|DAIRY STATE UPDATE|
October 30, 1998
|As goes Wisconsin, so goes Congress? Both Republicans and Democrats alike are looking to several elections in the dairy state that may affect the balance of power in Washington. Kwame Holman reports.|
[Editor's Note: The results are in from the Dairy State: Senator Feingold limped to a one percentage point victory over his Republican challenger, Congressman Mark Neumann. In the 1st District, Republican Paul Ryan blew by Democrat Lydia Spottswood with a 14-point victory and finally in the 2nd District, Democrat Tammy Baldwin outlasted Republican Jo Musser, winning 54 to 46 percent.]
KWAME HOLMAN: Wisconsin's Republican Governor Tommy Thompson is seeking an unprecedented fourth term in office. Public opinion polls show him nearly 30-percentage points ahead of his Democratic challenger, attorney Ed Garvey. With his reelection almost assured, Thompson never even mentioned his campaign during a business awards luncheon last week in Milwaukee.
In fact, Thompson has invited other Wisconsin Republican candidates to join him on his get-out-the vote bus tour this weekend so that they might benefit from his widespread popularity. And some of those candidates can use Thompson's help. Several elections in Wisconsin next Tuesday could go a long way toward affecting the balance of power in Washington and the Senate race, in particular, polls say is too close to call.
SPOKESPERSON: We take questions now to the candidates for U.S Senate--
Feingold vs. Neumann
KWAME HOLMAN: The race features Russ Feingold, the first-term Democratic senator, best known as co-sponsor of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill.
RUSS FEINGOLD: So this really is a battle to see whether money or people will pick the next U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. That's why I need your help. And I don't want your money. I know you don't have a lot whole lot of it. I want your vote!
KWAME HOLMAN: Early on, Feingold vowed to stick to the principles of his campaign reform bill by refusing to accept unregulated, unlimited soft money contributions from the national Democratic Party. Under current law, that money could be used to produce television ads attacking his opponent. Feingold admits some party leaders were concerned his decision not to take the money was political suicide, that could lead to an even bigger Republican majority in the Senate.
RUSS FEINGOLD: My friends in my party do care deeply that we keep this seat, and they want to keep me in Washington, and they were concerned when I indicated that I, unlike all other senators, was going to limit my spending and was not going to accept soft money ads by the party. And they tried several times, politely, but then one senator said to me, "I've never questioned a senator knowing his own state better than a senator from somewhere else." And so the Democratic Party has respected my wishes.
KWAME HOLMAN: Feingold's opponent in the senate race is Mark Neumann, a second-term Republican representing Wisconsin's First Congressional District. Neumann did not make the same pledge Feingold did.
MARK NEUMANN: Effectively what's happened is he's come out looking basically like a hypocrite on the issue because he's out whining about Republican Party spending money here in the State of Wisconsin, while the AFL-CIO Washington union bosses are running all kinds of ads on his behalf. AFL-CIO AD: An elderly patient needs more hospital time but her doctors are overruled by bureaucrats. Still Representative Mark Neumann voted against an HMO reform law that would have banned these abuses. Call Neumann and tell him to stop protecting the HMOs and start protecting patients.
KWAME HOLMAN: He has said that he would prefer that the AFL-CIO didn't run those ads.
MARK NEUMANN: Well, I would prefer they would all leave the state, so we're together on that. That's great.
KWAME HOLMAN: So would you support that part of campaign finance reform that would prevent these issue ads or restrict them?
MARK NEUMANN: Well, as you know, the Constitution prohibits us from restricting the AFL-CIO type ads, so if you're not going to restrict them, I'm certainly not going to support unilateral disarmament in the campaign. If it's not stupid, it's at least foolhardy.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mark Neumann is a former math teacher. And campaigning around Wisconsin, he relies on old classroom techniques, using an over-head projector to highlight his positions in favor of tax cuts, reductions in federal spending, and saving Social Security. Those positions have earned him a reputation as one of the fiercest budget hawks in Congress.
MARK NEUMANN: This election should not be about personalities. It should not be about Russ Feingold or Mark Neumann. What it should be about is how we cast the vote on your behalf in Washington D.C. for the next six years. And we are going to vote very differently.
