Republican, Democrat gang up on incumbent
Explanations are required when you are a conservative Republican, your friend is a Democrat, and you tell people you are running a joint...
The Washington Post
CEDARBURG, Wis. -- Explanations are required when you are a conservative Republican, your friend is a Democrat, and you tell people you are running a joint campaign to unseat Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, one of the longest-serving Republicans in Congress.
First, there is the matter of the joint campaign.
Jim Burkee is the Republican, the one wearing the red tie in the publicity photos. Jeff Walz is the Democrat, in the blue tie. The fellow professors at Concordia University, north of Milwaukee, are raising money jointly and promising 100 debates in 300 days before the September 2008 party primaries, whether Sensenbrenner shows up or not.
Odds are, he won't.
The concept of a joint candidacy is so novel that the Federal Election Commission doesn't have a policy on it; the idea is that if one doesn't get Sensenbrenner, the other will.
If Burkee knocked off Sensenbrenner in the primary or Walz toppled him in the general election, it would be earthshaking in this picturesque slice of southeastern Wisconsin.
"Nobody runs against incumbents," conceded Burkee, 39. "I wouldn't do this if I didn't think there was a serious clamor for change in this district. I simply think we need to have turnover in Washington. There's an organic relationship between the increasing level of incumbency and the rising level of corruption."
Burkee and Walz, 40, fit the socially conservative profile of the strongly Republican district. After the pair campaigned at an American Legion fish fry on a recent night, friends joined them over buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken at Burkee's home as the candidates talked of their shared message.
They do not agree on everything, but both oppose abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage. They are similarly aghast at federal spending and say they believe U.S. dependence on oil has helped anti-democratic foreign regimes, "fueling the war on terror as we attempt to fight it," Walz says.
The two candidates signed what they call "a pact with the people," a six-point pledge that promises a campaign free of negative ads, personal attacks and money from political-action committees. If elected, they said, they will take no money, gifts or meals from lobbyists. They will vote for nothing that requires deficit spending and will serve no more than three consecutive terms.
The notion of running as a pair hit them after they led red-blue discussions at churches during the 2006 campaign. History professor Burkee and political-science professor Walz already were debating political, moral and religious issues. Why not turn it into a run for Congress?
Concordia seniors Tyler Williams and Chris Johnson gave up their roles atop student government to work crazy campaign hours, with Williams the campaign manager and Johnson in charge of Web activities. Energetic as they are, the two thought hard before yielding to a sense of novelty and possibility.
"One question we didn't have to answer was, 'Do we believe in what they're doing?' " said Williams, 21. "That was an absolute 'yes.' "
Sensenbrenner, 64, has throttled all comers in the 5th District since he was first elected in 1978. A hard-nosed player on immigration issues, he is a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a millionaire many times over. He has no problem raising money.
Sensenbrenner has not formally announced he is running again, but "he is definitely out running," campaign manager Lori Hagerup said. The incumbent's camp has made no decision about how to deal with the Burkee-Walz strategy.
Sensenbrenner undoubtedly will be hard to beat, but he also is known to be prickly, something a former challenger believes the newcomers may have a chance to exploit.
"Either one of them would be a better representative in Congress than our current representative," said Bryan Kennedy, Sensenbrenner's two-time Democratic challenger, who topped out at 35 percent of the vote in 2006. "They both are approachable, likable people, and they come from normal, everyday Middle America."
Added Kennedy: "I wish I'd thought of the tag-team thing. That would've been more fun. It's a good gimmick."
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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