Wisconsin GOP Annual Convention - Senate Shocker

I’ve just returned from the annual Republican Party of Wisconsin State Convention, where we’ve completed endorsements for 5 major state/national races.  While I plan on writing up more details about the convention itself and speakers like Tim Pawlenty, Paul Ryan and Karl Rove, I wanted to highlight what was a bit of a shock earlier today in the U.S. Senate endorsement.

EPU had a post on Friday about 2 of the Senate candidates here in Wisconsin on Friday, Dave Westlake and Terrance Wall.  He covered those two accurately, but there were two other candidates in the race: Dick Leinenkugel of the Leinenkugel brewing family (mostly midwest I think, but maybe some of you coasters have seen it – Honey Weiss, Berry Weiss, Leinie’s Red, etc), and an OshKosh businessman names Ron Johnson.  Ron Johnson only got in the race last Monday, but has seen his star skyrocketing since he’s spoke recently at some of the Tea Party rallies.  I was completely unfamiliar with him before this morning, except to know that he’s been generating buzz.  Now we know why.

The first surprise during the endorsement process was when our third candidate/speaker, Dick Leinenkugel, gave his speech, and towards the end of it abruptly dropped out of the race.  He then wholeheartedly endorsed Ron Johnson, who was the 4th candidate to speak.  And speak he did.

Ron Johnson wowed us.  He spoke of familiar themes, of the ridiculous attacks on American businesses and the worship of big government.  He spoke about the erosion of our freedoms and losing our liberties.  He spoke about how for the first time in his life, he’s scared of the direction we’re heading.

These are all common themes, but he spoke in such a way that resonated, that got you excited, and that you felt was genuine.  And this was the difference between him and Dave Westlake.  I liked *everything* Westlake had to say.  He was passionate, conservative, intelligent, honorable, you name the adjective.  But whatever “it” is…the “it” that gives you momentum and pushes you over the edge and makes it clear that this job is yours…Dave never had it.  He’s been in the campaign since 2009, and he still doesn’t have it.  And that’s why Dave Westlake was eliminated in the first round of balloting at convention, that’s why he wouldn’t beat Russ Feingold, and that’s why he won’t even be our nominee come September when our primary takes place.

Ron Johnson won the state party endorsement in the second round of balloting with 63.9% of the vote (you need 60%).  Of course, at the end of the day, we all know convention endorsements don’t mean much.  They all have to continue to campaign, and someone has to make it through the primary.  To be honest, I would be happy with any of the 3.  But I think we’ll see in the coming weeks and months that Ron Johnson has the momentum and has the best chance of beating Russ Feingold.  I’m not 100% sold on Johnson yet – a ten minute speech, while leaving a good impression, does not a final decision make.  But the first impression was a good one, he’s got the backing of the state party, and I think he may be our man.

I’ll write up more in the future, as I sort out all the details.  In any event, it was an exciting weekend for Conservatives in Wisconsin.

– Jon