"I think people are looking for a fresh face in Wisconsin," Fitzgerald said in an interview with Hotline on Call
. "I just think things have changed. What might have been considered conservative as little as four or five years ago just isn't anymore."
The argument is simple: Thompson's last election victory came in 1998, which happens to be Neumann last full year in the House, after an unsuccessful Senate run.
Fitzgerald's camp will paint Thompson and Neumann as yesterday's news, while emphasizing his role in crafting Walker's fiscally conservative agenda.
Moreover, last year, Fitzgerald helped recruit a crop of Republican candidates who went on to win their elections and deliver the GOP a majority in the state Assembly. The new majority then chose Fitzgerald as is Speaker.
With the loyalty of his caucus, Fitzgerald will be able to tap into donor networks in districts across the state.
: With recall organizers collecting signatures
at a fast pace, it's likely that Walker will face a recall election next year.
While that is bad news for the first-term governor, Fitzgerald could stand to gain. In anticipation of the recall election, Walker, who can raise unlimited funds during the signature collecting period, has already started running statewide TV ads touting his legislative accomplishments.
Fitzgerald likely will have less money to spend on his campaign then his primary opponents. But Walker's own campaign -- and the conservative outside groups that will flood the Wisconsin airwaves in support of Walker -- could give Fitzgerald an indirect boost.
"The governor's race means that the very issues Fitzgerald is identified with are going to be front and center through April or May or even early June," said Charles Franklin
, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. "Even if none of those Walker ads directly mention Fitzgerald, they are all about the success of the budget reforms. Fitzgerald has the opportunity to piggyback on that message."
Party loyalism, which resonates with primary voters, will be a major part of Fitzgerald's pitch.
"That's the message that I'm going to be putting forward," he said. "That I'm the guy who just delivered. I'm the guy who helped Governor Walker get there."
"I don't think you'll ever hear Governor Walker say something bad about me by any means," Fitzgerald said.
Above The Fray
: In the early stages of the campaign, supporters of Thompson and Neumann have made a habit of trading barbs with the other side.
But so far, neither candidate has gone after Fitzgerald, whose legislative accomplishments are popular with the Republican base.
Something similar was afoot in 1992 when Democrat Russell Feingold
, then a state senator, first ran for Senate. Feingold began the race as a heavy underdog, facing two well-funded opponents -- Milwaukee Congressman Jim Moody
and wealthy businessman Joseph Checota
. Moody and Checota spent a ton of money trashing each other in ads, leaving Feingold unblemished.
After months of negative campaigning between his two opponents, Feingold emerged with an unexpected but resounding primary victory, gaining 70 percent of the vote.