Wisconsin features divided government following Gov. Scott Walker’s narrow defeat in the 2018 midterms. Republicans held the legislature, but with insufficient numbers to override now-Gov. Tony Evers’ veto. However, Republicans do have one more chance to retake full control of the process in 2020.
As it stands now, a favorable redistricting proposal would currently pass the legislature, but would be vetoed by Governor Evers (D). However, if the GOP can win supermajorities in both chambers, that veto can be overridden.
As for the courts, a recent Supreme Court decision making partisan gerrymandering lawsuits non-justiciable in federal court means the Wisconsin Supreme Court is the only legal avenue of appeal. The Court currently has a 5-2 textualist majority following conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn’s victory in April of 2019. The GOP can feel secure in the outcome of any liberal lawsuit at present.
Wisconsin State Assembly
Republicans currently hold 63 seats in the State Assembly after losing District 14 in the 2018 midterms. President Trump won 63 seats in 2016, so that can be considered the GOP baseline. A supermajority in the chamber is 66 seats, which means Republicans need to win a total of three Clinton seats. Two Republicans already represent Clinton turf.
Assembly District 14: Anchored by central Waukesha and spliced with part of Milwaukee County, this seat lurched left in 2016. GOP State Rep. Dale Kooyenga opted to run a successful race for State Senate in 2018, which left the seat open. A boon to GOP fortunes came when GOP State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk decided to run here instead of seeking reelection. Adamczyk had some minor scandals but he ran a good race given the circumstances; he ultimately lost to Democrat Robyn Vining by a tiny margin.
The outlook in 2020 is mildly pessimistic, but Gov. Scott Walker carried it by six points in the gubernatorial race, and Dale Kooyenga also carried it in his state Senate race. In 2016, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson notched an impressive 55-43 margin. These results demonstrate that Republican support still exists down-ballot, even if national trends narrowly prevailed in 2018.
Assembly District 54: The 54th roughly mirrors the city limits of Oshkosh and was drawn as a Democratic vote sink. However, while Oshkosh trended left in the Obama era, it snapped back somewhat in 2016. Trump still lost the seat by a 5-point spread – 49-44 – but that performance was a significant improvement over Romney’s 57-41 loss in 2012. GOP Sen. Ron Johnson did even better, notching a decimal point loss that rounds to a 48-48 tie. Gov. Walker did worse in 2018, however.
Assemblyman Gordon Hintz (D) serves as the Democratic leader in the chamber, but he has been involved in various controversies, including sexual misconduct at a massage parlor that was under investigation for prostitution. Hintz paid a $2000 fine and put out a statement apologizing to his friends and family for “making a bad decision”. Hintz also came under fire for yelling an expletive at a female Republican lawmaker during a vote. And that was merely one incident where Hintz used bad language. The Milwaukee Journal-Star later published expletive-laden Facebook messages that Hintz had written to a former friend. Suffice it to say Hintz is a colorful character.
Assuming the rightward trend continues in 2020, a challenger who can capitalize on Hintz’s controversies could win. Of course, the 2018 gubernatorial race showed that Oshkosh still skews light blue, so a win would be an indication that Republicans are doing well across the board.
Assembly District 73: Encompassing the city of Superior and some rural areas to the south, this seat raced right in 2016. Though it voted for Hillary Clinton overall, the margin narrowed from a 61-38 blowout in 2012 to a 47-47 deadlock in 2016. GOP Sen. Ron Johnson and GOP Rep. Sean Duffy also notched narrow losses.
Up until now, Assemblyman Nick Milroy (D) has enjoyed zero opposition in either the primary or general election since 2010; Milroy defeated Republican Bonnie Baker 56-44 that year. The lack of serious campaigning might mean he is a bit rusty at retail politics, a theory his voting record supports. Milroy voted against the Castle Doctrine in 2012 and opposed a bill that lifted the ban on sulfide mining in Wisconsin. He also voted against a 20-week abortion ban, a bill putting regulations in place for abortions resulting in premature death, and a requirement mandating that abortion reversal drugs be made available. The 73rd is a top Republican target, so each of these votes are certain to come under scrutiny.
