Four-term Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin announced his retirement today, joining five other Democrat incumbents who have decided not to run in 2012. Two Republicans have also announced they won’t run thus far, while a third, John Ensign, melted into a little puddle of scandal.
This makes already rough Senate terrain look even more formidable for the Democrats, especially since Kohl represented Wisconsin, where so many intense political battles have been fought lately. His decision to retire doesn’t help the carefully constructed narrative of a public backlash against Governor Scott Walker, whose doom is perpetually forecast in the polls, even as he does very well at The Polls.
The Washington Post says “Democratic strategists insisted that they will find a top-tier candidate in the open seat, noting that the fight between Gov. Scott Walker (R) and national unions over collective bargaining in the state earlier this year has energized the party.” Unfortunately for the Party, it also energized their previously quiescent taxpayer host organism.
Mentioned among possible Democrat candidates are former Senator Russ Feingold and former Representative Tom Barrett, both of whom were soundly defeated in 2010. Barrett was running for governor against Scott Walker. Feingold ended a storied 18-year Senate career by losing to businessman and rookie politician Ron Johnson, 47-52.
There are second acts in American political life, and a defeated 2010 candidate coming back for victory in 2012 would be a big morale boost for the Democrats, but these seem like risky gambles. The Post floats some other suggested Democrat candidates, including Representatives Ron Kind, Tammy Baldwin, and Steve Kagen.
Meanwhile, the Republicans like their chances in Wisconsin. “Senator Kohl’s retirement, just like his Democrat colleagues who stepped aside before him, immediately presents another key opportunity for Senate Republicans next year. It also further dilutes the ability of national Democrats to go on offense, while they fight to maintain their dwindling Senate majority,” said a press release from Brian Walsh, who is the National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director, and a man who really knows how to frame a political narrative.
Some Republicans hope Representative Paul Ryan will run for the seat. He’s a busy guy with a lot on his plate, and he’d be gambling a fairly secure House seat. There are a lot of other Republican candidates who seem interested in running for Kohl’s seat, including former gubernatorial candidate Mark Neumann, who was said to be preparing a run even before Kohl announced his retirement.
Open-seat races are vigorous exercises, good for the political cardio-vascular system. This one should be especially strenuous.