By Ryan Ekvall / Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Conventional wisdom says a moderate Democrat running in ultra-liberal Madison may as well take a hike.
Matt Silverman, moderate Democrat and 2nd Congressional District candidate, took that advice to heart — trekking in the district throughout June, courting potential voters door to door, town to town.
Silverman said he walked 540 miles, talking to voters in 60 communities in the district’s six counties.
Part of that long walk was out of necessity.
Silverman, 30, of Madison, doesn’t take money from special interests or political action committees. He doesn’t solicit donations via phone, mail or email, which makes it difficult to get his name out to the public.
More so, Silverman’s ambulatory quest, the candidate said, fits his philosophy of governance – a congressman should represent the people, not the Party.
And while the candidate recognizes he’s a long shot against two politically entrenched progressives from Madison, he hopes the open primary structure of the Aug. 14 election plays to his favor.
Pocan is seen by many as the heir apparent to U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the Madison Democrat who is leaving her long-held congressional seat to run for U.S. Senate. Roys, compared to Pocan, is a relative political newcomer, serving in the state Legislature since 2009. But these two liberals have duked it out in an increasingly bitter campaign ad campaign, with Roy questioning Pocan’s progressive stripes.
Silverman sees it all as extremism on the left – a message that he says won’t sell in the more moderate regions of the district.
“If you get outside of Madison, the district is far more moderate than maybe some Democrats would like to admit … The truth is the far left wing of the Democratic Party in this district is the vocal minority,” he said.
“And the silent majority is everybody else. There are far more moderates of all stripes – Democrats, Independents, Republicans combined than Madison liberals. And if they come out and vote in the primary, there is absolutely nothing that can stop them.”
Arguably, 2nd District Republicans’ best chance of being represented in Congress — short of moving to Waukesha — may be to vote for the most moderate Dem in the state’s open primary.
Baldwin has represented the district since 1999, succeeding moderate Republican Scott Klug, who retired.
Baldwin, one of the more liberal representatives in the House, won the 1998 primary by only 1,617 votes, or 2.5 percent. It was the last competitive election in which she ran.
Voter-rich Madison and and Beloit, bastions of liberalism and unionism, represent a hefty portion of the district’s votes.
Republicans, however, disagree that a conservative Republican can’t win in the 2nd Congressional District. They’ve got a candidate of their own — Chad Lee of Mount Horeb, whom Madison’s liberal Isthmus newspaper described to readers as “better looking than you and running for Congress.”
Lee says he is committed to three things: Smaller government, lower taxes and family values.
Nathan Conrad, spokesman for the Republican Party of Dane County, said while some conservative Democrats might find Silverman’s platform a bit more appealing than the “far left liberal rhetoric pushed forward by the Pocan and Roys campaigns.” Still, Conrad said, “it is inconceivable that any Republican in their right mind would cross party lines to vote for a Democrat regardless of their purported moderate stance.”
Silverman, an Iraq War veteran, says his differences with his party on issues such as economic development will appeal to voters looking for an alternative.
“If we cannot set our fiscal house in order, we are ignoring the signs – the same signs that Europe ignored – and we’re setting ourselves up for a real financial disaster,” Silverman said, seemingly taking a page from U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, the big-government reform hero of conservatives nationwide.
“The corporate income tax is a hidden tax on working American.” Silverman said, noting that he would increase the capital gains tax to replace the revenue lost — an idea that wouldn’t sit well with conservatives.
Silverman has more populist ideas, proposals punching at the Beltway.
“The first bill I will push for on Capitol Hill is to cut congressional salaries by 25 percent and completely eliminate the congressional pension system,” he said.
Silverman, though, to be sure is a Democrat. He said he supports another round of stimulus, if it is paired with long term-cuts to entitlements and military spending.
“I do not support the Paul Ryan budget. I think it sets all the wrong priorities for this nation,” he said. “But I do respect Congressman Ryan for putting an idea out there – that’s rare for a politician – and that’s how you begin to work together is by actually having ideas on the table.”
Madison media, and apparently some internal polls from the Pocan camp, give Silverman little chance of winning next week’s primary. Nor do they give much hope to Dennis Hall, 63, of Cambridge, a former Janesville City Council member and president of several nonprofits.
Neither Pocan nor Roys returned calls seeking comment.
One Democratic Party official said she expects a competitive primary.
“I think the party itself is fairly moderate,” said Carol Mixdorf, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Green County. “Voters in Green County are pretty issue-driven and they really do look at the candidates and what they stand for.”
John Coleman, chairman of the political science department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, said the open primary does affect margins of victories, but rarely influences an election’s results. For instance, some Wisconsin Democrats crossed over to vote for former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in the April presidential preference primary, presumably because they deemed him to be the weakest Republican candidate in a contest with Democrat Barack Obama.
“Could a moderate Democrat win here? Sure. But we need to keep in mind a couple things,” said Coleman. “What we mean by moderate depends on where we are in time and where we are geographically.
“A moderate Democratic candidate today is going to be more liberal than a moderate Democrat would have been 10, 20, and 30 years ago … So certainly a candidate who is not the most liberal candidate can win here, but for all practical terms the candidate will still be quite liberal. ”
The question is, will Silverman the moderate be liberal enough to win in the 2nd Congressional District.
M.D. Kittle contributed to this story.
Silverman answers questions and asks for your vote here: