Tommy Thompson’s Senate kickoff rally at Weldall Manufacturing here in Waukesha was not what I had expected. With all the media trucks parked in the lot, and the tense political environment throughout Wisconsin, I was practically offended by the pleasant nature of this event. Despite the club music on the sound system and the energetic College Republican speaker from Madison, it felt less like a political rally and more like an employee Christmas party at a bank.
Many of the attendees were middle-aged men decked out in suits, though there were some exceptions. Like the guys in the Harley Davidson motorcycle gear, and Mike, who was wearing a Teamster’s jacket, jeans, and Birkenstocks. Mike told me he’s not a Teamster or a union member, the jacket was given to him by a friend, and he’s supporting Tommy Thompson for Senate because it’s “time for a change,” and he really likes the fact that Thompson has “so much experience.”
Mike also really appreciates Thompson’s “ability to be respectful of others.” I heard “proven leader,” “experience,” and “respect” many times over the course of the evening. There seemed to be a lot of old-school Republicans in the room. Not everyone was older, however.
Johnny, chairman of the UW-Madison College Republicans, was pretty excited to be there. He talked about his generation’s role in the 2012 elections. “For the first time, many of us will be voting … 2012 is a huge, huge year … and this election will decide the future of our country,” he said.
Johnny enthusiastically told the crowd, “Tommy Thompson proved that common-sense conservative principles work. He created jobs and a business plan so that young people like me can live, work, and raise a family in the greatest state in the country.”
Even if that were true, that was a long time ago. Times have changed.
Thompson’s speech was like a blast from the past: generic, tired, and devoid of potency. He spouted GOP talking points without going into detail on how he’d achieve his goals, and without much tone or inflection. He touted his accomplishments as Wisconsin governor, such as reforming our welfare system, reforming the tax code to “bring property relief,” protecting school choice, and ushering in “an era of unprecedented growth.”
As his speech neared closing, Thompson said he wanted to make it clear that he’s not running on his accomplishments of the past, but to “help America reclaim its future and its destiny for my children and grandchildren and your children and grandchildren.” He said he’ll fight for “job growth, liberty, fiscal responsibility and a stronger America.”
While Tommy Thompson comes across as a reasonable and likeable guy, his speech was boring and positively forgettable.
Thompson’s claim that mudslinging, lies, and distortion are not “the Wisconsin way”, and they’re “certainly not my way,” will appeal to many old-school Republican voters here in Waukesha County. But unless he updates his speech and style and proves that he can keep up with the changing times, I don’t see much hope for Tommy Thompson as a Senate candidate.