KWAME HOLMAN: Congressman Neumann says the biggest difference between Senator Feingold and himself is their positions on so-called partial birth abortions.
MARK NEUMANN: And I am willing to stake the election on the fact that the majority of people in this state would find it -- a vast majority of people in this state would find it to be totally unacceptable to have a healthy ninth month of a woman's pregnancy -- a healthy baby partially delivered and have that child's life ended.
KWAME HOLMAN: The issue prompted a prolonged discussion at this small town meeting in Fort Atkinson. Some of those attending sided with Mark Neumann.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: It seems to me that's murder, isn't it?
KWAME HOLMAN: Others supported Russ Feingold's stated position that such a procedure should be allowed when the health of the mother is in danger.
ANOTHER AUDIENCE MEMBER: Why are you opposed to including that exception -- because that bill, I think, would pass at that point and there's no -- the president has also made it clear he would not veto it at that point.
KWAME HOLMAN: The gentleman made the point that the legislation had the health exception, but you don't think that that would be appropriate.
MARK NEUMANN: Well, there is an exception in the bill for life of the mother, but I don't want to see the bill watered down that we do nothing but sound good to our constituency. We want to see the job actually get done, that we actually end partial birth abortions in the United States of America.
KWAME HOLMAN: Is he making abortion a central issue? Is it going to be a central issue, and does that hurt you?
RUSS FEINGOLD: He's tried everything. First he said that he wouldn't have run for the Senate if I had voted differently on the balanced budget amendment. He said without a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, we could never balance the budget. We haven't heard him say a thing about that in the last few months. Then he said it was the gas tax, that I voted for the gas tax. Then he said it was that I voted against cutting taxes, and now it's abortion and the flag. In other words, he's flailing around trying to find what will upset people about me. What he doesn't want to address is the fact that I have brought this U.S. Senate seat back to Wisconsin, taken it away from the big money powers. He doesn't want to talk about that because his campaign is financed by one of the most brutal assaults of soft money issue ads in the history of our state.
GOP AD: Feingold wants our taxes to pay for his silly political commercials. He even voted to keep this abuse of tax dollars a secret. Tell Feingold no, we don't want higher taxes; we want you to stop joking around with our money.
|Spottswood vs. Ryan|
KWAME HOLMAN: For most Wisconsin voters, the Feingold-Neumann Senate race might be enough to satisfy their political appetites, but voters in southern Wisconsin are getting a bonus -- tight races in side-by-side congressional districts. Traditionally, the political party occupying the White House has lost seats in the House of Representatives in off-year elections. Democrats hope they can cut their losses by picking up two seats here in Wisconsin. Wisconsin's First and Second Congressional Districts include the industrial cities of Kenosha and Racine -- and Madison, the state's main college town. Dozens of smaller, picturesque communities are spaced throughout mostly rural counties, surrounded this time of year by acres of harvested corn fields.
LYDIA SPOTTSWOOD: (at nursing home) And you'll see I'm the only Lydia on the ballot.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Democrat running in Wisconsin's First District is Lydia Spottswood. One morning last week she was hard at work seeking votes at a Kenosha nursing home.
LYDIA SPOTTSWOOD: And I'm running for Congress because I want to work improve our children's schools. I want to work to expand health care to save Medicare.
ELDERLY WOMAN: You take all this?
LYDIA SPOTTSWOOD: Yes. I want to work for all of these things, especially for our Social Security. But I need your vote.
ELDERLY WOMAN: Oh sure.
LYDIA SPOTTSWOOD: Will you be voting?
ELDERLY WOMAN: Oh yeah!
KWAME HOLMAN: Many of these nursing home residents will vote by absentee ballot, and Spottswood is especially sensitive to the importance of each and every vote. Two years ago, when she was president of the Kenosha City Council, Spottswood came within two percentage points of defeating Mark Neumann in what she described as a nasty campaign.
LYDIA SPOTTSWOD: My opponent then was actually very hostile and overtly hostile when he would see me, which was rare. I don't think he was interested in seeing me very often. This time at least overtly there is a much more cordial atmosphere in the joint appearances that we've had.
