Friday, September 01, 2006

Why Doesn't Green Just Give Up the Money?

Republicans are in an absolute uproar about the Elections Board decision to require Mark Green to set aside over $400,000 in out-of-state PAC money he wanted to use for his state gubernatorial campaign.

I'll withhold final judgment on the legal side of the issue until the Elections Board releases more info on its decision. The prevailing argument coming out of the GOP that this was a purely partisan vote doesn't hold water in light of the fact that the Libertarian on the board voted against Green, as well.

This led national observer David Weigel (writing at Andrew Sullivan's blog) to ask: "Anyone care to explain why the election board's Libertarian member voted to screw Green?"

I have yet to see a good response to that question.

My preliminary thoughts on the ruling are split. On the one hand, I think it's absolutely wrong to use out-of-state PAC money in a state election campaign. On the other hand, retroactively applying a regulation to a campaign doesn't sit well with me either, regardless of how much I oppose the Green campaign's supposed right to use that money in a Wisconsin election.

But the other side of this issue -- the political side -- is the really interesting one at this point. And on that note, I think the Green Team is completely falling flat.

I don't want to say $460K is a small amount of money, but in an election that's this heated, it certainly isn't an insurmountable sum. So why doesn't Green just give it up?

It took him one night with President Bush to pull in more than what he's being asked to give up under this ruling -- is it really going to be that difficult to make up most, all, or maybe even more than all of it by tapping wealthy GOP donors in the next few weeks? To be sure, the Green Team has already sent out a plea to its base to generate the money, so why not just drop the appeal?

The initial reaction out of the Green camp on Wednesday was to do just that, but then for some reason Mark Graul changed his tune by Thursday and began to put up a fight.

The only explanation I can think of is that Green sees this as a way to finally rally the base, which is something his campaign has been largely unable to do thus far. Perhaps they feel taking the position of an abused underdog will help generate support from those who don't want to see a Dem in power, but care even less for a Dem "pushing around" a fellow conservative.

(Side-Note: Rick Perlstein wrote a great piece in The New Republic in June on how conservatives have thrived on framing themselves as outside underdogs during and after their rise to power over the past 40 years.)

In such a tight race, though, this seems like a risky strategy, especially considering the main charge the GOP has been trying to thrust against Doyle is his alleged lack of ethics. Fighting for "the right" to spend out-of-state PAC money in a Wisconsin election -- which is now unarguably against the law -- certainly doesn't help with getting that charge to stick in the minds of voters. As they say, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Perhaps we can chalk this up to another one of the Green Team's failures to capture the hearts of the base while simultaneously garnering positive attention from the independents, which is the hallmark of any strong challenger's campaign. It seems when Mark Green has gone toward the middle, he's risked boring at best and alienating at worst the far right. And when he tries to energize the far right, which may be the case here, he's risked losing the middle.

While this tightrope walk confronts nearly every challenger out there, it seems especially important for someone like Mark Green to master since he's still largely unknown across the state. Does the Green Team really want an appeals trial to be the place people get to know him, regardless of whether such a trial could potentially excite the faithful?

In the end, it seems easier for Green to just give up the cash.

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