The Wisconsin Senate Race
Jude Wanniski
November 3, 1998


Memo To:Pollwatchers, website fans, browsers
From: Jude Wanniski
Re:  Pre-spinning Neumann vs Feingold

In 1991, there was a special election in Pennsylvania for the Senate seat that opened when Republican John Heinz was killed in an airplane crash. The Democrat was a liberal professor, Harris Wofford, who ran on one issue, favoring national health insurance. The Republican was the former Governor of the state, Richard Thornberg, who had been Attorney General in the Bush administration. At first glance, it looked like a cakewalk for Thornberg, The race began with Thornberg leading by 40 percentage points. As the race developed, Thornberg based his campaign on his resume and friendship with President Bush -- who had recently reneged on his 1988 campaign pledge, “read my lips, no new taxes.” The more Thornberg displayed himself on TV spots pictured with Bush, the further he fell in the polls. His response was to double up spending on his friendship with the President, who was assumed to be a shoo-in because of his leadership in the Gulf War. At the very end of the campaign, I told a close friend of the Governor that if he said he disagreed with the tax increase, he would defeat Wofford. He didn’t and lose by a few percentage points to the woolly-headed Wofford. The campaign manager for Wofford was a Louisiana pro named James Carville, who was absolutely persuaded that his boy had won because of his support for national health insurance.

So it was that Carville became campaign manager for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in 1992 and so it was that when Clinton was elected over Bush (without a plurality in the popular vote) he and Hillary believed that the American people wanted national health insurance. In other words, they won the election but misinterpreted the mandate, because Carville goofed. The new President spent two years raising taxes (without a Republican vote) and trying to push Hillarycare through the Congress. The American electorate responded by giving the Republicans control of the 104th Congress in 1994.

Now we have the Wisconsn Senate race. The way the it has been conducted between incumbent Democrat Russell Feingold and Republican Mark Neumann there is no way the outcome will have any national meaning. Yet ideologues in both parties have decided in advance that if Feingold wins it is a victory for liberals on campaign finance reform and if Neumann wins it is a victory for the cultural conservatives on the issue of partial-birth abortion. My sense is that if Feingold wins it will be because Neumann is presenting himself as a holier-than-thou cultural conservative and the if Neumann wins it is because Feingold is holier-than-thou on campaign spending. If they were running in New Jersey, where I could vote for one or the other, I would choose a third-party candidate or simply skip that choice, as neither Feingold nor Neumann appeal to me. I could accept Neumann’s right-wing cultural conservatism if he had any respect for the growth wing of the Republican Party. But he doesn’t, having gone so far as to make fun of supply-siders for causing the budget deficits of the 1980s. He is most definitely in the Hoover wing of the GOP. My wife Patricia, who is decidedly pro-life, is rooting for pro-choice Feingold, on the grounds that Neumann strikes her as arrogant and pompous and holier-than-thou, and Feingold is down-to-earth.

Watch now who winds, and see how the commentators and political analysts assess the outcome and its implications for 2000. They will see big things when there is no national direrction at all.