Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mark Neumann, Part the IInd

After squeaking by two elections as Congressman from Wisconsin's First CD, Mark Neumann decided to take on first-term Senator Russ Feingold in 1998. Since Neumann had limited name recognition outside his district while Feingold was well-known and reasonably popular around the state as a fiscally sensible, independent-minded of regular guy who kept in touch with the folks back home, Job #1 for Neumann was to go on the attack.

He started with a TV ad criticizing Feingold for voting for a budget bill that had included deep within its provisions money that helped Russia send monkeys into outer space.
At a Q&A meeting with voters in October, Neumann snapped at a young woman who asked him a pointed question about his record on the environment. He refused to answer her, accusing her of being a "plant."

Late in the campaign came Neumann's most ridiculous ad ever:
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is the target of one of the year's prickliest tax-and-spend ads. It features his GOP opponent, Rep. Mark Neumann, denouncing a government cow-gas survey while a goofy-looking scientist scurries behind him trying to capture the bovine emissions. "This smelled like government waste to me," declares Neumann. --Ron Fournier for Associated Press

Neumann's constant attacks, aided by advertising from outside groups, wore down Feingold's initial popularity advantage to nothing. Vexing Democrats to no end, Feingold refused party funding and publicly called on all outside groups, including those friendly to him, to stay out of the race; but Neumann basked in the support of his friends. For example, Feingold bought $6,000 for a week's advertisements on the NBC affiliate in Madison, so Neumann countered with his own $4,600 purchase, and the Republican Party joined in with another $15,368 in commercials the same week.

Writing for the New Republic, Peter Beinart summed up the race thusly:
"Neumann assumed that, if he could define issues to his advantage, voters would not care where he got his money. He relentlessly attacked Feingold's record on government spending, "partial birth" abortion, and Social Security. Rather than raising and spending the money necessary to respond, Feingold gambled that voters impressed with his integrity would disregard the attacks. Even when Feingold finally did run ads, he devoted several of them to the meta-issue of his refusal to take soft money or go negative. He barely broached core Democratic themes like education and regulation of HMOs even though his legislative record on those issues was strong. Two weeks before Election Day, polls showed that voters trusted Neumann more on Social Security, an issue on which Democrats usually clean up."
In the end, however, Mr Positive Pureheart had just enough support in Madison and the industrial urban pockets of Wisconsin, eking out a 51% to 48% victory over Mr. Scoldy McNegative. (My editors at the Milwaukee Business Journal focused on one of those urban industrial cities.)

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