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Democrats split over how to defeat Ryan

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
July 7, 2010

Six days before the filing deadline, the Democratic Party has no candidate to run against incumbent Paul Ryan for the 1st District Congressional seat.


Mark Pienkos, chairman of the Democratic Party in the 1st District, said it’s possible the Democrats won’t run anyone.


State party chairman Mike Tate recently told the Associated Press that the party couldn’t find a credible candidate.


Paulette Garin of Racine, who lost in the Democratic primary in 2008, said the 1st District party leadership had a list of potential candidates, but it appears three of them removed themselves from consideration.


Garin said she was fourth on the list.


Garin said she declared her interest in running over a year ago at the state party convention. But when asked this week, Garin would not say whether she would file nomination paper by Tuesday’s deadline.


Garin faults party officials for making grand statements about the need to defeat Ryan and yet doing little to reach that goal. She said party leaders seemed intent on finding a candidate with money who could challenge the Republican incumbent’s formidable bankroll, and that meant they were not interested in her low-budget campaign style.


“Rather than help someone like me early to build a viable grassroots campaign, the 1st CD leadership spent well over a year conducting a candidate search, courting wealthy businessmen. Their perceived attitude has been one where if we cannot get a candidate with money, we will have to rely on Paulette,” she said.


Pienkos said there was no formal search process, but party officials talked to potential candidates, and it appears none but Garin is interested in running.


“Obviously, when an incumbent has a huge war chest, it does discourage potential candidates who may not have the ability to raise that amount of money,” Pienkos said. “It’s going to have a definite effect on potential candidates throwing their hat in the ring.”


Pienkos pointed to the large number of millionaires in Congress and said the system needs reform.


Garin calls herself a Progressive and believes some party leaders see her as too far to the left, at least on some issues. She has been one of the most vocal advocates statewide for national health insurance and opposed the Obama administration’s more conservative approach to health care.


Party activists often would joke about her at meetings, calling her “the resident socialist,” she said.


“I did not expect the party to support me, but if not me, then who?” Garin said. “At least support someone. Seven hundred thousand people live in the district. There had to be someone. This idea of waiting for Ryan to move on (before reclaiming) the seat is ridiculous.”


Pienkos said no one in the district with the financial backing needed to unseat Ryan has been found over many years, and it’s quite likely that state and national party leaders have decided to target their money in more winnable races.


“I truly can understand that,” Pienkos said.


Garin said the party’s fixation on money led to a long candidate search that kept potential backers of her candidacy on the sidelines.


Garin said it’s not just about her. She faults the party for failing to back the late Dr. Jeff Thomas of Janesville, who ran repeatedly against Ryan.


“Just think, Doc got 38 percent with no help and almost no campaign,” Garin said. “What could he have done if someone helped him?”


“The problems that we have in this country are far bigger than whether or not Paulette Garin has a million dollars,” Garin said. “It’s like they shot themselves in the foot, and they’ve done it for over a decade. … And it’s sad, because it’s my party.”


Even though most observers consider Ryan a shoo-in, Garin said it’s important for her party to run a credible candidate.


“If we don’t win this time, at least we are establishing some credibility for the Democrats in this district,” Garin said.


All indicators point to Garin as the Democrat’s candidate.


“I certainly hope we can get a good candidate in there, and I think Paulette is a good candidate,” said Bob Fizzell, chairman of the Rock County Democratic Party. “It’s very disappointing to see a strong labor district like the 1st supporting the person who is so opposed to what’s good for the people there.”


Pienkos and Fizzell both said if Garin is the candidate, Democrats will support her.


“I think it’s very important for Democrats and people who want to see change that they do rally around a person who is throwing his or her hat into the ring because I think there is a need for change,” Pienkos said.



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