More Questions Than Answers Pepper Wisconsin Politics

Predicting outcomes of Wisconsin politics in 2012 is a bit like consulting a Magic 8 Ball — interesting, amusing, but ultimately, a shot in the dark. Will there be recalls? “Signs point to yes.”
by | February 15, 2012

MADISON — Predicting outcomes of Wisconsin politics in 2012 is a bit like consulting a Magic 8 Ball — interesting, amusing, but ultimately, a shot in the dark.

Will there be recalls? “Signs point to yes.”

How will redistricting and economic conditions affect the congressional races? “Reply hazy. Try again.”

Does anybody know how Republicans and Democrats will fare in a state that’s deeply purple? “My sources say no.”

Nine months before any election, a plethora of questions still dog Badger State politics.

But Wisconsin’s November elections are more murky than normal, complicated by recalls, redistricting, and ongoing lawsuits and legal challenges mixed in with the lot.

And that, political experts say, is making predicting anything all but impossible.

Will Wisconsinites, whose political divisions only seem to have grown during the past year, vote based on party or on whether they like a particular candidate?

“I don’t think we know the answer that yet,” said David Wasserman, house editor for the Cook Political Report, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan publication that tracks and analyzes congressional races.

According to the Cook report, if the economy improves, who gets the bigger political boost — President Barack Obama or U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy, R-District 7, and Reid Ribble, R-District 8, the most vulnerable of Wisconsin’s eight congressional incumbents?

“There’s no real answer to that one. I’m kind of ducking it,” University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Joe Heim said, laughing.

What is known

National attention is focused heavily on the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by longtime incumbent Democrat Herb Kohl, as Republicans and Democrats vie for a majority in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats hold a one-vote majority.

The seat is one of eight Cook lists as “toss-ups.”

State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, is viewed as the dark horse in the GOP primary hunt in the U.S. Senate race, in which former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann is getting significant support from conservative Republicans and former Gov. Tommy Thompson is seen as the more moderate candidate.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-District 2, has decided not to seek re-election, so she can run for Kohl’s seat.

To date, she is the only Democrat in the dance.

And several Democratic candidates are vying to replace Baldwin.

But, so far, that race isn’t seen as competitive between the political parties, according to the Cook report.

Only Duffy’s and Ribble’s seats are competitive, according to Cook, with both “leaning Republican.”

At least one Democrat, former state Sen. Pat Kreitlow, is expected to challenge Duffy, who replaced longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Dave Obey in 2010 after Obey opted not to run for re-election.

Democrat Jamie Wall is taking on Ribble, who bested Democratic incumbent Steve Kagan in 2010.

“The national environment is the biggest factor here,” Wasserman said. “I think (state Democratic candidates) need President Obama to win re-election.”

Questions remain

Will Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four GOP state senators face recall elections this year? Who will win? What will be the effect on the electorate?

With Republican majorities in the state Assembly and Senate, and a Republican governor, the GOP drew legislative and congressional district boundaries that would protect Republican incumbents, including Duffy. How successful will those efforts be? What will happen with the lawsuits challenging those redistricting maps?

If Obama can re-energize the Democratic base, will that raise the political fortunes of Democrats down the ballot?

Politicians and political operatives aren’t leaving the answers up to a Magic 8 ball.

Obama is scheduled to come to Milwaukee on Wednesday, his first visit to the state in a year, to tout the success of Master Lock‘s efforts to bring jobs back to Wisconsin. Master Lock produces padlocks and security products.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, pre-emptively held a media conference call Tuesday blasting the visit.

Priebus called the visit a “taxpayer (funded) campaign stop by the president, this time to our home in Wisconsin to rehash really more of the same broken promises, more speeches highlighting yet again a president who is absolutely in love with the sound of his own voice, but not in love with following through with his promises.”

In Door County, county Democratic Party chairman Allin Walker is analyzing recall petitions to determine what they might be for the November elections.

He said the county party aimed to collect 3,250 signatures to recall the governor, with an optimistic goal of 4,000.

They collected more than 5,000, Walker said.

“We are still digesting what that means,” he said. “As we’ve looked at the people that have signed the petitions, about 1 in 11 are registered Republicans. About 1 in 10 are people that seem to be unregistered voters. So our task in the next couple of months is to figure out who those people are that signed the petitions that are, in essence, unknown to us.”

He wonders whether moderate Republicans will stay home. Will they “hold their nose and vote Democratic” or stick with the GOP, even if it has become more conservative than they would like?

“I don’t know what they’ll do,” Walker said.

Stateline  |  Nonpartisan, Nonprofit News Service of the Pew Charitable Trusts  |

More from State News