The senior senator from Wisconsin, one of the most low-key and media-shy members of the body,* is retiring. Begins now the era of Irresponsible Speculation and Frantic Phone Calls!
Among the possible Kohl replacements on the Democratic side: Rep. Tammy Baldwin (who represents Madison and would be the first openly gay senator), Rep. Ron Kind (a charming wonk who survived a tough race in 2010), and Tom Barrett (the mayor of Milwaukee who lost to Scott Walker in 2010). Among the replacements on the GOP side: Former congressman Mark Neumann (who lost the 2010 primary to Walker) and Attorney General JB Van Hollen. The celebrity potential candidates on either side are Russ Feingold and Paul Ryan.
Polling this year has revealed at least a little buyer's remorse about the 2010 GOP wave. Anne Kloppenburg probably lost the Supreme Court race, but she came from 30 points behind to tie it up after an aggressive campaign by unions. Democratic enthusiasm was muted last year; that will not be a problem in 2012. Democrats won't get the advantage of a sleepy, everybody-run-from-the-millionaire race, but they surely start with an advantage.
The statement from Russ Feingold:
Senator Kohl has served the state with honor. He will be remembered for his advocacy for our state's dairy farmers, his work on behalf of children and his keen understanding of our state's business community. I sincerely wish him all the best.
*There were reasons. Kohl focused on un-headline-grabbing issues like aging and child safety. He never participated in the scrums around Capitol Hill where reporters fish for news and quotes, but he never really took on big bills. And as anyone who watched Supreme Court hearings can testify, he was not among the Senate's toughest questioners.