Scott McDonell told supporters on Tuesday he felt like a winner even though he narrowly lost a hotly contested primary, and pledged to keep campaigning through to the general election, on behalf of fellow candidate Joe Parisi.
"Joe and I ran very similar campaigns," he said of Parisi, who topped a field of six candidates with 26% of the vote. "We've stood up together for working people.
McDonell fell just about 1,000 votes shy of second-place finisher Eileen Bruskewitz, a veteran member of the Dane County Board, who garnered 22% of the vote.
"I won a lot of wards," he told me afterward. "I just needed a little more." The primary also eliminated Joe Wineke, Zach Brandon and one frivolous contender.
McDonell, a state employee and County Board chair, gave a classy address to about 50 backers gathered at the Essen Haus in downtown Madison. He thanked his wife and friends, his campaign staff, and the people who gave him the money that allowed him to run what he jokingly called an "annoying commercial."
He described himself as "the product of public servants" and pledged to keep working to make sure that those in the Capitol waging war on public employees "get a push-back from Dane County."
"They need our help right now," he said of these workers. "Joe Parisi and I will fight [for them] to the end."
The message was apparent also in the posters on hand for the event, like "Scott McDonell respects our union workers," and "Scott McDonell: A proven fighter for public employees." There was even a poster that said: "From one Scott to another: Negotiate."
Several people in attendance cited McDonell's work on labor issues as integral to their support. "Scott was essential to us getting a three-year contract to protect county workers," said Andy Heidt, a union member who works as an ombudsman for Dane County human services. County workers are covered by a binding contract through 2014.
Tim Keifer, a Dane County assistant district attorney, credited McDonell for his successful efforts to reduce jail overcrowding, which has improved the efficiency of the local criminal justice system and freed up money for other purposes, like the treatment of substance abuse.
McDonell, in his speech, sounded much like he was still campaigning, on the ticket of Joe Parisi. I asked him afterward about how quickly and magnanimously he was embracing a candidate who beat him. McDonell shrugged it off.
"He would have done the same for me."