The trip from La Crosse to Eau Claire

I’ve had some fine moments because of this blog. Riding in the Freedom Express from La Crosse to Eau Claire is on that list. I figured this interview would be snippets between phone calls and emails and a rowdy group of passengers. I never dreamed it would be me, the candidate and his wife, and Pastor John.

Pastor John is the Neumann driver for this part of the campaign. He’s put on a bazillion (my word, not his) miles as they trek across the state. At one point I joke it’s a good thing he’s a pastor because only a saint could manage the two-lane roads with all the farm machinery and trucks. Make no mistake, Pastor John is a steady hand in these trips. I felt it.

I spend a few minutes introducing myself. Cindy Kilkenny in ten minutes or less. I’m pretty sure I got it all in. I can be succinct when it counts. I think it worked. Mr. Neumann seemed comfortable enough. I told him up front some things would be on the record and some off, but that I expected the same in return. I have no desire to find out I was quoted a couple of weeks from now. I’m pretty sure my secrets are safe. 😉

The first question is why they got into this. He admitted the family had decided even before Doyle announced he wouldn’t run to be in the race. He felt there was a place for his type of candidate. Sure, it’s been a big commitment, but the family has been comfortable sticking together through it all. The Neumann campaign does use a couple of family members in the daily management.

Sue Neumann was lovely. She gave me a seat parallel to her husband and took the front, where she grabbed the computer. Ok, I confess, I was looking, but the pictures of the grandkids were really cute. Mark told me I’d like having grandkids someday. (Ok, for those children of mine reading, I did suggest a certain order in this process is preferred.)

Mark moved easily between phone calls and my questions. We pulled over a bit for a radio interview. He did the 15 minute interview from four words he’d written on the margin of this morning’s paper.

What amazed me most about this candidate was not his ability to multi-task. Any housewife worth her stuff does that on a daily basis. What got me about Mark Neumann was his ability to switch his intent focus quickly from one subject to the next. He was on every second, and never let so much as a sigh slip through. He is very capable and very comfortable in this role.

We talk fundraising; we talked party politics; we talked possible outcomes. He explained his schedule is fully booked through Friday.

Did I mention the campaign is cautiously optimistic?

Here’s another thing that knocked my socks off: he was never once paranoid about me being in that van. He covered some incredibly confidential material and never winced. I have never been so honored, or so impressed. Politics is the most fickle of all trades. To have someone trust you at first handshake is very, very rare.

He grins when I mention this Jeffrey Goldberg article. Oh, yes. He remembers it.

“Did you like the part about the pin that lets you walk through like a god?” he asks. I admit it sounds like a pretty heady lifestyle. He goes on to tell me about his time on Capitol Hill, and how he struggled to find a comfortable place in the party’s politics.

I tell him I haven’t paid my dues to the Republican party in five years or so. He understands how that can happen.

When I ask him about Klauser he laughs. Bends over to his knees laughs. He says I’m good for him today, that it’s good to keep laughing. (He also graciously allows me to mispronounce the gentleman’s name as Klausner.)

Seriously, I ask. What happened?

Neumann says the Klausers were a very early part of his campaign. It took a while to get a good fit, a good mix of people that complemented his style and goals. He thinks when Klauser saw the first round of exits it scared him, and Klauser jumped ship.

Neumann also admits the Republican party seems to be in a bit of flux at the state level right now. His candidacy was not always well received.

I’ll say it does feel like the stakes are very high for this primary. The Republican operatives want a Scott Walker win because he has been the chosen candidate for more than four years. Neumann’s entry more than upset the apple cart – his win is at risk of redefining the Republican party here.

We talk a bit about tomorrow’s primary and the different voting strategies being suggested. I think Reince Preibus is considered a fine conciliation prize for Democrats and I suspect there will be some crossover vote.

The candidate doesn’t disagree.

In all this drive I must admit we took to the top of one hill on the road and the landscape took my breath away. I need to go back with my camera.

We park in Eau Claire. Pastor John and I drop the Neumanns off at the rally in front of a coffee shop, then we find a parking place around the corner.

The candidate is on again, but all I can think of is lunch and a latte. I’m such a wimp.


  1. Jonas Wilkerson says:

    That Jeffrey Goldberg article is priceless. I still have it.

  2. I think you are overestimating the amount of cross over voting.

    Surely there will be some, but I don’t think there will be enough to make a difference. There are too many important races for the Democrats in Milwaukee County and at least one race in Dane County.

  3. Capper, overestimating it is tough since I haven’t estimated it at all, but simply said it will happen.

    One will never know how much actually happened. It’s Wisconsin. For today, we’re the Wild West of voting.

  4. Randy in Richmond says:

    How is the vote counting regulated in your primary ? Is a ballot thrown out if someone votes for a Democrat and a Republican ?

  5. Yes and no.

    If the voter checked a party preference, the votes in that party are counted and the others ignored. If no party preference is selected, the whole ballot is refused.

  6. Randy in Richmond says:

    So in the selection process one must be all one party. I assume in the election process one can vote for the candidate of choice in each category regardless of party–that there is no party box to check.
    I find this system quite limiting and an argument could be made that the one man, one vote premise could be compromised. In a sense when one has to check a party box at a primary vote it is a forced registration to that party for the primary. This could force one in many instances to have to choose which particlar race is most important to vote in and thus eliminate voting in all other races. Kinda like today’s vote.
    Voting should not be gimmicky.

  7. Some states make you register as a Democrat or a Republican before voting in the primary. This arrangement is really very generous. Of course, all restrictions are removed for the general election.