In April, 35-year incumbent Congressman Tom Petri shocked the Wisconsin political establishment by suddenly announcing his retirement. With a well-funded campaign warchest, the old guard Republican looked pretty invincible until two stories pounded him in quick succession. First, Gannett reported that Petri owned stock in a defense contractor he had been lobbying the Department of Defense to support with more contracts. Second, Media Trackers exposed a little-known committee vote Petri cast in favor of single-payer healthcare as long as it was managed by the states.
Between those two stories, and reports that Petri was backed by labor unions that opposed Gov. Scott Walker, the Tuesday Group member and favorite of the Main Street Partnership PAC decided to quit the game.
Now, a hotly contested primary is underway to decide August 12 who will replace Petri as the GOP nominee for the district. A Republican-leaning seat, the primary will determine who goes to Congress, barring something earthshattering between then and November.
State Sen. Joe Leibham, long regarded as the heir-apparent to Petri, is among those running for the seat. Conservative state Sen. Glenn Grothman, and successful businessman and conservative state Rep. Duey Strobel are also vying for the Republican nomination.
If elected, Leibham would be a return to the politics of Petri. A nice guy, his state Senate record is long on posturing and short on real achievement. Although a reliable vote for his GOP caucus, he has not distinguished himself in any way as an articulate, fighting conservative.
On his campaign website he touts the state spending projects he has brought to his Sheboygan, Wisconsin-area district. A vocal champion of voter ID, he has attempted to cover his right flank by talking about his ardent support for Wisconsin's voter ID law, currently being litigated in state and federal court.
But what Leibham doesn't say is that he killed a proposal by Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Republicans to fix the problematic law. Attorneys with the state Department of Justice approached lawmakers before a federal court ruled on the law and said that because the law is not written like Indiana's voter ID law (which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court) the court would likely strike it down.
Instead of being willing to fix the law, Leibham demanded that the Senate kill the measure. If Leibham had actually set his ego aside, Wisconsin would have a better, Constitutionally-defensible voter ID law on the books and the lawsuits underway would be void.
In a recent dust-up with the two conservatives running, Leibham pulled an underhanded political stunt in which he backed out of a local candidate forum after allegedly promising to show up.
Now, according to a campaign e-mail, Leibham, a married father of three and self-proclaimed "Eagle Scout, church elder, usher and active member of the [community]" is going to D.C. to hold a fundraiser with Bill Broydrick on July 23. Broydrick is a former Democratic operative and state officeholder from Wisconsin-turned D.C. lobbyist whose phone number appeared on the infamous D.C. Madam's list.
A source tells me that Leibham is the favored candidate of the NRCC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the primary, although neither group has publicly weighed in on the race. After a career in government, if Leibham doesn't win this primary he will be stuck looking for a new career. That career-dependence on holding political office and lack of a bold, conservative record make him just the kind of candidate to be a "yes" man for the D.C. Ruling Class.