Senate candidate Alex Lasry just dumped another $2 million into his own campaign. When a guy can treat that kind of cash like kindling, well, I guess his kids will still be able to eat, but you start to wonder what the point is.
I’m at a loss to understand what Lasry’s theory of the race might be. The other three major Democratic candidates have credible arguments.
Front-runner Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes can argue in the primary that he would be the first Black senator from Wisconsin and he can tout big name progressive endorsements like those from Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Corey Booker. For the general, Barnes’ can point to his victory on a ticket with Gov. Tony Evers as some evidence of the ability to win statewide and he can argue that he’ll be able to turn out the Black vote in Milwaukee. And to those who question if a Black candidate can win here, he can point to the fact that Barack Obama won Wisconsin twice, and easily both times.
State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski won a statewide race in her own right and she is the only woman among the leading candidates, something that counts for a lot in a Democratic primary.
And Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson is relishing his underdog status in much the same way that Russ Feingold did back in 1992. He can argue that he has a long record of winning in a red part of the state and he has more governmental experience than the other candidates combined, though actual qualifications don’t matter as much a they once did. Oh, let’s just face it: they don’t matter at all.
But I don’t see what Lasry’s argument could be. The only thing he’s got going for himself is a lot of money, and even that is just by virtue of a billionaire dad, who made his fortune as a Wall Street hedge fund operator. If the Democrats were hungry for cash, that could still be a winning argument. But whoever wins the nomination will be showered in dollars both from within the state and from national sources. In the last cycle, Democrats raised twice as much as Republicans in dark money. That’s nothing to be proud of, but it means that personal wealth doesn’t matter like it did when Herb Kohl was able to self-fund his campaigns.
So, personal wealth matters only in the primary, and even there it’s a two-edged sword. Nelson has been hammering away at Lasry’s money and his Wall Street connections, stopping just short of calling him out by name. While Lasry seems to be his main target, Godlewski could be a secondary one as she also has dumped a chunk of her personal wealth into her camp.
On top of this, Democrats still seem to be in a practical mood. They just want to beat the despised Sen. Ron Johnson. I don’t see primary voters casting a lot of ballots for anyone who they think cannot win in November. Lasry has by far the weakest case for general election success among the leading candidates. He’s a rich kid from New York, who didn’t move to Wisconsin until 2014 and has never run for office before, and what else do you need to know?
In that context I find it curious that Nelson seems to be focussing his attacks on Lasry, who has almost no chance at the nomination, while laying off of Barnes, who is the clear front-runner. Even if he forced Lasry out of the race, it seems that that would benefit Barnes more than anyone, since both he and Lasry are from Milwaukee.
The only chance Nelson or Godlewski have is to make a case that Barnes can’t beat Johnson. That is, by definition, a negative campaign, though it can be handled skillfully. In fact, it has to be, since Democrats are often turned off by negative primary attacks and they’ll be especially sensitive to attacks on a Black candidate.
Still, the primary isn’t until August 9th, so it’s too early to count out either Nelson or Godlewski. But it doesn’t seem too soon to conclude that Lasry’s chances are pretty close to zero. Why he continues to pump money into a losing effort isn’t clear to me, except that he’s got a lot more where that came from.
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