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Secret tape: GOP considered spoiler candidate to challenge Shilling


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La Crosse County Republicans discussed running a spoiler candidate against Democrat Jennifer Shilling in an effort to delay the recall election of Sen. Dan Kapanke, according to a secret recording of the party's general membership meeting last week.

On the recording obtained by the Tribune, party vice chairman Julian Bradley says he just spoke with Mark Jefferson, executive director of the state GOP, and "we are actively keeping our ears to the ground and if anybody knows anybody for a candidate that would be interested on the Democratic side in running in the primary against Jennifer Shilling.... So if anybody knows any Democrats who would be interested, please let us know."

Kapanke, a second-term Republican, is expected to face a recall election July 12, unless more than one challenger comes forward. Shilling, a five-term state representative from La Crosse, is the only candidate to declare her intention to run.

Should a primary be necessary, the general election would be pushed back, according to scenarios proposed by the Government Accountability Board.

That, Bradley said on the tape, "would give the state senator an extra month to campaign in. The opposition would obviously have to spend more time and more money."

Bradley, a former candidate for state Assembly and the La Crosse Common Council, did not return multiple voice and email messages Tuesday and Wednesday.

Kapanke's campaign manager said Tuesday the campaign is not involved in any talks of running a Democratic candidate.

"If we have six weeks or ... 10 weeks, the timing of it is not a concern for us," Jennifer Harrington said. "We're not in the business of candidate recruitment. We're focused on the campaign. Any conversations are happening outside of this campaign."

Kapanke spoke at the Wednesday night meeting but arrived after the discussion about planting a Democratic candidate.

At the same meeting, Kapanke was recorded saying he was in trouble because of the large number of public employees in his district and that he hopes they "are sleeping" on election day, according to a tape obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

La Crosse Republican Party chairman Bill Feehan wasn't at the meeting and said he wasn't familiar with the discussion about a Democratic candidate.

"There's nothing official to it," Feehan said. "I'm sure that people would like to see a contested primary for the Democrats. I'm sure there are people who recognize that would be beneficial (for Kapanke)."

Other local party members, including the secretary and communications officer, said they did not recall specifics of the conversation.

Jefferson, who is leaving the Wisconsin GOP to work for the national party, did not respond to requests for comment.

Shilling declined through her campaign manager to comment on activities of the GOP.

Election could be delayed; benefit uncertain

Running spoiler candidates is rare though not unheard of, said University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Joe Heim.

"It does happen in other states," he said. "I can't recall it happening in Wisconsin."

The benefits, he said, are negligible.

Though prolonging the election might give union supporters time to cool down over Kapanke's vote on collective bargaining, it would also give his opponent more time to campaign in the rural parts of the district where she's not as well known.

"I don't know why Dan would want to stretch this into August," Heim said.

And a September election could be even less desirable, he added, as there would be a larger student population in La Crosse more likely to vote Democrat.

It might not take a primary to push the election back, as swamped elections officials are asking the courts for more time to review recall petitions against three Democrats.

That could scuttle Government Accountability Board plans to schedule elections on July 12. Spokesman Reid Magney said the election date will likely depend on a judge's decision.


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