MILWAUKEE -- U.S. Senator Herb Kohl is retiring from his seat at the end of this year, and he's given his endorsement to the only Democrat in the race, Tammy Baldwin. The Kohl endorsement is a foregone conclusion: he is a Democrat and Baldwin is the only Democrat in the race. On the Republican side, there are many familiar names on the ballot, and while the political parties are offering up more of the same, the voters seem to want something new.
If you ask voters what they want in candidates for public office, they'll generally tell you they want something fresh. "It would be nice to have some other people that we could get excited about," Monica Weiss said. "There always needs to be new people coming into office, otherwise things just remain stagnant," Rebecca Ruyle said.
However, year after year it seems, the names on the ballot stay the same. "It's the same old people. More people should get involved," Tim Harris said.
So why do the voters settle for the familiar? Voter John Ajavon has an idea. "Politics, like anything else in America, is a business. It's like buying Campbell's soup. This guy is consistent over the years, so what do you have to do? Pretty much stick with what actually pays off," Ajavon aid.
The race for Wisconsin's open U.S. Senate seat, for instance, features recycled candidates like former Governor Tommy Thompson, and perpetual candidate Mark Neumann. The so-called "fresh face" is well-known Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. On the Democratic side, Baldwin is the only candidate, and is a seven-term congresswoman, with no fresh faces challenging her, even in a primary.
UW-Milwaukee Governmental Affairs Professor Mordecai Lee says the lack of new candidates boils down to fundraising. "More often than not, the candidates, instead of being a fresh face, where we say 'who the heck is that?' it's a recycled face, either because they've held statewide office before or they've got the money to establish name recognition. Once you've got that brand, it's so much easier to run in another race. The problem is having the initial amount of money to become a brand," Lee said.
Chris Haworth is a political consultant who has advised Democrats and Republicans. He says this year's combustible climate has new candidates already overwhelmed, and says many of the best people are tied up working with the Walker campaign, as the Governor could face a recall election. "Resources are spread extremely thin. There's not a lot of candidates. There's not a lot of money, and there's not a lot of traditional organization behind the candidates. The best people are already working on the Walker campaign, so even if there was a candidate that stepped forward, who is going to help them raise money? Who is going to help them run their campaign?" Haworth said.
Outside of the Senate race, the big question for Democrats is who could run against Walker in a potential recall race. That's still to be determined, but the one name that seems to universally energize the left is Russ Feingold, another politician from the past. He has said he won't run.