KWAME HOLMAN: Spottswood's opponent this time is a political newcomer -- 28-year old Paul Ryan. He spent five years in Washington D.C. working for Republican causes before returning to Wisconsin to help run his family-owned quarry business and run for Congress. Also campaigning one day last week, Ryan spent part of his morning shaking hands with workers at an envelope manufacturing plant in Kenosha, meeting nearly as many Illinois residents -- who can't vote for him -- as Wisconsin voters -- who can.
PAUL RYAN: Where do you live - in Illinois?
KWAME HOLMAN: Ryan's campaign message stresses the same tax and spending issues that twice helped Mark Neumann get elected in this district.
PAUL RYAN: I want you to keep more of your own money!
WORKER: Yeah so do I!
PAUL RYAN: I appreciate that sentiment. I tell you. You know your FICA taxes that you pay and your Social Security, they're using that money to spend on other ridiculous government programs.
WORKER: Oh, yes! Do you realize I have to put away 75 dollars a week to pay my property taxes and saving that 75 dollars I have to pay taxes on the interest for saving it
PAUL RYAN: Hey, I appreciate this. We agree. Thank you. Nice to meet you!
KWAME HOLMAN: Ryan insisted that, if elected, he wouldn't participate in the kind partisan politics that has typified Congress recently.
KWAME HOLMAN: Does that mean you're not interested in what the GOP leadership has to say?
PAUL RYAN: To tell you the truth, I've been running my own campaign, talking about what I believe in, my own ideas. I haven't really been paying attention to all of the talking points, all the battles. I'm paying attention to what the people here in the First District of Wisconsin are saying.
|Musser vs. Baldwin|
KWAME HOLMAN: Wisconsin's political landscape virtually is assured of historic change on election day-- if not from the results of the First District Congressional race -- then certainly from the vote in the Second.
JO MUSSER: And we need everybody who was here tonight to tell 10 people that they have to get to the polls rain, sleet or snow, whatever, November in Wisconsin.
KWAME HOLMAN: Jo Musser -- the former State Insurance Commissioner -- is the Republican candidate in Wisconsin's Second District. State Representative Tammy Baldwin is the Democrat.
TAMMY BALDWIN: You have a chance to really participate yourselves and figure out what a difference you can make.
KWAME HOLMAN: Despite being the first state to ratify the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote, Wisconsin never has sent a woman to Congress. But that will change on Tuesday.
JO MUSSER: What I bring to Washington as Wisconsin's first congresswoman is an understanding from a woman's perspective how families live.
TAMMY BALDWIN: And understanding that women in this society have historically played a unique role of juggling work responsibilities and family responsibilities and perhaps understand those issues in a way that many of those holding power and sitting in Washington right now don't.
KWAME HOLMAN: With four-term Republican Scott Klug retiring from Congress this year, Democrats also are anxiously eyeing this seat as a potential gain. Baldwin is considered a liberal. She pushes for the same kind of universal health care coverage President Clinton was forced to abandon three years ago.
TAMMY BALDWIN: I believe we can in a very fiscally responsible manner provide health care for all and it has to do with whittling down the administrative complexities of medicine.
KWAME HOLMAN: Musser is considered a moderate, who ruffled state party leaders by opposing fellow Republican Mark Neumann's position on late-term abortions.
JO MUSSER: I don't believe that the legislature has any right to interfere with our medical decision making. On the issue of reproductive health and on the issues specifically of abortions in any stage of the pregnancy.
KWAME HOLMAN: The fates of all these Wisconsin candidates -- like those in close races around the country -- are said to hinge on whose voters get motivated to turn out. Wisconsin residents' reputation for independent-minded voting makes Tuesday's results all the more difficult to predict.
KEN GOMBER: The best person. That's what counts. The best person. I don't care what party they are. If they can't do the job right for the people, I'm all for getting them out. I don't think parties mean so much anymore.
KWAME HOLMAN: And that could be a key. On Tuesday, Governor Tommy Thompson's name will be at the top of the ballot in the Republican column. And with Thompson's broad support, Democrats hope Wisconsin voters are willing to split their tickets and vote for some Democratic candidates as well.
|Support the kind of journalism done by the NewsHour...Become a member of your local PBS station.|