Only three times in the last 62 years—1974, ’76 and ’98—has a Democrat won the U.S. House seat from Wisconsin’s 8th District (Appleton-Green Bay). In each case, the race was very close and the Democrat who won the seat was eventually turned out of office.
So with three-term Republican Rep. Mark Green leaving to run for governor this year, the odds should favor Republican retention of the open House seat. But no one in either party is taking this for granted. In fact, the 8th District almost always shows up on lists of vulnerable Republican-held House seats.
Why? Much has to do with the Democratic nominee—multi-millionaire Dr. Steve Kagen. The founder of the Kagen Allergy Clinics, the physician-candidate now oversees branches in Appleton, Green Bay, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. It is no exaggeration to say that the Kagen name is as familiar districtwide as, say, that of Mayo in Minneapolis or DeBakey in Houston. As a recognized expert on the causes of asthma and allergies, Dr. Kagen has social and professional connections that transcend the boundaries of the 8th District and indeed the United States.
The Kagen name also carries some baggage. He has sued more than 80 patients, some for less than $200 in bills.
Also, Kagen hails from the left of the Democratic Party. He calls for “rolling back the Bush tax cuts,” is pro-abortion, and opposes the U.S. action in Iraq. One could easily liken him to another Democratic physician, Howard Dean but, so far, without the famous scream (although one TV news clip actually shows Kagen sounding somewhat “Deanish” by strangely introducing himself with: “Who the hell is Dr. Kagen?”).
Standing between Kagen and Congress is John Gard, speaker of the state house of representatives and a stalwart conservative. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Gard has served in the state legislature since winning his seat in a special election in 1987 at age 23. As speaker, Gard, voted to cut both income and property taxes by more than $1 billion, helped secure passage of the largest property-tax cut in Wisconsin history, and voted to eradicate the state tax on Social Security benefits, a move that now saves taxpayers more than $80 million a year. Throughout his tenure in Madison, the lawmaker was rated “strongly pro-life” by Wisconsin Right to Life.
On the red-hot issue of illegal immigration, the GOP nominee says without hesitation: “The law must be followed and make illegal trespassers understand that the law will be enforced, period.” To Gard, that means opposition to the guest-worker program and “comprehensive” immigration reform favored by Senate Democrats.
Given the liberalism of Dr. Kagen in Wisconsin’s conservative 8th District, the opportunity is great for conservatives around the country to make sure this is one place the Democrats don’t pick up a seat.