The Curve Ball: I Didn’t Anticipate This

Posted by Terri McCormick On February - 14 - 2014

I never saw the angst and anger brewing in my political party’s front row or the curve ball that was to be thrown at me in 2006.


What I didn’t anticipate was the jealousy and pettiness that would surface from my own political party in 2006. I had met and discussed my race with Wisconsin’s congressional chairman, the dean of the congressional delegation in Washington and the state’s GOP chairman.

The CurveballAll three individuals assured me that my race for Congress would be a fair one. In fact, all three men were enthusiastic about my bid for Congress … at first. At least, they were enthusiastic in our face-to-face discussions. The congressional dean told me that my party’s speaker was running for governor, not Congress. He was a bit mistaken, unfortunately.

All three gentlemen, in private face-to-face meetings, confirmed that the GOP would not meddle in my congressional primary race, and there would be an even playing field.

That all changed when I traveled to Washington DC to meet with the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) in January 2006, just after my formal announcement to run. In the meeting with congressional staffers, I was assured that my Republican primary for Congress would be fair and open.

I was told that all resources of information and support would be shared equally between me and my primary opponent (my party’s junior speaker). In fact, I remember walking away from that meeting feeling great about my government and my party and thankful that I lived in the United States, a country that honored free and open elections.

What was the magic rule that changed everything? Rule No. 11! The Rule 11, cited by the GOP political class January 2006, was a made-up rule, according to former GOP state party chair and state coordinator for President Reagan and now publisher of the Wisconsin Conservative Digest, Bob Dohnal. This bold and sage leader not only stood with me during the Republican primary, but he took on the elitist wing in the party to do so. Mr. Dohnal looked at the credentials and the merit of the two candidates and made an independent decision.

The problem for Republican elitists was that Dohnal thought all Republicans in the state should do the same. Later, on March 19, 2006, as quoted by the Green Bay Press Gazette, NRCC chairman Tom Reynolds denied any knowledge of Rule No. 11, saying, “The NRCC had no choice in the preprimary meddling. It was a state party decision, not mine.”

The Wisconsin GOP political class made its decision and passed it to Washington without a call to anyone—and now it was too late for me to do anything but honor my word to stay in the race and give the people the best I had. Never mind the polls from the Terrence Group, which declared that my primary opponent’s negatives were too insurmountable to win either a primary or a general without the help of the president himself. The deal was done.

Was this gender-based? I doubt it. I’d like to think that this political deal was cut without my party leaders’ knowledge, but that would be naive.

One of the junior congressmen from southeast Wisconsin was a part of the boondoggle that would eventually remove my congressional race from the hands of the voters in my district. I learned of his involvement in an earlier visit to Washington in 2005, when I was urgently requested to come out and meet with the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) director. The thendirector of the NRCC explained that there were deals being thrown around, and I looked like a better candidate.

I had assumed that Paul Ryan would be helpful in showing me the ropes, giving me some pointers and introducing me to people in Washington. After all, it was in 2003 that Ryan drove from southeast

Wisconsin to my district in Appleton in a torrential downpour to be my guest speaker at what could have been my announcement to run for U.S. Senate.

I presumed that young congressman Ryan had read the article and understood that people in our home state acknowledged what I could do in public office. I was wrong; merit and accomplishment would have nothing to do with our meeting. Ryan would take quite a different tack. Instead of a tour of the congressional offices and introductions to party leadership, I was ushered over to the Capitol Hill Club, just steps away from the NRCC offices.

It became clear that Ryan didn’t want me to meet anyone in Washington. At the Capitol Hill Club, this awkwardly tall man in his thirties met me just outside the door. Within moments Ryan had demanded the names of the two young men (and their bosses’ names) who’d accompanied me to the meeting with him in Washington. His shakedown skills were reminiscent of the guttural scenes from the movie Gangs of New York.

Ryan aimed his questions in a young-gun accusatory fashion: “Who are ya? Why are you here? Who do you work for? Vito? Hah— the congressman from New York? I’m going to give him a call.”

That day in 2005 Ryan appeared to be a brash political animal, operating out of fear and survival. Something was motivating him and I was about to find out what it was. Ryan was a member of the political class, a typical insider, a young staffer right out of college, working for Senator Brownback, then transported after one term to Wisconsin to run for a newly redistricted GOP congressional seat.

