Are Democrats exiting the sinking ship? Part 3: Senator Herb Kohl 

Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin is announcing he will not run for a fifth term next year. Kohl is a Democrat who was first elected with 53% of the vote in 1988 and reelected with 58% in 1994, 62% in 2000 and 67% in 2006. He is a very rich man—his family started the Kohl’s retailing chain and earlier in life he bought some large acreage near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and sold it years later for tens of millions—and a beloved figure to many in Wisconsin for keeping his Milwaukee Bucks in Milwaukee and for donating $25 million to build the Kohl Center arena in Madison. He has avoided serious competition for reelection in large part because everyone knows he could spend unlimited amounts of money on his campaign and because he has so much personal good will to draw on.

Kohl’s retirement almost certainly guarantees that this will be a seriously contested seat in 2012. Barack Obama carried Wisconsin 56%-42% in 2008 and Republican Governor Scott Walker and Senator Ron Johnson were both elected by 52%-46% margins in 2010. Democrats won the popular vote for the U.S. House 50%-46 in 2008 and Republicans won it 55%-44% in 2010. And of course Wisconsin has been the scene of furious battles over Walker’s budget plans which restrict collective bargaining with public employee unions. The 14 Democratic state senators hid out in Illinois for weeks to prevent the 19 Republican state senators from getting the 21 votes required for a quorum on spending bills; eventually Republicans removed the spending provisions and passed the collective bargaining restrictions. Democrats have filed recall petitions against six Republican state senators and Republicans have filed recall petitions against three Democratic state senators. So there will be plenty of political conflict in Wisconsin in the coming months—something for which Herb Kohl has shown little taste. Maybe this helps explain why he decided to step aside.

Exiting the Sinking Ship Part 2: Sen. Daniel Akaka

Exiting the Sinking Ship Part 1: Sen. Jim Webb

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