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Dangerfield candidates: WI's fringe U.S. Senate contestants get no respect

By   /   May 14, 2012  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — George Lucia doesn’t get the invites, the media coverage, the campaign contributions and the endorsements.

But then, when he opted to compete for the GOP spot in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl — facing the likes of former Gov. Tommy Thompson and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, of District 1 — Lucia knew he was taking on a tough task.

“I decided it was a good time for someone like myself, who is a blue-collar worker, who is not a professional politician, and not a lawyer or a doctor, but someone who’s operated machinery and worked in the private sector all his life, it was time for somebody to get in the race and pursue the Senate seat,” he said.

To get to Washington, D.C., Lucia will have to defeat the better-known candidates, such as multi-millionaire Eric Hovde and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, of Horicon, as well as lesser-known fellow Republican John Schiess.

Schiess first ran for U.S. Senate in Oregon 28 years ago — unsuccessfully — but hopes now to represent Wisconsin.

“The real conservatives like my platform: Get rid of the Fed, the Ed and the UN,” he said, referencing the Federal Reserve, U.S. Education Department and United Nations.

Most major political races have the candidates who are expected to win and one or more candidates who have a shot, albeit a smaller one.

Oftentimes there are candidates like Lucia and Schiess, so-called “fringe candidates,” whose chances of winning are so slim they’re not even in the conversation.

“The most obvious (reason they run) is a platform to speak to issues they care about,” University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin said. “But rarely do we see them break out (and receive) significant votes.”

Schiess said he believes he would have strong support around the state, “if I’d gotten equal media as the rest of the candidates.”

Lucia at least wants to affect the debate and influence the discussion.

"I expect to be a factor, yes," he said. "Win or not is something else."

Hindering the fringe candidates' way, as Lucia and Schiess can attest, is a lack of money and political connections.

Lucia said he has reached out to local Republican parties in the state’s 72 counties and the Republican Party of Wisconsin, which, he said, has welcomed his candidacy.

But the outreach has been all on his side, as he routinely digs through websites to find out about upcoming events, which he then attends, if he can, in hopes of spreading information about his candidacy.

“Sometimes their information is very spotty,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not up to date. It takes a while to ferret out just who is the person you have to talk to.”

“You’re always told, ‘We’re glad to see people like you get involved, get in the race,’ and then find it’s so difficult that there are certain candidates that have an advantage. They’re either in politics already so they have the contacts necessary to raise money, campaign, those things of that nature,” Lucia added “So you are at a distinct disadvantage.”

Neither Lucia nor Schiess made much ground in the RPW convention this past weekend in Green Bay.
But then again, none of the the big-name Republicans earned the party's endorsement, and the money and grassroots muscle that comes with it.
Fitzgerald finished highest on the delegate balloting, followed by Neumann, but didn't get close to reaching the 60 percent support needed to capture the endorsement. Thompson, who consistently has outpaced in the polls all challengers, including presumptive Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin, a U.S. representative for District 1. Hovde was the first to be eliminated on the ballot. 
The dark, dark horses didn't get any consideration.
Fringe candidates, arguably by necessity, often get marginalized in polling.

Franklin, a visiting professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, oversees Marquette Law School’s monthly political poll, which doesn’t include Schiess or Lucia in questions about who will win the election.

“I think in most polling you see (who) the most competitive candidates are, and that’s judged by — I can’t tell you the algorithm for it — just the general sense of who’s competitive,” he said.

Sometimes, Franklin said, an out-of-nowhere candidate can pull off an upset — noting Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s defeat in 2010 of then-incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold.

Johnson, though, a successful businessman, had money to fund his campaign.

No money? No connections?

That’s a tough road.

Lucia and Schiess don’t even have a staff.

“I’m running a shoestring campaign. There’s no question about it,” Lucia said.

Divorced, semi-retired and the father of four adult children, Lucia said he is just focusing now on collecting the 2,000 signatures he needs to make it on the ballot.

“I’m unemployed, looking for a job,” he said. “And this is my job search.”