A tale of two Republicans, part one

Today, we begin a three part series examining the rise of Governor-elect Scott Walker and U.S. Senator-elect Ron Johnson, along with their differences and similarities.

Wisconsin ushered in a new generation of political leaders on Tuesday, November 2nd.  It was a spectacular erosion of blue state status for Wisconsin Democrats at every level.  After the dust settled, two men stood out on Election Night; Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and angry citizen-businessman turned politician Ron Johnson.  

They say hindsight is 20/20.  So, with the election now a month behind us, I couldn’t help but notice the two different roads that Walker and Johnson took to get elected.

Walker ascends to governor after nearly six years of campaigning, countless Lincoln Day Dinners, and putting hundreds of thousands of miles crisscrossing Wisconsin in his 1998 Saturn.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Walker wanted it more than any other candidate.  Former U.S. Congressman Mark Neumann had a life outside of politics and was happy to return to the private sector and make more money.  Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett never wanted to run for governor in the first place and was just as happy Walker on the morning of November 3rd.

Johnson wasn’t thinking much about politics until his encounter with Dick Morris on FOX News, when he pleaded with millionaires like himself to consider running for U.S. Senate in states like Wisconsin.  As we all know, Johnson had a ‘hey, that’s me’ moment and the rest is history. 

Before being elected governor, Walker served in the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1993 to 2002, when he was elected to become Milwaukee County Executive.   By the time Walker is inaugurated on January 3, 2011, he will have been an elected official for 17 years. 

On the other hand, Johnson had been busy building a successful business since 1979.  That is the year Johnson and his wife Jane moved to Wisconsin and started a business called PACUR with his brother-in-law.   While he was the accountant, he also spent his first year at the company as a machine operator until they could train other employees. 

When Walker announced his bid for governor in early 2005, he believed he was going to win at some point – someday.  Although he left the governor’s race in early 2006 after pressure from party leaders, Walker carefully calculated both the risks and opportunities in doing so.  He was going to wait his turn, but on his terms.  With Walker loyalist and current Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Reince Priebus taking the helm of the party in 2007, Walker became the party favorite for 2010.              

On the other hand, Johnson may still be pricking himself with a needle trying to figure out if he’s dreaming or not.  My guess is the stench in Washington, D.C. has already awakened him to the reality of his new life.  However, all indications are he hadn’t planned on a career in politics up until early this year.  It just happened. 

Although Walker had his own “I’m the decider” moment by declaring “I was the original tea party in Wisconsin,” he was not a tea party candidate.  While he tapped into tea party support, Walker’s long political resume didn’t lend credence to the idea that he was a tea party candidate.  On paper, Neumann would have more appropriately held the title of the tea party candidate having spent most of his career outside of politics.  However, it’s debatable whether or not Neumann was able to claim the tea party mantle.

There is no doubt that Ron Johnson was a tea party candidate in the U.S. Senate race.  As a business owner with no previous political experience, he was catapulted into a national U.S. Senate race against progressive U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and captured momentum right away.  He identified with tea party activists early on by speaking against the Democrats’ health care bill at a tea party rally in Oshkosh in 2009.

Tomorrow in part two, we’ll continue to look at the differences between Governor-elect Scott Walker and U.S. Senator-elect Ron Johnson, but the focus will be on the differences between their respective campaign operations.


  1. Looking forward to the rest

  2. Julio Montez says:

    He’s an arrogant jerk!!

  3. Johnson “started” PACUR?!? His billionaire father-in-law brought him in to an existing business (named after his brother-in-law PAtrick CURley) so his little girl’s new husband would have a job. Ron Johnson made his money the old-fashioned way: he married it.