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10 Days To Election Day: Wisconsin

This gets me back up-to-date and, I am sure, a less “gloomy” analysis than that for Pennsylvania.

It has been a very interesting two years in Wisconsin politics from the defeat of Russ Feingold to the election and recall attempt of Governor Walker, the mess with the public worker and teacher unions and missing legislators. Along the way, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was tapped by Mitt Romney to be his running mate this year. Also, Herb Kohl- Wisconsin’s other incumbent Democratic Senator- decided to step down after this year thus opening up the Senate race.

Obama won this state easily in 2008 by taking all but 13 of Wisconsin’s counties. The final tally had Obama with 56% of the vote- a 14 point advantage. He will not replicate that margin of victory in 2012. First, Ryan’s presence on the ticket is worth at least two of those 14 percentage points. More importantly, the reforms of Scott Walker, a Republican Governor, have caught on in Wisconsin and as the people look around, they realize that the dire consequences predicted by the spoiled unions simply did not occur. In fact, the opposite happened and the state now has a budget surplus. That is good for another six points. The remainder is made up by momentum which is what the Romney ticket has in this state. Unlike Pennsylvania, a Romney victory is more likely in Wisconsin if there is to be that surprise state to be flipped. Originally, I believed it would be Iowa- and it may still be- but, I am looking for a Romney victory here.

With Kohl’s retirement, Republicans see another chance to pick up a Senate seat out of Wisconsin as they did in 2010. On the Democratic side, there was no drama in the primary as 2nd District representative Tammy Baldwin was the only candidate. But, on the Republican side among four entrants, it came down to two viable candidates- former US representative Mark Neumann and former Governor Tommy Thompson. However, due to a late surge by Eric Hovde, it became a three man race. Neumann was the choice of the conservative voices like Jim DeMint and the Club for Growth, but those endorsements bought him a third place finish behind eventual winner Thompson, and Hovde. It should be noted that turnout was particularly low for the August primary.

Thompson has been in Wisconsin politics a long time entering the state assembly in 1966. In 1979, he lost the primary election for the 6th district seat to Tom Petri who still holds the seat. In 1986, he was elected Governor and served in that capacity for 14 years before becoming Bush’s HHS Secretary. Thompson is best known for a booming economy in Wisconsin during his tenure, an economy that added 700,000 jobs. His welfare reform efforts became the template for national reforms in the Clinton Administration. His opponent, Tammy Baldwin, is the first openly gay woman elected to Congress and she is proud to call herself a liberal. The 2nd District includes the very liberal city of Madison, her base. She has been an advocate for practically every liberal cause out there- universal health care, the stimulus, gay marriage, abortion rights, cap and trade, restrictions on oil drilling, etc. She co-sponsored an attempt by Michigan Rep. John Conyers to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush for falsifying pre-Iraq War intelligence. And, of course, she was on the front line of the protests against Scott Walker that shut down the capital city while Democratic legislators entered their bunkers in neighboring Illinois.

Polling immediately after the primary indicated a tie race. During the primary run, Thompson had to veer to the right to keep pace with Neumann and win over the primary voters. At heart, however, Thompson is more of a moderate Republican. In many of his reforms as Governor, he worked with, not against unions. State spending also increased under his leadership of the state. That is the real Tommy Thompson and the one that he has to remind Wisconsin voters about. There are no doubts where Baldwin lies on the political ideology spectrum. This writer believes that Baldwin’s brand of liberalism may be a little too much for Wisconsin in 2012 and more indicative of her congressional district than the state as a whole. Secondly, Thompson served as Governor for 14 years meaning he won 4 consecutive races statewide. For these reasons, I believe that come Election Day, Thompson will prevail 52-48%.

The current delegation to the House from Wisconsin favors Republicans 5-3. There are three districts of interest. I am not counting Paul Ryan’s First District since he is on the ballot should Romney lose and would be the safe winner for reelection to the House. The first is the open 2nd district being vacated by Baldwin. It is only interesting because of its open status. Mark Pocan survived a four person field in the Democratic primary and hails from central Madison. In the primary, his main opponent was state representative Kelda Roys who ran a series of commercials accusing Pocan of being too willing to compromise with Republicans. Pocan won a seat in the assembly in 1998 succeeding Tammy Baldwin after she vacated the seat to run for Congress. Pocan was one of the leaders of the group of legislators that left the state and the 61-hour filibuster against Scott Walker’s reforms in 2011. Chad Lee, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary, will be Pocan’s opponent. He ran against Baldwin in 2010 and received only 38% of the vote. The 2nd District is Democratic and liberal and if Lee gets 42% of the vote, that would be a small victory for the GOP.

Democrats believe their best chance to pick up a seat in Wisconsin is in the 7th District currently represented by Republican Sean Duffy. He won in 2010 over state senator Julie Lassa with 52% of the vote. This district is located in north central Wisconsin and is largely rural. Nominally Democratic, the district actually has a history of electing Republicans although David Obey, a Democrat, held the seat from 1969 until 2010 when he decided to retire. Conservatives claim that Duffy’s candidacy had forced that decision on Obey, although Obey has said he was confident he would beat Duffy. When Obey withdrew, Lassa stepped in and lost. Duffy has positioned himself in Congress as a no-nonsense conservative by voting to halt stimulus payments and directing those funds towards deficit reductions. He also sponsored a bill to repeal Obamacare that died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. He will be opposed by former state senator Pat Kreitlow who has championed agricultural interests while in the state legislature. This is a race that is on the cusp of being a pure toss up, but favors Duffy at this point.

The final House race of interest is in the 8th District. This is the northeastern corner of the state anchored by Green Bay. In 2010, Republican Reid Ribble defeated Democrat Steve Kagan with broad support from the Wisconsin business community which he still enjoys in the 2012 race. Ribble has generally kept a low profile in his first term. He helped form a Job Creator Caucus of fellow representatives who were business owners. He also teamed up with two Democrats and another Republican to build a caucus to derive bipartisan resolutions to problems. Together they supported a bill that would prevent members of Congress from being paid until a budget is passed. Ribble has also promised to serve no more than four terms. His opponent will be relatively unknown Jamie Richard Wall who has accused, inaccurately, Ribble as being beholden to the Tea Party. His opponent can be considered an Obamot.

In conclusion: It will be a surprise victory for Mitt Romney in Wisconsin while Tommy Thompson will defeat Baldwin. In the House, all incumbents will likely win reelection and the open 2nd District will remain in control of the Democrats.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads Mitt Romney in the electoral vote count 237-191 while Republicans lead in the Senate 43-39 and in the House 178-165.

Next: Missouri

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