John Gizzi's Races of the Week

Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District

Kapanke vs. Kind

At 62, with four grown children and 11 grandchildren, Dan Kapanke was at a point in life when people are usually contemplating retirement. 

But the two-term state senator and agribusinessman from LaCrosse has other plans: taking out liberal Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, who has held the Badger State’s 3rd District since 1996. After making the decision to run last full, the hard-charging Kapanke went into gear. He has so far raised more than $375,000 (“with 1,700 donors and 95% of the money right here from the 3rd District”) and been endorsed by the 3rd District Republican caucus in the state legislature.

Although Kind has an overall liberal voting record in Congress (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 14%), it is his most recent votes that have suddenly made him vulnerable. As Kapanke noted, “When he voted for the stimulus package and the healthcare bill, you knew Nancy Pelosi was holding his feet to the fire. But it has sure upset folks out here. And I was stunned he voted for the cap-and-trade bill, because he should know full well how much of a blow it would be to small farmers and agribusinessmen here in Western Wisconsin.”

But the issue of driving up debt—in Kapanke’s words, “maxing out on one credit card and then going to another”—is what has most changed the political landscape of the 3rd District (which the Republican hopeful’s entire Senate district lies within). As Kapanke recalled, “The ‘Tea Party’ you read so much about and see on TV is especially strong here. I have been to a lot of meetings and what makes the strongest impression is how upset the people are about Congress and the administration driving up the debt. They get more excited talking about that than they do about [Milwaukee] Brewers or [Green Bay] Packers games. And out here, that’s being pretty excited!”

It is to these people that Dan Kapanke listens to closely and connects. As a small businessman, he has been doing it for 25 years. As a supervisor in bucolic Campbell County and then chairman of the county board of supervisors and now state senator,
Kapanke knows well the concerns of small-town and rural America.

But quite often, talks with the candidate come back to why, at this point in life and as a grandfather of 11, he wants to go to Congress. “That’s just it,” says Dan Kapanke, “My grandchildren and the grandchildren of others will inherit this massive debt that is being piled up by government right now. I’ve got to go to Congress—for them and for their future.”

Pennsylvania’s 7th U.S. House District

Meehan vs. Lentz

Like Elliot Ness and Rudy Giuliani, Pat Meehan was known primarily in his adult life as a tough lawman. A Temple University Law School graduate and former Delaware County (Pa.) district attorney, Meehan was named U.S. attorney in 2001. For the next six years, he waged a spirited war on official corruption in the Keystone State.

Meehan’s relentless efforts led to the indictment, prosecution and conviction of State Senate Democratic Leader Vincent Fumo on more than 139 counts of misusing tax dollars and his office. Recalling that Fumo was sentenced to federal prison for four years, Meehan tersely remarked: “It was punishment, all right, but not nearly as long as the sentencing guidelines called for.” 

It was under Meehan that probes were also launched that exposed the “pay to play” schemes of several high-level officials in Philadelphia, among them City Treasurer Corey Kemp.

Now, at 54 and in private practice for two years, Pat Meehan is seeking to return to public life, this time as U.S. representative from Pennsylvania’s 7th District (Delaware County). 

“Actually, I have been in politics before,” said Meehan, recalling how he helped quarterback fellow conservative GOPer Rick Santorum’s first winning race for the Senate from Pennsylvania back in 1994. “And now I’m running for Congress because in the critical time we live in, it’s an opportunity for people who believe we must lower taxes, promote deregulation and replace that healthcare bill with something that provides continued quality and lower cost.”

With two-term Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak relinquishing the seat to run for the Senate, 7th District Democrats have nominated State Rep. Bryan Lentz to succeed him. Lentz is Meehan’s polar opposite. During his two terms in Harrisburg, Lentz voted for Gov. and fellow Democrat Ed Rendell’s $1 billion state tax increase in ’07.

“And he’s a big supporter of cap and trade and the public option in healthcare reform—both of which I oppose,” said Meehan.

Republicans are fond of noting that, even before he wrapped up the Democratic nomination, Lentz received the maximum legal donation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Thus, it’s fair game to call him “Pelosi’s puppet.” As for Pat Meehan, based on a record of independence and incorruptibility, he’s nobody’s boy but Pennsylvania’s.

Indiana’s 9th U.S. House District

Young vs. Hill

To say that Todd Young has jammed more than a lifetime in his 37 years is not hyperbole. Enlisting in the U.S. Navy after graduating high school, Young was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy. After graduating in 1995, he spent five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and then earned his MBA from the University of Chicago while running the Marine recruiting office in greater Chicago.

Young was also an intern with the Heritage Foundation, worked as legislative assistant to Sen. Richard Lugar (R.-Ind.), and then went home to get his law degree from Indiana University. He did this while working as a management consultant and as he and wife Jenny were starting a family. 

Now a deputy prosecuting attorney in Orange County (Ind.), Todd Young has a new mountain to climb: unseating five-term Democratic Rep. Baron Hill so he can then serve in Congress.

For a first-time candidate who had to face three opponents for the GOP nomination, this seemed like a political Mount Everest. But not for Todd Young. He and Jenny climbed into their Jeep, blitzed the 20-county 9th District (“larger than Connecticut”), and raised more than $500,000—all but a handful of it small donations from the district. 

To the surprise of the “experts,” first-time candidate Young topped the Republican field. 
Hill (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 20%) is vulnerable this year, explains the GOP nominee, “because he’s gotten away with calling himself a centrist before. This is the first time he’s held office when forced to vote on a very leftist agenda.”

By that Young means the stimulus package, cap and trade, and the Obama-backed healthcare bill. He also believes that Hill is vulnerable on the issue of immigration. 
“We need to make our border secure—through a fence, unmanned vehicles, or sensors—and then, and only then, come back and develop a workable compromise to provide some of those who came here illegally a means of becoming citizens.”

Yes, Todd Young has had several careers in his young life. But if conservatives keep responding to his message and magnetism the way they did in the primary this year, he will have a fresh career—as congressman from Indiana’s 9th District.