Last month I wrote about how State Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson picked his preferred candidate (Pat Bomhack) in a contested Democratic primary in the 17th State Senate district. Shortly after my original report, Larson snubbed Ernie Wittwer, one of the two Democrats running in the 17th Senate district, at the 2014 Democratic Party of Wisconsin convention, prompting a pointed response from Wittwer.
Three weeks later it appears there are still some concerns about the decision by Larson to meddle in a contested Democratic primary.
One Democratic operative, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that party leaders were concerned that Wittwer was a loose cannon unwilling to do what is necessary to win the race.
Sen. Kathleen VInehout, D-Alma, who represents a district that borders the 17th and is the only state senator to endorse Wittwer, said she believes the push from party operatives represents the same strategy that worked against her bid for governor in the 2012 recall as well as her plans to run for governor this year. In the 2012 recall primary, party officials worked behind-the-scenes to get Tom Barrett to enter the race. And last year Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Mike Tate and others actively worked to promote the candidacy of Mary Burke in the hopes of preventing other Democratic candidates from entering the race.
“I think that there’s maybe a difference in how one defines a credible candidate,” said Vinehout. “The conventional wisdom is you want a candidate who will be able to raise a lot of money. And certainly, if you look at Howard Marklein’s war chest, that’s a reasonable perspective. But I think it’s just as important to have strong grassroots support.”
The next campaign finance reports, which will show how much the candidates have raised so far in 2014, will not be available until later this month. By the end of last year, Wittwer had raised $9,300 and Bomhack had raised $19,300.
Bomhack, who grew up in Brookfield and graduated from Stanford, received the great majority of his contributions from outside of the district, particularly southeastern Wisconsin and California.
Bomhack could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Wittwer, however, said he is encouraged by the support he has received from local Democrats and is not fazed by the love Bomhack is getting from party brass.
“He can have the support of all the Milwaukee and Madison politicians he wants, I have the support of the people out here,” he said.
What’s piqued my curiosity about the race in the 17th Senate district is the claims by Sen. Larson that Pat Bomhack is the more electable of the two Democrats running, despite the fact that Bomhack had run in 2012 for the State Assembly in 51st district, losing in the Democratic primary. What’s more, while Witter is a long-time resident of the 17th Senate district, Bomhack is a relatively recent transplant to the district. I can only assume Chris Larson believes Pat Bomhack is a more viable candidate than Ernie Wittwer because Bomhack will be a better fundraiser, because that seems to be the Democratic Party establishment’s benchmark for what constitutes a “viable” candidate, but if the ability to raise campaign funds is the standard for viability, then the Democratic Party will continue to see conflict between their hand-picked “viable” candidates like Pat Bomhack and grassroots candidates like Ernie Wittwer.