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Democrat, Republican Gang Up on Incumbent

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), first elected in 1978, is the target of two professors seeking his ouster partly because they favor turnover in Congress.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), first elected in 1978, is the target of two professors seeking his ouster partly because they favor turnover in Congress. (By Todd Ponath -- Waukesha Freeman Via Associated Press)

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By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2007

CEDARBURG, Wis. -- Explanations are required when you are a conservative Republican, your friend is a Democrat, and you tell people you are running a joint campaign to unseat Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (Wis.), one of the longest-serving Republicans in Congress and the very definition of an entrenched incumbent.

First, there is the matter of the joint campaign.

Jim Burkee is the Republican, the one wearing the red tie in the publicity photos. Jeff Walz is the Democrat, in the blue tie. The fellow professors at Concordia University, just north of Milwaukee, are raising money jointly and promising 100 debates in 300 days before the September 2008 party primaries, whether Sensenbrenner shows up or not.

Odds are, he won't.

The concept of a joint candidacy is so novel that the Federal Elections Commission doesn't even have a policy on it; the idea is that if one doesn't get Sensenbrenner, the other will.

If Burkee knocked off Sensenbrenner in the primary or Walz toppled him in next year's general election, it would be earthshaking in this picturesque slice of southeastern Wisconsin.

"Nobody runs against incumbents," conceded Burkee, 39. "I wouldn't do this if I didn't think there was a serious clamor for change in this district. I simply think we need to have turnover in Washington. There's an organic relationship between the increasing level of incumbency and the rising level of corruption."

Burkee and Walz, 40, fit the socially conservative profile of the strongly Republican district. After the pair campaigned at an American Legion fish fry on a recent night, friends joined them over buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken at Burkee's home as the candidates talked of their shared message.

They do not agree on everything, but both oppose abortion, embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage. They are similarly aghast at federal spending and say they believe U.S. dependence on oil has helped antidemocratic foreign regimes, "fueling the war on terror as we attempt to fight it," Walz says.

Burkee goes further, declaring that "oil is no longer a fuel that should be used in a post-9/11 world." His answer: a "Manhattan Project" to perfect alternative energy supplies. "And," he points out on their shared campaign Web site, "the global warming people will be happy, too."

The two candidates signed what they call "a pact with the people," a six-point pledge that promises a campaign free of negative ads, personal attacks and money from political action committees. If elected, they said, they will take no money, gifts or meals from lobbyists. They will vote for nothing that requires deficit spending and will serve no more than three consecutive terms.

The notion of running as a pair hit them after they led red-blue discussions at churches during the 2006 campaign. History professor Burkee and political science professor Walz were already debating political, moral and religious issues. Why not turn it into a run for Congress?


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