Can Walker become the next … Fred Zimmerman?

    In most political years, it is to a candidate’s disadvantage to run as an outlier, a renegade, in a political primary against a candidate endorsed by the party machinery.

    The key word in that sentence is “most.” This year is not like any other year. Both Republican and Democratic candidates who have been endorsed by their party’s key operatives are falling right and left all over the country.

    So, it will be interesting to see how the Republican primary in the Wisconsin governor’s race plays out.


    Make no mistake. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is the candidate of choice for the Wisconsin GOP machinery. Walker already has received the endorsement of the Milwaukee, Jackson, Eau Claire and Douglas County Republican parties and has been endorsed by more than 75 percent of the current county GOP chairs statewide, as well as every previous state GOP chair. Walker also has been endorsed by more than 80 percent of current Republican state legislators.

    That’s why Walker will likely receive the state GOP’s endorsement when the party convenes in Milwaukee on Saturday, May 22. Neumann acknowledged Thursday that he will not seek that endorsement.

    “The next governor of Wisconsin should be picked by the voters. I’m running on a conservative message of cutting spending to cut taxes to create jobs. The people of Wisconsin can be trusted to decide if that’s who they want as governor,” Neumann said. “Let them decide and no one else.”

    Walker received another boost by the machinery this week when he was featured in a story on the home page of the Drudge Report. The story noted how former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were impressed with Walker.

    "The guy is a fantastic candidate," Bush said. "The event that we did together, he gave a stump speech that sounded like it was the last three days of the campaign. I mean, he was on fire. It was, it was, he’s the real deal."

    Furthermore, Walker is anointed daily as the chosen one by the choir of Milwaukee’s conservative radio talk show hosts. In fact, the radio boys form a second daily campaign communications office for Walker. No other candidate in any other race has such a luxury in Wisconsin.

    When the piece about Walker was posted on the Drudge Report, one local talk radio host gushed with a blog headlined, “Scott Walker Gets Some Serious Love.”

    Still, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that us Milwaukeeans tend to look at statewide races through our Milwaukee optics. Republican voters in Ripon, Portage, Fremont, Hayward, Three Lakes, Merrill, Spooner and Rice Lake do not hear the daily blessings from the Milwaukee talk radio cabal.
    Truth be told, many of the folks in those towns would be hard-pressed at this point to pick Walker, Neumann or Democrat Tom Barrett out of a lineup, much less form opinions about their stances or qualifications.

    That’s why Neumann still believes he has a solid chance to win the Republican nomination, even though the Milwaukee radio guys make it sound like a fait accompli for Walker.

    To maximize his chances, look for Neumann to tie Walker to his Milwaukee home base every chance he gets out-state. Why? Consider this: According to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, the last Milwaukee politician to be elected governor of Wisconsin was Fred Zimmerman, a Republican who won the race in 1926. (We’re not counting Republican Lee Dreyfus, who was born in Milwaukee but was the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point) and Democrat Martin Schreiber, who was born in Milwaukee but served only as acting governor and was not elected to the office.)

    Prior to winning as a Republican, Zimmerman was affiliated with the Progressive Party as a state legislator. However, when the Progressives refused to endorse him because he had failed to support the 1924 presidential campaign of Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette Sr., Zimmerman ran for governor and won as an independent Republican.

    Suffice to say that in the year of the Tea Party, any hint of a Progressive background would be a death knell for any conservative candidate running for office today.

    Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.


    EDITOR’S NOTE: After this blog was posted, a BizTimes reader pointed out that Julius Heil, a Republican who served as Wisconsin’s governor from 1939 to 1943, also had Milwaukee ties, as he founded the Heil Company in Milwaukee. Heil was an immigrant who was born in Duesmond an der Mosel, Germany, in 1876.

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