The next Herb Kohl? Not exactly | Wis.Community

The next Herb Kohl? Not exactly

Is Ron Johnson the next Herb Kohl?

Can Johnson, a businessman with no political experience, do what Kohl did in 1988 and win a Senate seat? That's the question of a Journal Sentinel storyon Sunday.

Are there some similarities? Sure. Kohl and Johnson are businessmen; neither had run for office before seeking a Senate seat, and both are able to spend millions to fund their own campaigns. (Do I need to tell you the guy in the photo is Kohl, not Johnson?)

Of course, you could say that about Terrence Wall, too, and no one seems to think he is the next Herb Kohl.

As one of the people who ran Kohl's first campaign, I can assure you that Kohl had a lot more going for him than Johnson does. Kohl's supermarket chain at one time was the largest employer in the state, and Herb was one boss his employees actually loved rather than hated. He had an invisible, but potent, network of thousands of former employees all across the state, who volunteered to help and who spoke up for him when people were critical or skeptical.

After buying the Bucks to keep them in Milwaukee, he was getting standing ovations when he'd walk into the Bradley Center. He had many political ties to Democrats in the state, and had served as the Democratic party's state chair.

He didn't fall from the sky into public consciousness, the way Ron Johnson hopes to do. And he ran a decent, positive, issue-oriented campaign. If Johnson wants to be taken seriously, he would be smart to do the same.

But the biggest difference is this: Kohl was running for an open seat, not trying to beat the popular Bill Proxmire, who was retiring. Johnson has to run against a hard-working, popular Senator, Russ Feingold, who, like Proxmire, has traveled the state to meet voters. But where Prox mostly shook their hands like a windmill, Feingold actually talks and listens to them. No matter how much money he has to spend, Johnson (I actually wrote Olson, first, which says he has a way to go on name recognition)  will have a hard time convincing people he would represent them better than Feingold. In the end, that's what it's really all about.

No matter how many times the GOP spinmeisters say "vulnerable" when talking about Feingold, that doesn't make it so.

The road to Washington is littered with the failed campaigns of multi-millionaires who didn't connect with the voters. Don't be surprised if Johnson is another.

Published

May 16, 2010 - 9:34am

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