Stevens Point Journal
Obey a virtual 'shoo-in'
By Brian Tumulty
October 30, 2002
If the past three
elections for the House of Representatives are a guide, Rep. David
Obey has less than a 10th of a percentage point chance of losing on
"He would have to stumble; he would have to do
something different," said Robert Richie, executive director of the
nonpartisan Center for Voting and Democracy. The center has analyzed
past congressional election results.
Only one of 1,150 incumbents
in House races since 1996 was a congressman with long-time seniority
The loser: Democratic Rep. Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut,
a 20-year incumbent who lost in 2000 to a decorated Vietnam veteran
amid several campaign controversies.
Only 33 incumbents have lost
House races since 1996, and 28 served three terms or less. Former
one-term Democratic Rep. Jay Johnson of Green Bay was one of those
losers in 1998 when Republican challenger Mark Green unseated him.
Election handicappers such as the Cook Political Report and
Congressional Quarterly consider Obey, a Wausau Democrat seeking his
18th House term, a shoo-in.
Unlike Gejdenson in 2000, nary a
controversy dogs Obey.
Richie's organization also predicts all four
Democratic and four Republican incumbents seeking re-election in
Wisconsin's eight congressional districts will win comfortably
The closest race is projected in the 2nd Congressional
District, where Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, might get 54 percent
of the vote, according to Richie's group.
Joseph Rothbauer, the
Republican challenger seeking to unseat Obey, acknowledged he has a
"The name recognition is tough. And when you
have money like the incumbents do, they keep hammering that,"
Rothbauer said. "We've come to a point where we have a political
ruling class." Obey's campaign committee recently spent $169,800 for
radio, TV and newspaper ads. Rothbauer estimates he has spent less
than $10,000 for advertising.
Instead, the 29-year-old Republican
from Bloomer, near Eau Claire, has done most of his campaigning in a
1996 Pontiac Grand Prix, logging an estimated 45,000 miles around
the 20-county congressional district since mid-April.
voters tend to stick with elected officials who have proven
"What do people do when people buy a product and like
it?" Obey asked. "They usually keep buying it again. And I don't
think politics is any different. If you like a certain brand of
bread or certain brand of jam, you may stick to it. If people get to
know you and like you, they stick with you." Obey noted he has had
tough races many times in the past, although he's been able to
capture about 60 percent of the vote in the past several election
"I think you wind up with an opponent who may not be the
toughest in the world because people recognize if you have a good
reputation and a good organization and if you've done your homework,
it's going to be hard to beat you," he said.
Another example of the
lopsided race: fund raising.
Through Sept. 30, Obey's campaign
committee received $860,027 in net contributions and had spent about
Last month Obey's campaign gave $80,000 of what it
described as "excess campaign funds" to the Democratic Congressional
Campaign Committee. That was on top of $40,000 in dues paid to the
DCCC in the past two years because of Obey's position as senior
Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Flush with cash,
Obey's committee even made $7,000 in charitable donations to the
ex-WorldCom Employees Assistance Fund and $3,000 to the Enron
Employees Transition Fund.
In August, his campaign spent $26,500
for polling by Peter D. Hart Research Associates of Washington,
D.C., a well-respected Democratic pollster who also does work for
Rothbauer, on the other hand, raised $16,641 through Sept. 30.