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GOP convention serves as Walker rally in WI

By   /   May 10, 2012  /   News  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — While a key endorsement may be on the line, this weekend’s Republican Party of Wisconsin convention in Green Bay is all about recall, with the stars of the conservative universe rallying around the state’s embattled governor. 

“Our priority right now is the recall election,” said Ben Sparks, spokesman for the state GOP, “and all of these candidates understand that.”

That’s the word from two of the four Republican candidates for U.S. Senate — private businessman Eric Hovde and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann.

“People are excited to get up there and rally around (Gov.) Scott Walker, and defend him,” said Sean Lansing, spokesman for the Hovde campaign.

Asked what Neumann plans next following the convention, campaign spokesman Chip Englander said, “Anything Gov. Walker wants us to do next four weeks.”

Both campaigns shrugged off ideas that Wisconsin’s looming gubernatorial recall election, pitting Walker against Democrat and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in a rematch of the 2010 election that swept Republicans into control, will place a pall over — or distract from — important business at hand.

“If anything, it has helped Republicans in Wisconsin gain intensity, which is at an all-time high,” Sparks said, noting Republican volunteers have connected with more than 2 million potential Walker supporters for the June 5 election.

Some of the events of the two-day convention, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, had to be moved to Green Bay’s ShopKo Hall to accommodate projected record attendance, expected to top previous record crowds of 1,300 Republicans.

Walker will attend and plans to speak to party faithful, as will GOP star U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-District 1, who is scheduled to give Saturday night’s keynote address.

Also on hand, soon-to-be Wisconsin’s senior U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, an independent businessman who rode the Republican wave of victory in 2010.

For the four major Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, the convention may be about rallying around Wisconsin’s conservative leader, but important business awaits.

Hovde, Neumann, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, are vying for the party’s endorsement — and the campaign funds and muscle that come with it.

Perhaps it’s a game of diminished expectations, but Hovde and Neumann’s camp agree the endorsement is Thompson’s to lose.

The popular four-term governor and former U.S. Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush, leads in the polls, although Hovde’s campaign released an internal poll this week that indicated the candidate is in a statistical dead heat with Thompson.

The North Star Opinion Research poll of 600 likely Republican voters puts Thompson at 30 percent, and Hovde at 27 percent. Neumann tracks in at 23 percent, with Fitzgerald at 10 percent.

The poll, conducted earlier this week, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

“Just two months into the race and he is in a statistical dead heat with a four-time governor with 100 percent name recognition,” Lansing said of Hovde.

The poll found Hovde becoming more widely known among Republicans, with name recognition at 71 percent, the same as Fitzgerald. He still trails Neumann, who was known by 92 percent of respondents, and Thompson’s 100 percent.

Big deal, said the Neumann camp.

“I’m glad his own pollster could show him in second place. If he couldn’t, no one could,” Englander said of Hovde’s internal poll, calling it “self-evidently suspect.”

The two campaigns tussled over reports that Neumann planned to flood the convention delegate field, conceivably numbering 4,000 or more, with Neumann-friendly alternate delegates.

Sparks said county parties are responsible for sending delegates, and all must be in good standing with the party.

Delegates will spend Saturday afternoon voting and being wooed by the campaigns, until a ballot comes up with a winner. If no candidate receives 60 percent support, there will be no endorsement.

Officials from the Thompson and Fitzgerald campaigns did not return emails seeking comment. Neither did a campaign official for presumptive Democrat nominee U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-District 2. Baldwin leads all comers in the fundraising chase so far, but trails Thompson in the polls.

Sparks said while Democrats claim to be coalescing around Barrett, the Republican Party is unified, around Walker.

And the timing, he said, couldn’t be better.

“Our convention is a month before the recalls. Democrats are having their convention a few days after the recalls,” he said, predicting the June get-together will be filled with demoralized Democrats.

Vicki Burke, chairwoman of the La Crosse County Democratic Party, disputes Sparks’ assessment, asserting the Dems’ convention will be a celebration of new leadership in Wisconsin.

“We’ve been really focused on doing our phone banking and canvassing, and we haven’t thought a lot about the Republican Party convention,” she said. “I’m certain they are going to be continuing their huge fundraiser and pushing the conservative agenda. Particularly having Paul Ryan speak to them, that will be a continuation of their extreme policies they are pushing in Wisconsin.”