – you know, “Hillary’s going to win, why should I bother to vote?”

Enough such complacency and Trump crawls back into the picture. Especially if some people don’t recognize that VP nominee Mike Pence’s performance in the Oct. 4 debate was more to position himself for 2020 than defend Trump, which he dodged doing again and again. Still, there may be some foolishly thinking he would assert some moderating influence on Trump.  That’s why Tim Kaine (not minding how much he weakened his own reputation as thoughtful and measured)  spent most of his time hammering  on what Trump thinks rather than what Pence thinks, knowing that Pence’s questionable record in Indiana doesn’t really matter right now. There’s time for that later.

But complacency could destroy the village Hillary needs to build around her to succeed as president. There is a clear strategy on both sides that transcends the debates.  Hillary doesn’t need a little win, she needs a tsunami to insure her goals. In fact, many Democrats are upset she isn’t already 10 points ahead given the general belief, even among Republicans, that Trump is unsuitable by both temperament and anti-intellectualism.

Editor's Note: When because of an Internet glitch I had to repost this Oct. 6 story, Clinton was indeed 10 points ahead.

Yet these Clinton supporters are at a loss at how to persuade people who will “never” vote Trump to turn out in record numbers to secure that “never never never” and help all the local races they should care about.   “We have scorched the snake not killed it,” to quote “Macbeth” in a modernized text and different context

For Democrats, the issue is as  lucid as picking Sully  – Chesley Sullenberger – to pilot your flight . Your other option is  that rubberband windup prop plane with a crazy man in the cockpit.  Sully had years of experience and training, test runs and millions of hours in the air, but he also had to ditch a plane once, though even that was called the Miracle on the Hudson. So you really want to go with rubberband guy?

Down the ballot Republicans are confounded by this dilemma and trying to hold Trump at arm’s length to save the core of their party.  They’re encouraging what otherwise would be blatant hypocrisy, letting candidates say they’ll kind of vote for Trump but not endorse him or  work too directly with poison ivy.  The two-face is having some success against the quiet anger among Republicans that their party is even putting them through this.

Debate points were easy for Maggie
Hassan after Ayotte imploded.
Nowhere was the dilemma clearer than in the recent New Hampshire debate between Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan and incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte. When asked if Trump was a role model children should aspire to, Ayotte fumbled and fumbled and finally said yes -- and then the next day tried to recant.  Trump is clamping many down-ballot Republicans in the same vise.

So that is why the Democrats want a tidal wave and the GOP is clinging to regional life through one hundred and six degrees of separation.  The party doesn’t want to offend Trump’s intractable core of deplorables – sorry, that should be supporters – but recognizes how many stalwart Republican households are uncomfortable to the point of bolting. 

What a double bind the Republican National Committee has created for itself! Trump is hoarding his own money and came late to the game, so the RNC is now responsible for Trump’s grassroots turnout. Yet   in state upon state it has to figure how also to encourage a compartmentalized  campaign for others on the ballot.

What will happen in Senate?

The U.S. Senate is the big target on the horizon.  From calling the outcome a tossup,  the pollsters are now leaning  to the Democratic side and a big win for Hillary could tip several close races into the Democratic column, removing control from the Republicans.

With her win, and the vice president as a tie-breaker, the Democrats need to pick up four seats to take back control.  On Nov. 8 there are actually 11 Republican seats in real play and only  two (out of what once was five) Democratic seats that the Republicans might even think to pick up. 

(Some of these Democratic possibilities are much stronger than others, but with strong turnout I think eight is doable.)

In the” keep Democrat” seats, two newcomers are way ahead – Kamala Harris to replace Barbara Boxer in California, Rep. Chris Van Hollen to step in for outgoing Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Sen. Patty Murray is also given the lead in Washington State, which wasn’t always the case.

Two other “protect” seats look better right now for the Democrats -- Catherine Cortez Mastro seeking to retain Harry Reid’s seat in Nevada and long threatened Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado finally ahead in the polls against Republican Darryl Glenn. So at this point, the Democrats may not lose any of their seats. 

The Republicans have more to protect and less likelihood of doing so. Wisconsin is the standout predicted pickup with Russ Feingold over Republican incumbent Ron Johnson.  In Illinois, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, whose personal story as well as voting record are hard to combat, is leading incumbent Republican Sen. Mark Kirk. 

Recent polling puts Kate McGinty ahead of GOP Sen. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and the afore-mentioned Hassan ahead  of Ayotte. Newcomer John Kander has stunned GOP Sen. Roy Blunt in the unlikely swing state of Missouri by running ahead. 

Indiana lures Even Bayh back.
In Indiana, popular former  governor and senator Democrat Evan Bayh was lured back when GOP Dan Coats retired from the senate, and he is facing a tougher contest than anticipated (the state’s governor is on the ticket with Trump and the state itself is on a Trump-Clinton seesaw). There is little polling in Indiana but Bayh still has a lead over Todd Young.

Even in Arizona, where legacy fondness may still give the nod to Sen. John McCain, the Democratic challenger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, has pulled even in the polls.