As we moved up the steps toward the dining room at the Capitol Hill Club, I spotted someone I had met at a state convention, Congressman J.D. Hayworth from Arizona. I waved in his direction but was abruptly interrupted and told to take a seat in the far corner of the dining room. The two young staffers with me were visibly shaken.

Ryan controlled every detail to follow, including where I would sit—at that far corner table. I was told to sit with my back to the wall, facing outward to those in the dining room. Ryan’s chair was immediately across from mine, with his back to the dining room.

The two young staffers with me began to sit motionless, with nothing to offer at this point and nothing to say. White pressed table linens and fine china with a congressional seal presented an elegant and stark contrast to the conversation that would follow.

“Would you like something for lunch? I am not hungry,” Ryan aggressively started.

Picking up his lead I said, “No, I don’t care for lunch either. The water is fine.”

As Ryan leaned in to tell me what the orchestrated meeting was about, he looked like a snake, uncoiling just before it bit his victim.

“I have to tell you that I will be supporting your primary opponent.” His comment was not surprising, given the tone and accusatory questions at the front door of the Capitol Hill Club. He went on, “Your opponent’s wife is my friend. I have known her for a long time.”

Okay, I thought, this is a first. My opponent’s wife was a former appointee of a GOP governor. She evidently had enough authority to give orders to Congressman Ryan.

Realizing the game this guy was playing, I leaned forward, put a large smile on my face and softened my tone as I said, “It is nice to have friends. Everyone should have friends.”

Ryan seemed perplexed that I wasn’t shaken or concerned with his blatant attempt to intimidate me out of the race. I went on, “I have no intention of getting out of the primary for Congress. Who are you to take an election away from the voters?” Ryan openly laughed and acted as though he was holding all the cards.

“You should know,” I continued, “that I come from an Irish family that does not quit when the going gets tough. We were farmers, business owners and fighters.”

Ryan dismissed my last remarks with a chuckle. “Well, we were just potato-pickers from Ireland. I don’t know anything about what you just said.”

I calmly and quietly whispered, “I have no intention of getting out of this race.”

Ryan grinned and boasted, “Well, then, I will be watching from the ground. I will be doing everything I can to see that your opponent is elected.”

On January 14, 2006, in the local Gannett newspaper, Rule No. 11—the made-up rule that made it all right for the political elites to reach into a congressional district and take an election away from the people—came alive with the headline: “GOP Takes Stance Early and McCormick Finds National Support Building for her Opponent.” The article noted, “This goes beyond the boys’ club, and this goes to engineering an election and electioneering, trying to fix an election before the primary.”

The second headline, published by the Green Bay (Wisconsin) Press-Gazette on March 19, 2006, read: “McCormick Not Alone in Party Snub, People Not GOP, Should Choose Candidate, She Says.” The article that accompanied that headline found it best to get behind a candidate who the people want. … It is best to trust in the democratic process that the people will decide who will best represent them.”

The powerful lesson learned in the GOP primary race would take quite a different turn from the intentions of those “watching from the field” in 2006. The people would have the final say in this safe GOP seat in Wisconsin. …The results?

The political class would lose—despite the $2.5 million spent to buy the seat. The Democrat candidate was awarded the “safe GOP seat,” and Congress itself would change hands. Several GOP convictions that same year would prove to the public that the “Era of Irresponsibility” needed to end. The Hollywood movie set was exposed for what it was…To continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

About the Author:

Terri McCormick is an author, policy expert, educator, and former state representative to the Wisconsin State Legislature. Today, she offers her expertise in public and government relations through McCormick Dawson CPG Ltd., a trusted consultancy of independent contractors.

Ms. McCormick serves as president and CEO of the company, drawing from more than two decades of professional experience, a strong educational foundation, a host of industry-related publications, and a multitude of accolades, awards and formal recognitions. Holding a Master of Arts in administrative leadership from Marian University, and a Bachelor of Science in political science and public administration from the University of Wisconsin, Ms. McCormick received both degrees with high honors.

“What Sex is a Republican?” is sold on Amazon in both the paperback edition as well as Kindle edition.  Read reviews on Amazon here.

Terri McCormick honored for excellence in government relations by Cambridge's Who's Who industry experts