Senate Race: Anybody Else?

Sen. Ron Johnson is a national embarrassment for Wisconsin. I want him gone. So, in the August Democratic primary I’ll vote for the candidate that I think has the best chance to beat RoJo. That’s my only real consideration. I wish I could have another one.

That other consideration would be what that Democrat stands for, because right now I have no real choices. Of the four leading candidates, none line up with my moderate center-left views. All of them are competing for the hard-left Democratic base voters. I understand why. The most ideological voters are the ones who give money, volunteer and are most active on social media and in their informal social circles. They over-perform on their small numbers.

But they represent only a slim minority of Democratic voters. Surveys show that hard-left ideologues make up less than 10% of voters. Among Democrats, it’s not just a silent majority. It’s a silent super-majority.

Here’s what happened, I think. People with strong views have always tended to be more politically active, for obvious reasons. But the surprise victory of Donald Trump in 2016 caused a lot of Democrats to go off the deep end. A small minority (my small minority) reacted by becoming less ideological and intensely practical. We just wanted to figure out a way to win elections. But the vast majority of activists went the other way. Their anger drove them to become even more ideological. All of a sudden, ideas that languished on the academic fringes — reparations, Critical Race Theory, paying off everybody’s college loans — became mainstream ideas in the Democratic Party. Then the murder of George Floyd was a booster shot to all of that. “Defund the police” got stamped on the party because some liberals actually embraced that idea. In response to the Floyd murder, Democrats just totally flipped out.

The Democratic primary for Senate is filled with hard-left ideologues. I’m looking for the center-left version of Lee Dreyfus.

As a result, whoever survives the primary will be hobbled in their ability to beat Johnson because they will have moved so far to the left (or maybe they will have been there all along) to secure the nomination. Even independent or moderate Republican suburban voters might hold their noses and vote for Johnson because they are even more repulsed by the alternative offered by the Democrats.

So, I don’t necessarily blame the leading candidates. They’re just doing what conventional candidates do. They see where the money, the volunteers and the energy are at and they go there. The problem is that this will hurt them badly when it comes to the main event in November.

Candidates can start circulating nomination papers on Friday. With some of the big four candidates having been in the race for well over a year and having raised millions (or in two cases having millions of their own money to spend), you might think it’s too late for another choice. Maybe so. But, as part of my research for a book, I’ve just finished reading Bill Kraus’ entertaining account of Lee Dreyfus’ improbable 1978 gubernatorial campaign. In Let the People Decide, Kraus, who was Dreyfus’ campaign manager, writes that he won by ignoring every piece of conventional political wisdom then in existence. His main idea was to be “a whole candidate” and to treat voters as “whole people.” In other words, rather than parsing the electorate into interest groups based on one part of their identity (their job, their religion, their race, their gender, etc.) he aimed over everybody’s head and tried to appeal to them on broader, unifying values. Voters appreciated being treated with that kind of respect for their intelligence and they responded.

So, the appeal of a Republican who didn’t bow and scrape to Trump or a Democrat who took on the hard-left woke mobs would be refreshing. There are some half-dozen minor candidates vying for the Democratic nomination against the big four, but none have caught fire and some might decide not to even make the race.

If there’s a moderate Democrat out there with some firepower, please raise your hand now. Please give me another choice. Ron Kind, are you listening?

And on a trivial matter… can we lose the term “to center”? As in, “we must center self-care.” Well, “self-care” is another term that needs to go, but “centering” has become all the rage. Why not just say “prioritize”? That’s a neutral word, but “center” as a verb is part of that liberal lexicon that drives people (even some liberals like me) away from the left. There’s no reason to speak like this unless you want to signal your sophistication (in some circles) and your elitism. Yeah, it’s a small thing, but liberal elitism is at the heart of the Democrats’ problems right now.

Want to read more curiously conservative views from a liberal? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

2 thoughts on “Senate Race: Anybody Else?

  1. Hi Dave,

    Very excited for your book, I have the book you mentioned am and looking forward to reading it. I sense, based on your views, you are being drawn to the same era of political history I am currently.

    Good luck with the writing and thanks for what you do.





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