Friday, November 4, 2016


By Dominique Paul Noth

Tom Nelson could be Wisconsin's
most important new gift to House.
Next to the Senate contest between former holder Russ Feingold and GOP curiosity Ron Johnson, the House 8th District race is the most watched face-off in Wisconsin. It has national implications while explicitly revealing the danger Donald Trump represents to his own party down the ticket.

Several races in Wisconsin reflect the generally sour mood of the US electorate in fascinating ways.

This is the state where the Republicans in the primary ferociously rejected Trump after a talk media campaign in favor of Ted Cruz, while Democrats went for Bernie over Hillary. Yet Republicans I spoke to admitted then they had no love for Cruz just profound distaste for the Donald, who later swept over Cruz like a wild river.  Democrats in contrast were hoping Bernie would keep pressure on  Clinton from the left and are now upset that his younger enthusiasts are not coming around as they anticipated.

Even today, strong “never Trump” statements stem from the state’s best known right wing talk radio host, Charlie Sykes.  To the anger of many Democrats who feel Sykes is equally divisive as Trump but only on local issues so the national media never notices, Sykes has been elevated by MSNBC of all cable outlets into one of its frequent guests. But that’s   largely because he is an outspoken conservative who loathes Trump at length. 

Support for Trump is clearly lukewarm from the state GOP, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and even Gov. Scott Walker, who made his own feeble run for the presidential nomination. Both say they will vote for Trump but Ryan won’t campaign for him, though Walker recently did. Both Republicans and Democrats find their stances evasive if not two-faced.

The Trump resistance comes at a time when he is trailing Hillary Clinton in the statewide polls by 6 percent. But his campaign still regards Wisconsin as a necessary win. Further working against him is that Republican Rep. Reid Ribble, while abandoning the 8th District race for the House, is featured in Clinton TV ads as a prominent Republican who says Trump has disqualified himself from the White House. (He is immediately followed in the ad by Sen. Susan Collins.)

This split in GOP thinking is most notable right now in the race for Ribble’s successor.  Running on the GOP side is Mike Gallagher, whose only credentials are his military service.  You might think he’d enjoy a bump given Ribble’s outspoken opposition to Trump, but no maverick is Gallagher, more the dutiful soldier to the right. He has flatly supported Trump – and when challenged says he was sure Trump “would appoint strong people around him.”

So. He envisions a weak president saved by strong subordinates, but does anyone watching Trump think he would ever listen?

As I pointed out in another column, Gallagher is being propped up by huge advertising money and by slicing a debate video to make it seem that Tom  Nelson was questioning his battlefield courage when it was clearly about his evasiveness about Trump.

He is facing in Tom Nelson a Democrat often touted for bigger office, partly because of his atypical success in regions where Republicans have frequently won.

Only 40, and still looking a bit like silent movie star Harold Lloyd dangling dangerously from a skyscraper clock in “Safety Last,” Nelson already has quite a distinctive career.  He won election to the state Assembly out of Outagamie County (northeast Wisconsin, county seat Appleton) at age 28 and four years later was named by his fellow Democrats as Assembly majority leader. In 2010 he joined Tom Barrett as lieutenant governor in the race against Walker, which they lost.

But shortly afterward he beat out a well known Republican supporter of Walker for the nonpartisan seat of Outagamie County Executive, an influential position that has allowed him to elevate his administrative reputation.  Out of this he decided to run for Ribble’s seat.

There is little polling in this race, but Nelson is apparently going strong even among Republicans at a time when northeast Wisconsin is generally conceded to Trump because of rural dislike of urban Democrats. Nelson, with his still boyish appearance and clarion policy statements, seems to have conquered that. As Assembly majority leader and again as Outagamie County Exec, he has a proven record of progressive interests, bold action and fierce frugal government.

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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