In 2010, Mark Neumann took on then-county executive Scott Walker in the Republican primary for governor.
Two years later, Walker has survived a recall election and achieved folk-hero status among conservatives, and Neumann is running for Senate, and simultaneously having to run away from his past attacks on Walker.
“There are a lot of Walker supporters, obviously, in the state, and a lot of them are not happy with Neumann and aren’t going to vote for him because of the way he ran for governor in 2010,” said a veteran political observer in Wisconsin who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
“Basically, he ran saying Walker wasn’t conservative enough. Looking back … I don’t think there’s anyone that would be making that argument today,” the observer added.
His prior campaign is a potential pitfall for Neumann as he battles it out in the primary, locked in a near-tie with former Gov. Tommy Thompson and businessman Eric Hovde, while state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald waits in the wings. And it’s a pitfall Neumann is facing head on.
In an ad that began running Tuesday, Neumann defended his run against Walker, and emphasized the fact that he had thrown his support to Walker as soon as the primary was over.
“When I see a problem, I like to do something about it. … That’s why when I saw the crazy spending under [former Democratic Gov.] Jim Doyle and his liberal friends, I ran for governor in 2010,” Neumann says in the radio ad.
“Frankly, if I had known what a bold, conservative leader Scott Walker would be, I wouldn’t have run. I’m just glad I endorsed him on primary night, worked for his election, and then kept on working right through the recall,” Neumann goes on.
Neumann has previously told The Daily Caller that the nasty ads from that primary are a non-issue between the two men.
But some Wisconsin Republicans remain unwilling to let him off the hook. The ads that Neumann ran in 2009 and 2010 went beyond nasty, according to writer James Wigderson, particularly on Neumann’s side.
“Primary voters don’t like it when Republicans attack Republicans; however, I think most of them are mature enough to handle honest criticisms. But Neumann’s attacks were so over the top in 2010,” Wigderson said.
The negativity was even more offensive, Wigderson said, because at that point, “Republican voters were sensing a real chance to win and … take back the governorship in 2010, and here’s Neumann’s campaign just doing everything that they could to wreck that opportunity.”
After Neumann ran an ad accusing Walker of running up state spending faster than former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, 12News reported that several prominent Wisconsin Republicans called for Neumann to stop attacking Walker, saying that it was only helping the Democratic opponent. Jim Klauser, a former campaign chief for former Thompson urged Neumann to drop out. The Wisconsin Republican Party also pushed Neumann to stop the attacks.
Wigderson is one of several conservative Wisconsin bloggers who made a point to criticize Neumann for these things in 2011, when he first announced he would run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl. In a letter to Club for Growth president Chris Chocola and Sen. Jim DeMint, both of whom quickly endorsed Neumann after he entered the race, the group of bloggers expressed “great disappointment” that national figures were coming in to Wisconsin to try to influence the race.
“It is our responsibility to bring Mark Neumann’s lack of character to your attention,” the letter says.
“While we do not question Neumann’s past contributions to conservatism while he was a Congressman, his actions during last year’s campaign are completely unbecoming of a conservative candidate,” it goes on.