The Democrats’ hopes are not done yet. In the always difficult North Carolina, little-known Catherine Ross remains tied with GOP incumbent Richard Burr, who has failed to untie himself from Trump. 

It looks bad for Democrats in Iowa where Patty Judge is trailing Sen. Chuck Grassley and even more disappointing in Ohio given Ted Strickland’s surprisingly light showing against GOP incumbent Rob Portman.  

These are races where high Democratic turnout for Hillary could make a difference --  which is also true in Kentucky, where Jim Gray, the first openly gay  politician to run for Senate, has surprised Rand Paul with his strength. In Florida, the on-again off-again reluctant incumbent Marco Rubio mystifyingly  has more traction right now than  Patrick  Murphy, who gave up a sure Democratic seat to run.

Making the House friendlier

Over in the House, where the Republican control seems too large to turn around until 2018, the Democrats are already assured of making inroads that will cut the margin, tame the Tea Party extremists and give Clinton a more malleable GOP to work with – high time that something in  this dam of resistance was blown up.  It’s not that Hillary will charm them into submission. The political reality of being weakened could do that all by itself.

Even expect some change  in Wisconsin’s House. Gerrymandering has protected so many GOP congressional districts by packing more Democrats into safe seats like Milwaukee Rep. Gwen Moore’s, and redesigning others to add Republican strongholds, as was done to protect Paul Ryan in CD1.

Hopes are high that Sarah Lloyd can
replace the grotesquery of Grothman
But the Democrats expect a pickup by Tom Nelson over Mike Gallagher in the open race in CD8 (GOP Reid Ribble is stepping away, so that looks like a pickup).  There are still hopes –turnout hopes more than hopes with evidence -- for Sarah Lloyd, an agricultural expert whose voice and experience are more empathetic with the needs of CD6 than Tea Party cartoon Glenn Grothman. And some even believe communications professor Mary Hoeft may finally rid the House of another GOP embarrassment, Sean Duffy in CD7.

Madison makeup could also change

It is the statehouse races that are more likely to reflect formidable change in Wisconsin. It is almost an echo of the national situation.  The Democrats are within three seats of taking back the Senate and are poised to  cut into the Republican grip on the Assembly.

The current once-safe  incumbents have a lot to explain back home, given how the GOP dominated legislature has set back local schools, local control and highway and ecological concerns throughout the state.   The well recorded distrust  rural communities  feel for big city Democrats may not stand in local races, where they know the sort of Democrat who is running.

It’s here the length of  Hillary’s coattails may combine with a Democratic strategy that is gaining editorial notice -- pumping in new blood and fresh names . That could begin a mighty rescue operation (particularly  if the myth of keeping taxes down runs hard into the business losses,  potholes, half-done highways, schools robbed of proper finances, and on and on through the failed GOP playbook).

Moderates as well as left of center voices with clear plans on the local level  could not only make gains. They could also stifle the worst instincts of Gov. Scott Walker, who has two more years in office but would be rendered impotent by a more balanced, alert legislature. 

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for 


By Dominique Paul Noth

A longshot Democrat creeping up on
the outside rail of the Senate:
SD12 Bryan Van Stippen
Fear not, suburban Wisconsin, about that patter of little feet in the night. It is simply your neighbors creeping out to remove the Trump sign from their lawn.

That seems all that’s left to many lifelong moderate and conservative Republicans after the latest Trump revelations and his creep-behind-her debate performance. 

There’s a better gambit. Democratic candidates who spring out of these far-flung towns and rural communities now know they have a stronger chance to succeed at the polls.  Forget the track record of the past. Forget the simplistic generalities about labels.  They really may be able to change the state legislature.

As previously detailed, the U.S. Senate already seems lost nationally to the Republicans even as Russ Feingold tops Ron Johnson here in all reputable polls (though Feingold’s people still anticipate a close race). 

Now that Paul (Maybe I’m Not So Much With the Racist Anymore) Ryan refuses to campaign with the top nominee, the GOP is sensing that even the House is in trouble, which was nigh an impossible thought three weeks ago. A Wall Street Journal and NBC poll even indicates most of the country wants Democrats in charge of both chambers.

In Wisconsin this new thinking could be floating down the ballot to races for the Madison state house.  The GOP lock on those chambers may be unraveling even in conservative communities that hate Clinton and traditionally distrust anyone with a D after their name. They’re looking past the labels now.

Their old party at this point is reduced to arguing that at least Republicans can provide a check and balance, but one Republican legislator conceded to me in private, “I don’t think the people want someone to put on the brakes, they want someone who will step on the gas.”

The GOP candidates up and down the ballot have only two choices – abandon Trump and die (among the stubborn core that clings to him) or embrace him and die (among the ideological simpaticos you really care about). Do they really want to be part of this extremism?

And how do their supporters weigh the behavior of local party leaders?   Have they been enablers or ineffectual blindsided pros? Is Trump an aberration or an inevitable outcome of GOP positions and attitudes over the years?

