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Wisconsin Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Wisconsin (08)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


October 23, 2008 Update:

When Steve Kagen faced off against Republican nominee John Gard two years ago, the outcome was decided by fewer than 6,000 votes. This year, both men are running a second round of the 2006 race, though Kagen appears to have a somewhat firmer lead this time around.

In terms of funding, Kagen has a slight advantage over his opponent with a bit more cash on hand. Based on the latest campaign finance reports, Kagen reported $668,000 against Gard’s $607,000. Kagen has also out-raised Gard 1.8 million to 1.2 million. In addition, polls conducted earlier this month found Kagen leading 52 percent to Gard’s 43 percent. All this suggests that Kagen has the upper hand.

But Gard and his supporters are running the race down to the wire. The National Republican Congressional Committee, which is cash-strapped compared to its Democratic counterpart, has chosen this as one of the few places to run ads against their challenger. This includes a recent ad that links Kagen to corrupt New York City Charlie Rangel, alleging that Kagen took $16,000 in donations and supported a $2 million dollar earmark for Rangel’s personal office and library. Both national parties have poured more than $300,000 into ads and mailings for the race, and both presidential candidates and their running mates made appearances in the district last month. So, despite Kagen’s edge, Wisconsin’s only competitive house race could be heading for yet another close, close shave.


Background

Multimillionaire doctor and freshman Representative Steve Kagen is off to a rocky start in his congressional career. While most first-term members try to keep a low profile and establish their congressional credentials, Kagen has done the opposite. Just days after inauguration, Kagen endured backlash from boasts about a series of uncivil comments made toward President Bush, Laura Bush, and Karl Rove. Newspaper reports of Kagen’s claims and White House denials of the incidents cast a negative light on the freshman’s character and judgment. Despite apologizing for his behavior, the damage has already been done, and district voters can expect to see his tape-recorded comments in television advertisements this fall.

The ensuing controversy prompted the entrance of the 2006 Republican nominee John Gard into the race. Gard is widely perceived to be the best available challenger, but he may face primary opposition from a bevy of Republicans eying the race. If Kagen can avoid future gaffes, he should be considered a slight favorite, but he has certainly done little to help his chances for reelection to Congress.

Candidates

John Gard – Republican – 2006 GOP nominee, former state house speaker
Website

Steve Kagen (I) – Democrat – current Congressman
Website