Emerging from a 13-year hibernation since the last time his name was on a ballot, former Gov. Tommy Thompson announced his candidacy for Herb Kohl's Senate seat last week.
This is big news. Tommy almost ran against Russ Feingold, but, confronted by his glaring family members, who didn't want him to do it, he appeared to chicken out. Just when he was about to make his announcement at a Tea Party rally in Madison, he instead lapsed into a halting recitation of "May the Road Rise to Meet You."
But this time, it's for real!
The mean girls who have taken over the state Republican Party like to call Thompson a RINO (Republican in name only), but the rest of us Wisconsinites know he is a big ol' teddy bear.
Too bad he's not running for governor.
The man who brought us BadgerCare and SeniorCare, a hail-fellow-well-met kinda guy who knows the state like the back of his hand, hated living so far away in Washington, D.C., and absolutely loves to be loved, Tommy never would have called out the state troopers when tens of thousands of teachers, firefighters, nurses and snowplow drivers marched to the Capitol to oppose him. But then, he never would have gone after public employees' wages, benefits and right to bargain, either - let alone taken away health care from 65,000 people, including 29,000 children in his beloved BadgerCare program.
You can't even imagine him lying low, never going out in Madison, and sneaking through underground tunnels to get into the Capitol to avoid the public. Tommy loved the public. And the public loved him.
Like Scott Walker and Paul Ryan, Thompson was a national star among conservatives in his day. His welfare reform and school voucher experiments, which did some real damage to some very vulnerable people, made him a big shot. He also benefited greatly from his coziness with highway lobbyists.
But it's a measure of how far his party has moved to the right that the Club for Growth is running TV ads denouncing Thompson as a tax-and-spend liberal.
The Senate primary - among Tommy, right-wing nut job Mark Neumann and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald - will pit the leaner, meaner right-wing politics of the Tea Party-inflected Republicans against the old consensus-building, affable Tommy style.
I say, bring it on.
The more people think about the shift from Thompson's Wisconsin to Walker's, the more they might wonder what the hell the Republicans think they are selling. Fitzgerald is running on his record of ramming through Scott Walker's agenda - you know, the governor 58% of Wisconsinites say they'll vote to recall?
Neumann, of course, is the Club for Growth candidate. Brace yourself for another onslaught of TV ads like we saw during the state Senate recall elections last summer. Only this time, they will be denouncing Tommy for being a big spender and extending health care to uninsured children.
It's an interesting experiment for this recall and presidential election year. What will be the effect of a Republican Senate primary that reminds people what it was like when our state was not convulsed by attacks on ordinary, middle-class citizens and a corporate-financed assault on health care, education, the environment and our infrastructure?
Remember the Tommy years?
Neumann and Fitzgerald and the Club for Growth will tell you that spending skyrocketed and corporate taxes were high. The economy was also booming; public employees enjoyed security, good benefits and recession-proof jobs; our schools and great university system were tops in the nation; our environment was clean; local municipalities were allowed to spend their own tax money to repair local roads; and if you went inside the Capitol building with more than three of your friends, you wouldn't be arrested.
I know I'm not part of the in group of Republican Wisconsinites, but I'm not so sure people think the old, Tommy style of Republican politics is looking all that shabby. In fact, with his favorability ratings, Tommy just might be the most dangerous candidate Scott Walker could face.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.