Tommy Takes Washington?
Thompson enters presidential race as underdog
He just can’t resist. After keeping us guessing most of last year by toying with the idea of running again for governor or U.S. senator, Tommy Thompson has moved on to a much higher-stakes political game of will-he-or-won’t-he in 2007 by testing the waters to run for the White House. For Wisconsin, it’s a chance to have one of our own in the race now that Russ Feingold has bowed out of the presidential derby. For the rest of the country, it’s an opportunity to get to know Tommy as we have during his decades as one of the most popular political figures in the state. With a resumé that includes stints as a sweeping welfare-reform architect, obesity fighter (who urges people to start by taking two brats, but eating only one) and stem-cell research cheerleader, Thompson might appeal to Republican voters looking for someone to focus on issues that transcend party politics. And Thompson could also benefit from being a new face among familiar names like those of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. But the four-term Wisconsin governor has some strikes against him, chiefly the challenge of raising the millions needed to be a viable candidate due in large part to a lack of name recognition. The idea of Thompson struggling with anonymity may be baffling to a lot of us Cheeseheads. But think hard for a minute and try to name the current secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (Thompson’s last government job). And once the voters do get to know Thompson better, they could be in for some eyebrow-raising discoveries. As Thompson resigned from Bush’s cabinet in 2004, he drew fire from critics and biting jokes on The Daily Show for pointing out how easy it would be for terrorists to attack the nation’s food supply. Go back a little further to 1995, during his annual Harley motorcycle trip in northern Wisconsin, when he urged out-state residents to “stick it to ’em” and vote for a tax on residents in and around Milwaukee to pay for a new stadium for the Brewers. Whether he decides to run or not, Thompson will delight in people’s curiosity and interest. He loves to be in the mix. Also, some political observers have long thought that he considers himself more qualified than George W. Bush was when he got the job. At the very least, it’s hard to argue that Thompson doesn’t bring both passion and credentials to the race. Does he have a chance? Some experts say no. Is it a mistake to count him out? Without a doubt.
Jenny Price is a Madison native and covered Wisconsin politics and the state capitol for The Associated Press from 1999 to 2005. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Madison Magazine - February 2007|