Photo courtesy Leinenkugel for Senate website.

What a weekend to go on vacation.

The Republicans come to town and saved the big surprises for the last day, giving everyone plenty to talk about for the weeks to come.

The delegates and candidates gathered on Sunday as the endorsement vote for U.S. Senate neared. Each of the four candidates — David WestlakeTerrence WallDick Leinenkugeland Ron Johnson– prepared to make their final pleas for support and Leinenkugel made history with his speech.

After the standard stump speech, he calmly said, “It’s not my time. It’s Ron Johnson’s time.”

Was this a surprise? For the delegates and candidates, yes. But Leinenkugel said he knew two weeks ago that he would drop out of the race after meeting with Johnson. I think he also realized that he had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting the state party’s endorsement.

In a former life, I was a GOP county chair and the stench of Leinenkugel’s service in the Doyle administration was something that would never fade. He went over to the dark side and promoted the economic agenda of the other side. That is not the job experience the GOP is looking for in a senate candidate.

Ron Johnson, photo by Patti Wenzel

Johnson, on the other hand, is a clean slate. He has never lost an election by avoiding every type of election that ever came his way. He has impeccable business credentials, starting and building a successful plastics company. Because he only announced his candidacy on May 17, there hasn’t been much time to dig up any dirt on him. And he also has personal deep pockets, something that will be needed to take on an incumbent with the stature of Russ Feingold.

Wall is understandably disappointed. He’s been the front runner for the last six months and he has poured his own personal wealth into early television and mailings. He has the same business credentials as Johnson. But he has one problem: taxes. Not that he didn’t file them or pay them. The problem is he never owed any by making use of business tax credits instituted by Republican and Democrat administrations.

I say if you can avoid taxes, do it. But in this climate of class politics the Democrats had a custom-made club to bash Wall over the head with — even though it was their own policies that Wall used. Remember Mr. Wall, no good deed goes unpunished.

Johnson now has the blessing of the party and the curse, a big target for Feingold to shoot at. But Feingold is vulnerable. He has run as the outsider and everyman for years, but after 17 years in the Senate he is the ultimate incumbent in a year where incumbency seems to have become a burden. Feingold also sold out his principles this year when he complained about the lack of a public option in the health care bill, but voted for it anyway.

While the senate race provided excitement, there were no big surprises when the delegates overwhelmingly endorsed Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker as their candidate for governor. That doesn’t mean clear sailing for Walker, who will still face Mark Neumann in the September primaries, but it does give him the party’s coffers for a hot summer battle for voters hearts.

Neumann, who withdrew from the party’s endorsement ballot, spoke to the convention and his supporters demonstrated outside the Frontier Airlines Center. They were barred from the convention floor, not for their loyalties but due to lack of tickets. Neumann said he will continue to fight for the Republican nomination, relying on the voter’s choice not the party’s.

So as the weather heats up so will the campaigns. Expect fireworks and grandstanding from both sides, with no break in the rhetoric until November.

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