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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 80.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Not easy being a Green
Rae Vogeler takes on the mighty Herb Kohl

Vogeler: 'People are ready for a change.'
Vogeler: 'People are ready for a change.'
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He voted for the Patriot Act, an anti-terror bill that curtails civil liberties. Voted for the Iraq war and, recently, against a Democratic resolution to bring the troops home. He voted for a bill that makes it harder for people to declare bankruptcy, even if they owe thousands of dollars in medical bills. And he voted for No Child Left Behind, President Bush's education bill that ties federal funding to student scores on standardized tests.

Sen. Herb Kohl is a Democrat. But, given his voting record, Rae Vogeler wonders why any liberal would support him. "He's let them down," she says.

Vogeler is the Green Party's candidate for Senate this November. Like Kohl's other opponents - Republican Robert Lorge and Independent Ben Glatzel - she's not seen as much of a threat. The Republican Party has endorsed Lorge, but has given him little money. He's raised less than $100,000. And Glatzel is virtually unknown.

But Vogeler is running a serious campaign, and thinks Kohl is vulnerable. She notes that marijuana activist Ben Masel, who ran against Kohl in the Democratic primary, spent less than $900 but still managed to get 14% of the vote. "That shows people are ready for a change," she says.

Vogeler, one of the founders of the Madison Area Peace Coalition, is especially hard on Kohl's war stance. "We have children being shipped off to war and maybe never coming back from the battlefield," she says. "And Herb Kohl is not willing to stand up for the people on this issue."

Phillip Walzak, Kohl's campaign manager, accuses Vogeler of distorting the senator's record: "She's not telling the entire story."

Walzak says Kohl supported bankruptcy reform because he worried that too many people were declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying their debts. He voted for the Patriot Act because it required law enforcement agencies to share information. And he voted against bringing the troops home because the resolution called for a quick withdrawal.

"His concern is not leaving so abruptly that it triggers more instability in the region," says Walzak.

Walzak also touts Kohl's accomplishments, such as securing $131 million in federal funds for community health centers in Wisconsin. Vogeler, he says, is "selectively looking at things to create an image that's unfair."

Vogeler has virtually no chance of defeating Kohl, in part because of her status as a third-party candidate. Earlier this month, Wisconsin Public Television held a televised debate between Kohl and Lorge. Vogeler was not invited, although she and Glatzel did appear on a separate show a week later. No further debates are planned.

"We're in a system that equates a viable candidate with money," says Wisconsin Green Party co-chair Ruth Weill, noting that Kohl is a millionaire who is self-financing his campaign. He's spent $4.4 million so far. "When you have that much money, you don't really need to go out and talk to people."

Walzak scoffs at the notion that Kohl's millions bought him a Senate seat. "It's more than money," he says. "Kohl's history as a successful business owner and using his own finances for charitable causes - that's what's earned his support."

Vogeler, who has raised only about $35,000, has been crisscrossing the state to meet voters. In one week, she traveled to Ashland, Bayfield, Eau Claire, Stevens Point, Wausau and Milwaukee. "This gives you an idea of how seriously I'm taking this campaign," she says.

And, for the first time, the Green Party has raised enough money to air television ads. Nelson Eisman, who is running for governor but was excluded from all three debates between Jim Doyle and Mark Green, ran spots before and after the last debate. The ads, which aired in La Crosse and Madison, cost about $2,000.

Vogeler plans to run TV ads, too. But she says that without some kind of campaign finance reform, third-party candidates will never have a chance. "If we had campaign spending limits - if Herb Kohl could only spend $50,000 - I would win hands down," she says. "If he was compelled to meet with people and to debate, he'd lose."

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