Already the party bosses and secret supporters have pulled their coffers away from Trump and are moving desperately to shore up the bottom.  Even state candidates who didn’t seem in trouble are now getting such help. 

One such race is Senate District 12 in northeast Wisconsin. It was once regarded as inviolate GOP space. 

But outside forces are at work, and there are also inroads being made by Bryan Van Stippen, a local small business owner who grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm and since has gained broad government and community experience. He is running against the environment’s worst enemy and the NRA’s big supporter, incumbent Sen. Tom Tiffany.

The Kochs through their secret big money arm, Americans for Prosperity (which assures donors their names will be kept invisible), have announced a major ad buy to prop up Tiffany – and probably salvage him.  And AFP is apparently not done there, promising outside financial money in other more rural races.

Meanwhile, news reports from sources previously associated with Republican talking points are turning around and causing sharp discussion.  One reason is that the Republicans have been pushing legislative deals that promote income inequality – and voters throughout the state are sick of that.  They also know throughout the state that Social Darwinism is riding high in Wisconsin schools – the richest communities drawing the best teachers away from the more modest.

Media has been forced to explore the price all of Wisconsin – not just Milwaukee and Madison – are paying for Act 10. Journal Sentinel provided a district by district breakdown as part of the current triple whammy explored in other stories:  loss of teachers, loss of local property tax control, loss of state revenue for public schools to prop up an expanded voucher/charter private industry. Some of the former JS praise of Act 10 now seems written in sand.

Issues that Republicans  running for office could once pooh-pooh are clawing deep. Some are not as obvious as Tiffany’s support of a major property tax hike.  His slavishness to the lead paint industry and other industries smell of pay for play. Van Stippen is also scoring points on the issue of water quality.

It is still a fight from behind. But this race was once not even in the likelihood of the turnover in the Senate, where three seats could reverse control.  Now it’s among the races moving into the questionable column.

Take a journey through other contests, several on the cusp of change:

SD2: Another northeastern district (north of Appleton, west of Green Bay) is host to familiar GOP incumbent Robert Cowles against John Powers, a Vietnam veteran and three-decade teacher in the Shawano area who lost two previous tries for the Assembly.

This time he is running as a down-home change-agent  Democrat  with strong local connections and  refusal of outside money -- in an era where 70% of the country thinks the Citizens United decision has wrongfully allowed secret money to be dumped into local races.  

It’s hard to get a reading on this contest. But Cowles is vulnerable Not only was he the target of a close previous recall effort, he has since voted to expand voucher schools, remove supervision of high capacity wells from the DNR and generally fallen down on his fiscal hawk claims.  Most interesting is the remarkably fast shift in perceptions about him and the opponent.  On October 6 Powers was a long shot. By Oct. 11 he was in contention. You figure out why.

Diane Odeen
SD10: Scoot back to northwestern Wisconsin (beautiful country – do you have friends or relatives there?)  Another former recall target, GOP Sheila Harsdorf, is being crowded by a former foe, Diane Odeen, back for more but in a much stronger position.

Odeen has deep roots in the area, a law degree and a reputation as the sort of community advocate Wisconsin needs.  Harsdorf (like the Olsen race below) has been implicated in news reports about questionable dealings during her recall race.

The GOP was once dismissive of this contest, but they’re not laughing now.  Just looking across the river at Minnesota,  the residents can  see what better leadership can bring them.

SD14: In central Wisconsin. It looks like a strong likelihood for Democrats because their candidate, Brian Smith, has been broadly known for 15 years as an  effective Waupaca mayor.

In comparison, incumbent Luther Olsen, another recall survivor, has become extremely laughable.  Recently when given the choice between touring a deeply troubled veterans’ home in King or judging a local baking contest, he went for the munchies.  His excuse was almost as lame as the decision.

Moreover, votes Olsen took back at the time of the recall have come back to haunt him.  Like Harsdorf  he  was engaged in efforts to protect the lead paint industry with retroactive legislation, later ruled unconstitutional. The Guardian newspaper’s John Doe revelations suggest he would not have survived the recall without such shenanigans. District 14  could well decide it’s better off without him, especially since the people know Smith and like his sensible approach to government fundamentals. 

Mark Harris
SD18: In an open seat previously held by a Republican, Democratic candidate Mark Harris seems understandably way ahead because of past ability and popularity. He brings more than two terms as highly effective Winnebago County Executive where he showed fiscal discipline while improving infrastructure (an ability the state Senate sorely needs). 

Trying to deflect Mark Harris without naming him, the Walker legislature passed a special law that you cannot be both a county executive and a senator. Only Harris fit that description, so many in Winnebago County regard the law as slime politics.  Harris in the meantime cheerfully indicated he didn’t intend to hold both seats simultaneously.

The Democrats are also being challenged notably for three of their own seats but remain confident of beating the efforts back:  Julie Lassa in District 24, Dave Hansen in District 30 and Jennifer Shilling in District 32, where Dan Kapanke is trying to win back the seat he lost in the recall election – now in a year when many state residents in both parties wish that more recalls of these GOP question marks had been successful.

The next column looks at the Assembly.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for