Reid Ribble is a Republican candidate for the eighth congressional district seat currently held by Democrat Dr. Steve Kagen. Last week Ribble held a question and answer session hosted by a Republican women's group at the Appleton Yacht Club.
While I wasn't sure what to expect from Ribble, I came away feeling quite impressed. It is clear that he is a serious candidate who has thought about what he sees as the issues and has invested his own time and effort in getting his campaign started.
The crowd at the event numbered about thirty. Some there knew Ribble personally and offered a testimonial to his character. Others appeared to be feeling out his positions on various issues. It was clear that all in the room were not supporters of Steve Kagen or of the current Democratic agenda both in Congress and from the White House.
The session consisted primarily of questions from the crowd. These ranged from the tactical to the philosophical.
On fundraising, it appears Ribble has thought about just how much money he believes he will need to be successful. As much as people bemoan money in politics, it is foolish to pretend it is not part of the process. In a line I found particularly thought provoking, Ribble made the point that interest group money flows into politics because average citizens are by and large unwilling to finance campaigns.
Health care was obviously a big topic and one which Ribble discussed at length. He emphasized individual ownership and portability of coverage; drawing on his own experience as a business owner who provides health coverage for his employees.
Someone asked about his campaign's top three ideas to which he replied that we needed to: stop borrowing; stop spending; and stop taxing. During the discussion he emphasized his commitment to fiscal responsibility several times.
A question on foreign policy did arise and while he was able to handle it well, this is an area where a candidate like Ribble has an obvious weakness. When the top issues are the stimulus, cap and trade, and health care, a successful local businessman turned candidate is a great idea. If one year from now major international developments dramatically switch the nation's focus, a candidate like Ribble could seem out of place. Collapse in Pakistan or a nuclear armed Iran could potentially push some of the current domestic concerns out of the minds of voters. Admittedly, I'm not sure how an allergist from Appleton is any more qualified in foreign policy than a roofing contractor from Appleton; but an allergist who has served two terms in the House may hold the edge in this contest with some less ideologically driven voters.
Ribble described himself as a "common sense conservative" and a "reluctant Republican." Both are labels that could appeal to voters unhappy with the current direction of the country, but unwilling to argue for a return to the policies of the Bush administration. I think Ribble was clear that he can't (and wouldn't) support reckless borrow-and-spend policies regardless of which party was advocating them. In what could be the line of the campaign, Ribble said that he wanted to tell Dr. Kagen that he is, "allergic to runaway federal spending."
While it is still early, the 2010 campaign season is apparently underway. The level of interest in the current issues is sure to bring increased focus on races throughout the country. This focus will be even more intense in districts like the Wisconsin 8th, where there is a very real chance that an incumbent could lose. The early indication from Ribble is that he is a formidable candidate and will be tough opponent both for Kagen and the other Republican challengers.