10/09/2014 02:05 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2014

Outspoken Conservative Glenn Grothman Goes Quiet In House Race

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Wisconsin state Sen. Glenn Grothman gained national attention for his conservative positions. The Republican lawmaker called Kwanzaa a fake holiday, tried to ban public school teachers from mentioning homosexuality and claimed that making money is more important for men than for women.

But now, as a House candidate trying to succeed retiring moderate Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), Grothman has largely gone quiet, taking a low-key approach to campaigning and avoiding making any eyebrow-raising statements.

Grothman was never known for shying away from debate before, but he's been criticized during the campaign for doing just that -- not accepting invitations to debates and forums.

On Oct. 7, Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, the Democratic candidate, sent out a press release noting that he would be attending a forum that evening sponsored by the League of Women Voters and The Oshkosh Northwestern, while Grothman would be at a decidedly less confrontational, less public event: a fundraiser with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

"He's definitely avoiding any sort of forum or debate, except for very small, controlled audiences. It's as if he's not running on his record but running away from it," said Harris in an interview. Harris' campaign, in response, has put up a website called "The Real Glenn Grothman for Congress."

In mid-September, Harris and Grothman appeared at a Fond du Lac Noon Rotary Club forum, which was closed to the public and had limits on press coverage. They'll also be doing an Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce forum on Oct. 23. The only larger, more public event will be an Oct. 30 debate co-sponsored by Sheboygan Press Media, Herald Times Reporter Media and Lakeland College.

More debates, of course, might well benefit Harris, who would get more exposure.

Grothman has also been doing fewer interviews with the media. In the past, the state senator has handed out his cell phone number to reporters and readily given interviews.

The Huffington Post called Grothman for this article. A few days later, he called back and said the request for an interview would have to go through his campaign staff. When asked for a specific contact since a previous interview request had received no reply, he simply said to call the phone number listed on his website.

On Oct. 2, The Cap Times, a progressive publication in Madison, Wisconsin, wrote an editorial lamenting the new Grothman. The editors said that while they don't always agree with his positions, they have "always liked ... his independence and his outspoken nature."

"The new Glenn Grothman who is avoiding debates may satisfy the Republican consultants from Washington who want to avoid any real discourse in a district where they think they can win without extending much effort," wrote the Cap Times editors. "But he is not meeting the standard that voters should expect of a candidate for Congress -- and he is not meeting the standard that the old Glenn Grothman established."

Grothman won his four-way primary in August by just 214 votes. Even though the congressional district leans Republican and the race is widely seen as Grothman's to lose, not all Republicans were thrilled with his primary victory. Kevin Binversie, a GOP operative and editor at the site Right Wisconsin, tweeted his dismay.

Grothman -- or, at least, his staff -- seems to have recognized his vulnerability and his tendency to generate headlines and wagered that some lost media wouldn't be the worst thing for his candidacy.

Harris, however, said he expects the old Grothman to return if the state senator gets into Congress.

"He can't change his stripes," said Harris. "Glenn Grothman is who he is, and we'll see the real Glenn Grothman after the election if he wins."



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