A group of conservative political operatives have formed a committee to draft Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke to run for US Senate against incumbent Senator Tammy Baldwin next year.
“It’s fair to say that we’re all big fans,” said Nate Pendley, of North Carolina, a member of the campaign’s advisory committee. “When you look at the state of the Senate right now the first thing you do is look to the future and you look to states like Wisconsin which has a Republican governor. You have two people left, Democrats elected statewide, and one of them’s been in since 1974 (Secretary of State Doug LaFollette), and the other one’s Tammy Baldwin. It looks like a bad fit for the state and it looks like she’s ripe for the plucking, so to speak. And it looks like Sheriff Clarke’s the man for the job.”
The nine-member advisory committee includes no Wisconsin residents. It does, however, have some star power, including Justified actor Nick Searcy and Duane Chapman, better known as Dog the Bounty Hunter, and his wife Beth Chapman.
“He’s a very strong, law and order officer of the law,” Duane Chapman said in a telephone interview with Madison 365. “I think his ideas as far as law and order are just what we need right now. He’s a no-nonsense guy. Born for this mission.”
“He has common sense, and that’s a little bit lacking in our country right now,” said Beth Chapman, who starred with her husband on the cable show Dog the Bounty Hunter for eight seasons, and who serves as president of the 16,000-member Professional Bail Agents of the United States.
Pendley doesn’t think the lack of Wisconsin ties is an issue.
“Any more, it does not matter where you’re from,” Pendley said. “If you’re in the United States Senate and you’re casting votes the way Tammy Baldwin is, it hurts people everywhere. It’s the business of the country who’s elected in every state. She has always played on the fact that she’s a lesbian to excite the kinds of people in California and elsewhere who are really turned on by that kind of a candidacy. When she runs that outwardly as a lesbian, she attracts a heck of a lot of funding. A man who’s run four times in a single county can not be expected to know whom to pick up the phone and call when it comes to running a statewide campaign against a national figure who is trading on her lesbian status to be a big hero to liberals all over the country. Part of the work of the draft committee is to say, ‘Sheriff Clarke, we want to show you that, yes, she will get that money but you can get money too, and we want to show you how much support you have such that if you decide to run, you can indeed be competitive with this particular incumbent.’
Clarke rose to prominence during the presidential campaign as an outspoken advocate for President Donald Trump and a vocal critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, which he refers to as “Black Lies Matter.”
Clarke even had a prominent speaking role at the Republican National Convention, even though he’s a registered Democrat. Which raises the question — does the draft campaign want him to run in a primary against Baldwin?
“Let me make it perfectly clear — he would run in the Republican primary,” said Pendley, who served as Chief of Staff to Tea Party Congressman Steve Strickland from Texas. “I don’t really care. I have been, most of my life, a Republican party rah-rah, but years ago I realized the party was not always conservative. I’m about the ideology. I don’t care whether he calls himself an independent or a Constitution (party) or a Democrat or whatever. I’m all about what he stands for.
Milwaukee is an extremely liberal county. He wouldn’t be getting elected if he were running only as a Republican. He certainly wouldn’t be getting 79 percent of the vote. Trump gets 29 percent and the sheriff gets 79 percent.”
Clarke overwhelmingly won re-election in 2014, but his approval rating in Milwaukee County now sits at just 31 percent, according to a Public Policy Polling report issued Wednesday.
Pendley said Clarke’s ability to connect with the black vote could help his Senate campaign, though.
“Milwaukee has the vast majority of black voters in the state, and this is the place where he was born and raised. It’s a natural base,” Pendley said. A black conservative who knows these people and can speak to these people in a way that Donald Trump cannot. I don’t know if a kid in the ghetto responds to a Donald Trump. I’m a white man but I grew up in poverty. I don’t brag about it but I do identify with these poor black kids.”
Pendley said he believes the Black Lives Matter movement has turned people against the police, claiming that BLM protestors chant things like, “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want them? Now,” and that a police officer in the legislature could do some good.
Beth Chapman agrees.
“He’s not swayed by all these movements,” she said. “I’m out here on the streets. I know what’s real. Police are policing high-crime areas. People who live there who are law-abiding citizens are asking for more police presence. We have to get control of our country. We need strong men like Sheriff Clarke. Even Martin Luther King Jr gave many speeches saying if there’s no law and order there will be danger to our communities.”
Clarke fits the mold of the kind of candidate that might attract Trump voters — namely, his public statements could not be classified as “politically correct.” Last week he referred to CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill, who is black, as a “jigaboo.” He used his official Facebook page to threaten violence against a man who had filed a complaint. And he said at the pre-inauguration “Deploraball” that the only way he’d reach across the aisle toward liberal legislators is “to grab one of them by the throat.”
Pendley said he didn’t take that very seriously, except as an indication that Clarke might be open to the idea of running for Senate.
“Who says that? Those are the words of a legislator. There ain’t no aisle in the County Jail,” Pendley said.
“A man who will say, ‘I’m not going to reach across the aisle unless I’m going to grab one of them by the throat’ is a man who is willing to say, ‘I don’t care if you claim I am pushing biddies in the creek and starving crippled children in wheelchairs. We don’t have the money. We’re going to have to bite the bullet and bring this thing under control.’ He’s the kind of man who will say that,” Pendley said.
Clarke has not yet publicly expressed interest in running, though he would be up for reelection as sheriff in 2018. With “virtually no chance of winning,” according to Public Policy Polling, a statewide campaign with national funding might be an attractive alternative.
There is also speculation that he may get an appointment within the Trump administration, perhaps in the Department of Homeland Security. And among political pundits in Wisconsin, his name rarely comes up in conversations about the Senate race; more likely candidates include U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson or Madison businessman Eric Hovde.
Still, Pendley is optimistic, noting that Clarke hasn’t said no to the idea yet.
“At one of the inaugural balls, one of our guys said, ‘Hey how about this,’ and (Clarke) said, ‘Not tonight.’ And off he went,” Pendley recalled.
Neither Clarke nor Baldwin responded to requests for comment.