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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> House -- Wisconsin -- 08

Report: Obey Will Announce Retirement Today

Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, one of the most powerful members of Congress as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has scheduled a "major announcement" for 1 p.m., Obey's staff tells RealClearPolitics.

The announcement will take place at a press conference in an Appropriations hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building.

The AP reports that announcement will be that Obey is not seeking re-election.

Obey is facing relatively low polling numbers for someone of his stature and tenure. He's also being challenged by a highly touted Republican recruit, Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy.

The congressman was first elected to Congress in an April 1969 special election, and has been re-elected fairly easily ever since. His closest re-election race came in the Republican year of 1994, when he took just 54 percent of the vote. Democrats could be facing an equally hostile political environment in 2010.

Gard Close In Own Poll

One of the top Republican challengers running for Congress this year is trailing his Democratic foe by just four points, a new poll for his campaign shows. But after losing a close contest to Wisconsin Rep. Steve Kagen in 2006, the fact is former Assembly Speaker John Gard is still trailing in a Republican-leaning district, even in his own poll.

The survey, conducted for Gard's campaign by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 400 likely voters 7/8-9 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Gard and Kagen were tested.

General Election Matchup
Kagen.........46
Gard............42

McCain........46
Obama.........41

McCain's lead in the Green Bay-based district bodes well for Gard's campaign, which is certainly counting on some coattail effect to override the anti-Republican wave that cost him a win two years ago. Too, history seems to be on the Republican's side, as the polling memo notes just one Democrat, Father Robert Cornell, has ever won re-election in the Eighth District.

Still, Kagen is in good position financially. He held cash reserves of $926,000 through the end of the Second Quarter to Gard's $649,000. Gard outraised Kagen by about $4,000 in the last three months.

Garded Optimism

When talking with a large number of people, one notices common themes. Whether they are talking points or emerging trends, occasionally everyone just seems to be on the same page. In the course of reporting a separate article, this column noticed one such occasion that deserves mentioning.

One of the biggest surprises in the 2006 elections came from Wisconsin, where allergist Steve Kagen beat out State House Speaker John Gard to replace Republican Mark Green in Congress. It was not surprising, in and of itself, that Kagen, a Democrat, won: The Eighth District, while it has a Republican tilt, is certainly winnable for either party. What caught many unaware was that Kagen beat Gard, who is universally regarded as a very good candidate.

"He was our best candidate who didn't win last time," NRCC chairman Tom Cole told Politics Nation, referring to Gard. The former legislator, who is repeating his run for the seat, is seen by many as one of Republicans' top recruits in the whole country. Asked about challengers with whom they were impressed, several freshmen Republicans, including Reps. Kevin McCarthy, of California, Jim Jordan, of Ohio and Peter Roskam, of Illinois, all mentioned Gard's name independently of each other.

This year, it is likely that John McCain will win Kagen's Eighth District, which takes up much of the northeast quadrant of Wisconsin and includes Green Bay: President Bush won the district by nine- and eleven-point margins in 2000 and 2004. That should help the GOP nominee against Kagen, who won by a narrow 6,000-vote margin last cycle.

Gard has the ability to raise big money, too. Kagen spent about $3.2 million in 2006, while Gard dropped $2.8 million on his bid. Through December, Gard had raised more than $280,000, though Kagen, now the incumbent, has more than $660,000 in the bank. Kagen still owes himself almost half a million dollars in outstanding loans.

Gard isn't the only reason national Republicans are optimistic about the seat. Kagen has something of a reputation for getting himself in trouble. "You're in the White House and you think you're safe, huh? You recognize me? My name's Dr. Multimillionaire and I kicked your ass," Kagen said he told top White House strategist Karl Rove at a reception.

He bragged, too, that he had confronted Vice President Cheney and insulted Laura Bush, though the White House denied each of the three incidents. Kagen later had to apologize for his comments. "Kagen's given us a lot to talk about," Cole chuckled.

If Kagen can keep away from controversy through November, his cash advantage might be enough to keep the seat in Democratic hands. But if Republicans are anywhere near correct in their assessments of Gard, Kagen will have a bigger challenge than most House Democratic freshmen.