Reviewing Kathleen Vinehout’s Initial Campaign Steps in a Recall Race

Many Wisconsinites have never heard of Kathleen Vinehout, a Democratic state senator representing western Wisconsin’s 31st Senate District. (Vinehout lives in tiny Alma, population 781.) She, like all her partisan senate colleagues, left the state in 2010 to prevent a quorum. She was not, and is not, as well-known as some of those who left with her.

She’s an educated woman (it’s Kathleen Vinehout, PhD.), an owner of an organic farm, and a relative newcomer to state politics (first elected to the senate in 2006).

More biographical information awaits in a column from Steve Walters of the Journal Sentinel appropriately entitled, Just Who is Kathleen Vinehout?

I’ll offer a few remarks on her delivery and appearance, and the look and feel of her campaign.

Appearance and delivery. Vinehout is a woman in her fifties, of conventional appearance. That she’s not as telegenic as Kathleen Falk is true; Vinehout lacks Falk’s elegant, finer features.

It’s just as true that Vinehout has no reason to be concerned about her appearance; on the contrary, there’s nothing of it that’s different from many other Wisconsinites. If anything, she will look familiar and reassuring to many voters. Wisconsin is not Palm Beach, nor need it be.

(More pointedly, it’s rival Kathleen Falk who looks out of place when compared to many Wisconsinites. I’ve suggested that Falk should accentuate an elegant look – Falk is better off highlighting a difference than trying to fit in.)

Vinehout looks like many Wisconsinites one meets and on whom on relies each day. One’s own preferences matter not at all; it’s simply a calculation of how readily voters will accept a candidate’s appearance. Vinehout would have no trouble statewide in this regard.

As for her delivery, it’s quite good – she speaks naturally and well. See, immediately below, a clip from Vinehout discussing why she’s running:

Watch Vinehout on recall candidacy on PBS. See more from Here and Now.

She will need, however, a more specific, concise message. She describes herself as genuine, and I’d say she comes across that way in the video. She’ll need, however, to use that aura of the genuine to deliver a strong, sometimes biting, message.

Her campaign website. Vinehout lacks Falk’s high-profile endorsements (AFSCME 40, WEAC teacher’s union, EMILY’s List). In a Democratic primary between Falk and Vinehout, those endorsements are nearly invaluable. (Nearly: if Vinehout’s task were impossible, she wouldn’t be running.)

Yet, an endorsement-deficit has not kept her from putting together a first-class campaign website.

Kathleen Vinehout campaign website

Bright, confident, optimistic: there’s a sunniness to her website that’s comforting, and distinctive from other campaign sites (others being so serious and affected, often with dark blues and reds to convey gravitas).

Vinehout will have trouble against Falk’s endorsements, and would have a much tougher time if a bigger Democrat jumped into a recall primary. Her problem is becoming Gov. Walker’s opponent.

Still, if she were to win the primary, I’d guess she’d be as strong an opponent to Walker as others now talked up. Mostly unknown statewide, to be sure, but smart, educated, straightforward and relaxed in appearance and manner. She’d do particularly well in a crowd or before a live audience. (I’ll illustrate this more fully tomorrow.)

The Walker campaign has talked about the ‘two Kathleens’ as politically indistinguishable and equally unworthy of the governor’s office. Nonetheless, one can be sure that they see Vinehout’s engaging, optimistic presentation as a significant challenge in a general election.

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