Kleczka Shakes Up Race

Posted June 21, 2004 at 6:42pm

Defying the conventional wisdom that he would stay out of the four-way Democratic primary to replace him, retiring Wisconsin Rep. Jerry Kleczka (D) tapped attorney Matt Flynn (D) as his preferred successor on Saturday.

Most political watchers believe the real race in the Milwaukee-based 4th district will be fought in the Democratic primary, so Kleczka’s decision to take sides should help Flynn.

Flynn, a former state Democratic Party chairman, has never held office and hopes to tap into both Kleczka’s popularity and fundraising resources before the September primary.

It was the “Congressman’s wishes” to announce the endorsement Saturday, Paul Vornholt, a Flynn spokesman, said Monday. “He wanted to do it early so that Matt could use the endorsement all summer long and as much as possible.”

Vornholt said the 11-term Congressman’s name would be useful in direct-mail appeals and in other efforts.

“It is a significant endorsement,” he said.

Kleczka announced his decision to endorse Flynn, who lives on Milwaukee’s north side, at a news conference at historic Serb Hall in the Congressman’s Southside stomping grounds.

“Matt will continue my fight to keep good jobs here in the Milwaukee area,” Kleczka said. “He will promote fair trade policies and oppose sending family-supporting jobs overseas. 

“Matt Flynn will be a clear and effective voice for us in Washington while continuing the long tradition of constituent service which is expected by the people of the 4th Congressional district,” Kleczka concluded.

Some of Flynn’s competitors sought to tamp down the endorsement’s significance.

“I think there isn’t a candidate who wouldn’t appreciate his nod, but it will have de minimus effect,” on the outcome, said Todd Robert Murphy, Milwaukee-based media consultant to state Sen. Tim Carpenter (D), who, like Kleczka, hails from the city’s Southside.

While Murphy said that he “expected” Kleczka to support Flynn, he said he was surprised by the timing.

“The timing is befuddling to me,” Murphy said. “As a media consultant, I would have asked him to do it much later in the campaign.”

Flynn and Kleczka are old friends, Kleczka’s office confirmed.

Flynn was the party boss when Kleczka won a 1984 special election to replace the late House Foreign Affairs Chairman Clement Zablocki (D), who was elected in 1948 and died in office.

Flynn and Kleczka “are part of the same, old Democratic” organization — “and I don’t mean that pejoratively,” Murphy said. “They’re generationally connected.”

The endorsement comes on the heels of the decision last week by EMILY’s List to back state Sen. Gwen Moore (D) in the race.

The group dedicated to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights conducted a poll showing Moore leading the field.

Kleczka’s endorsement flies in the face of predictions that the time was right for Wisconsin to send its first black Member of Congress to Washington.

The district is 33 percent black and Milwaukee just went through a bruising mayoral race with racial overtones in which the acting black mayor, Marvin Pratt, was ousted by former Rep. Tom Barrett, who is white.

Flynn said he has significant support in the black community and claimed that he was the only Congressional candidate to openly criticize the tactics used against Pratt.

Moore is the only black candidate on the Democratic side and has the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus.

State Rep. Shirley Krug (D), who also sought the endorsement of EMILY’s List, is the fourth Democrat in the race.

While Wisconsin Democratic Party officials did not know about Kleczka’s endorsement in advance, it should not have come as a surprise, Vornholt said.

So far, Flynn and Kleczka have not discussed exactly what role the Congressman will play in Flynn’s campaign, Vorholt said.