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Forcing out Dave Obey

What do we know about the retirement of Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.)? Why would one of the most powerful men in Congress, elected in 1969, in a district that went for the Obama-Biden ticket, bail out of reelection? Republicans point to the campaign of Sean Duffy, a telegenic (literally) district attorney who raised a lot of money, built a following among national conservatives and, according to everything I'm hearing, was giving Obey a real battle in his internal polls.

I've talked to Duffy several times and been so impressed -- and so convinced that this was the sort of race that would determine this was a good or a watershed year for Republicans -- that I dubbed him the No. 3 conservative to watch this year. He made an early bet against the stimulus package, coming out hard for repeal and blaming Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, for not writing a more stimulative bill. When I asked him whether he thought government spending could dig us out of the recession, here was his response:

Dave Obey believes that, but give me an example of when that’s worked. I haven’t seen where that’s worked. If it did, that would be the economic plan for countries all around the world.

Talk like that attracted the attention of conservatives who helped Duffy raise about $500,000 -- less than half as much as Obey, but for a campaign that explicitly promised to replace a power-broker who could bring money to the district with a small government conservative who would be totally disinterested in pork. You'll hear people credit the endorsements of Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty for Duffy's success, but that gets the story backward.

Sean Duffy responds:

While Congressman Obey and I have major differences on the issues, he has dedicated his life to be a servant for his state and his country and for that he should be commended. He has served honorably as a Congressman for more than four decades and he deserves a great deal of respect for his work. I wish Mr. Obey and his family well in their future endeavors.

By David Weigel  |  May 5, 2010; 12:22 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Election  
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