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 

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