Damn. One more term and Herb Kohl just may have been noticed.
Kohl was re-elected by a big margin in 2006, a huge Democratic year in which Wisconsin Republicans didn't bother mounting a serious challenge to the then-three term senator. Although he's never been a spark plug on the campaign trail, Kohl's fortune makes him a daunting opponent for any would-be Republican challenger.
The GOP will definitely be eyeing Kohl's seat as one of its top pickup opportunities. The Senate race will largely be shaped by the presidential election, which, I am fairly confident saying, will be shaped predominantly by the economy. To state the obvious, the best bet for a GOP victory in Wisconsin will be an unpopular Obama. If unemployment is down a couple points and Obama's popular, then the Dems will have the advantage.
Who are the top Republican candidates for the spot?
A name you're inevitably going to hear is Paul Ryan. He's definitely capable, but he's already got a pretty good gig as the conservative media darling in the House. A Senate campaign might actually distract from his national profile and jeopardize his presidential aspirations (believe me, they're there).
Here's another likely contender: Mark Neumann. That guy is itching to run for something. As he'll be sure to tell you, he's not a career politician; he's a career wannabe politician.
I'm crossing my fingers for both Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald to become candidates. You don't have to hire an opposition researcher when you go after your own blood. The attack ads would be priceless.
Here's a candidate whose name I haven't seen reported but is rumored to be interested: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. A black candidate from Milwaukee running in the GOP primary would be a surprise, but perhaps an effective one. He would be an especially appealing candidate to the national Republican establishment, which is desperate to make inroads with minority voters in the battle against Obama.
As for the Democrats. You can't ignore Russ Feingold. Unless he's just dog-tired of running campaigns then I think he's got the nomination if he wants it. The party base loves him.
Tom Barrett could run, but I don't think he will.
After the race of his life last year, Rep. Ron Kind might be up to take it to the next level. And what about Tammy Baldwin? She's got nearly $1 million saved up from her previous campaigns, but I think Democrats would worry that she is too "Madison" to win out-state votes. She represents her Dane County constituents very well in Congress, and in a Senate race, that might not be a good thing.
In the legislature, what about Jon Erpenbach? Well-spoken, and with experience representing both urban and rural Wisconsin, Erpenbach would earn favor in the Democratic primary for being a member of the Fab 14. However, that might not prove to be such a great asset in the general election.
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