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Corporate vs. grassroots: Will 1st District contest turn on money or people?

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
February 15, 2010

Rep. Paul Ryan has more than $1.5 million on hand to pay for his next campaign for the 1st District congressional seat.


Ryan’s only known challenger has about $545, according to the latest report from the Federal Elections Commission.


Conventional wisdom says no one will defeat Ryan this fall without a sizeable war chest, something no challenger has had since Ryan was first elected in 1998.


Paulette Garin of Kenosha, the only Democrat registered to run for Ryan’s 1st District seat, said she hasn’t committed to the race this fall, but she said it’s hard to say no to an unemployed contributor who sent her $5 and encouraged her to run.


“It’s gut wrenching,” Garin said of the jobless worker’s plight.


Garin noted the U.S. Supreme Court decision last month that allows unlimited spending on campaign ads by corporations and unions.


The court’s decision negates the argument that one should have hundreds of thousands of dollars to even think about challenging Ryan, Garin said.


“Even if I had a million dollars, how much would corporate America dump in to this race to protect their poster boy?” Garin said.


Congressional Democrats are already working on new campaign-finance bills intended to head off Garin’s scenario.


But with the court’s decision, “it’s going to be hard for anybody who isn’t tied to corporate America to run against anyone,” Garin said. “So if I chose to come out and run, or if someone else chooses to come out and run against Ryan, it’s not going to be the traditional way.


“We have to realize that we have to activate the grass roots,” Garin added. “The grass roots is the only thing we have.”


A grassroots campaign was also what Garin said she would run in 2008, when she lost the Democratic primary.


“I’m not naïve,” Garin said. “To run against him is a tough row to hoe, and yet I look at someone who gives me a $5 contribution, and they’re unemployed, because they really think things need to change?


Ryan claimed quite a few grass roots of his own when his campaign issued a news release this month.


“The outpouring of support from people who have never before participated in the political process is amazing,” Ryan is quoted as saying in the news release. “Every month, hundreds of first-time contributors are sending donations and telling me to continue speaking out about the need to spend and borrow less, get the economy growing, fix health care and the tax code and leave a better America for the next generation.”


Ryan said he added 1,143 new donors in 2009, including 751 in the last quarter of the year.


Those were not all large contributions. Of the 5,571 Wisconsinites who donated to his campaign in 2009, 62 percent gave less than $100, Ryan said.


The Democratic Party has broadsided Ryan with news releases, chiding him for opposing Democrats’ health care and economic recovery plans. But Ryan said his contributors believe in his alternative route to economic security, his “Roadmap for America’s Future.”


“We are either going to tackle these problems, or they’re going to tackle us,” Ryan said. “The $1 trillion dollar stimulus that failed to deliver jobs, and the proposed government takeover of health care will make matters worse.”


Not that the Democrats are ignoring these issues. They’re banking on them.


Asked whether the Democratic Party will channel significant sums of money to its 1st District candidate this year, a Democratic leader said money won’t win the election.


“What is essential is jobs, and I think that’s ultimately what the election is going to hinge on,” said Mark Pienkos of Lake Geneva, chairman of the 1st District Democratic Party. “Over the next several months, I think everybody should hope the economic conditions will be turning around. We all know that is the big issue.”


The Democrats’ 2008 challenger to Ryan, Marge Krupp, by the way, still has $18,266 on hand, according to the FEC, but Pienkos said he hasn’t heard any rumblings that Krupp is contemplating another run.


There’s still time, however. The deadline to file candidacy papers is in July.


Baldwin campaign also set financially

Rep. Tammy Baldwin would easily win re-election today if money to campaign were the only factor.


The 2nd District Democrat had $645,407 at the end of the latest reporting period, according to Federal Election Commission records.


Baldwin’s two opponents, Republicans Chad Lee and Peter Theron, had less than $5,000 between the two of them.



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