When Jim Sullivan ran against then-incumbent State Senator Tom Reynolds in 2006, Reynolds's bizarre personal behavior and ability to alienate his Republican colleagues allowed Sullivan to win a squeaker in a fairly conservative district. I think most observers agreed back then that had Rep. Leah Vukmir challenged Reynolds in a primary, she would have won and made the Senate contest a little tighter.
But in the three years since then, Vukmir has managed to damage her reputation among members of her party, just like Reynolds. From Milwaukee Magazine's best and worst leggies story (the "worst" section, that is):
Rep. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa): Her champions rank this former nurse and educational reform advocate among the Legislature’s best. “Very, very bright and really bones up on the issues,” says a conservative lobbyist. A Republican operative credits Vukmir, 50, for making her case “in a more appealing way than some of the other archconservative troglodytes.” He even sees her as poised for a leadership position.There are also pretty persistent rumors from multiple sources about Vukmir's personal life as well. (Heck, given how far out of the loop I tend to be, you've probably heard them, too--and you know it is the kind of thing that might have a bearing on her job were she elected to the State Senate.)
But this is the minority view. “Vukmir should be a star but is an absolute dud,” says another Republican. By withholding her vote and claiming the “more conservative than thou” pose, Vukmir forced her caucus to cut deals with the Democrats and give up more ground. “She just has no strategic sense,” he despairs, adding that Vukmir is despised by most fellow Republicans.
“It’s all about Leah,” grumbles a current Republican staffer. “Given the choice of reaching a compromise or having an issue to campaign on, she will choose the latter.”
So we might well be looking at a kind of replay of 2006 once Vukmir makes it official later this morning. Sullivan, well liked in his district (and now a successful incumbent with a solid track record), up against a Republican who can alienate her party and whose personal behavior may become a distraction in the campaign. In that case, I'd put my money on Sullivan again. (And you can, too, literally, through my ActBlue page.)