Assembly District 74: The 74th covers the cities of Ashland and Ironwood, along with some surrounding rural areas. It is very similar in profile to the latter, although a standard deviation more conservative. It voted 58-41 for Obama, but it swung to 49-46 Trump in 2016. It was also close in the 2016 House race, and Republican James Bolen kept it close in the 2018 State Senate race.
Incumbent Beth Meyers (D) won reelection 56-44 in 2018 and has a similar voting record to Milroy, casting votes against sulfide mining and abortion limitations. She also has a smaller incumbency advantage with just two terms under her belt. James Bolen lives in the district, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Meyers ends up facing him in November.
Assembly District 94: The 94th covers all of LaCrosse County except the city of LaCrosse itself. It flipped from 51-47 Obama in 2012 to 49-46 Trump in 2016. GOP Sen. Ron Johnson also carried it 50-47 in 2016. However, the most impressive result was in the State Senate race, where Republican Dan Kapanke won nearly every precinct.
Incumbent Steve Doyle (D) won reelection 60-40 in 2018, but he won by a narrow 53-47 spread in 2016. Doyle was first elected in 2010 and has taken some questionable positions during his tenure, including a vote against reducing the state income tax. He also has a stridently pro-abortion voting record. On the flip side, he may take some flak on his left flank for some pro-gun votes. Doyle’s narrow win in 2016 suggests that his popularity is limited and a vigorous Republican opponent could beat him.
Vulnerable GOP Districts:
Assembly District 23: The 23rd hugs the shoreline of Lake Michigan in suburban Ozaukee and Milwaukee Counties. It was solidly Republican at the start of the decade, but it has moved swiftly leftward. Mitt Romney’s 65-35 win in 2012 morphed into a 50-45 defeat for Trump in 2016. However, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson carried the seat 55-44 and Assemblyman Jim Ott won reelection in 2016 and 2018.
There is no doubt that Ott will be a top Democratic target this year, but their inability to oust him in 2018 is a good sign. Johnson’s strong performance also demonstrates that while decidedly left-trending, voters are still very open to backing Republicans down-ballot.
Assembly District 51: The 51st covers parts of Iowa County and Lafayette Counties, including the city of Dodgeville. Unlike the 23rd, it raced right in 2016, swinging from 59-40 Obama to just 48-47 Clinton.
GOP State Rep. Todd Novak won reelection here in 2016 and 2018 after initially winning the seat by 64 votes in 2014. Prior to his time in the legislature, Novak was elected mayor of Dodgeville in 2012, so he has some local crossover appeal. Even though he was a top Democratic target ever since his initial victory, he has parried each challenge successfully. With no obvious reason to think 2020 will be any different, Novak looks likely to win another term.
Summary: Flipping three Dem-held districts and holding on to the two Clinton-GOP seats we currently hold is enough to get to 66 votes. The clearest path is to win AD-73, AD-74, and AD-94. AD-54 is more of a good government reach that could feature an upset, and AD-14 may prove difficult in a presidential year.
Wisconsin State Senate
Republicans currently hold 19 out of 33 seats in the Wisconsin State Senate. A supermajority requires 22 seats, which at a cursory glance seems easy. However, two Trump-seat Democrats won reelection in 2018, and that makes it a little more complicated.
Senate District 10: The 10th covers the Wisconsin portion of the Twin Cities metro, including St. Croix, and has been solidly Republican for decades. Mitt Romney carried it 52-46 in 2012 and Trump carried it 55-38 in 2016.
Sanguine advice cost Republicans this seat in an early 2018 special election after Gov. Scott Walker appointed Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R) to a post in his administration. Democrat Patty Schnachter’s win in a low-turnout special may have broken the GOP win streak, but her odds at reelection are miniscule. This is a virtually guaranteed pickup, which you might guess by looking at the crowded GOP primary.
Senate District 30: The 30th covers part of Green Bay and some rural territory to the north. Obama carried it 52-47 in 2012, but it flipped to 53-42 Trump in 2016. Sen. Ron Johnson and Gov. Scott Walker both carried it by similar margins in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
State Senator Dave Hansen (D) is retiring, which is a good indication of just how good a target this is for Republicans. Few incumbents choose to seek reelection when the writing on the wall suggests their districts are about to be taken away and given to the Medes and Persians. A GOP flip is likely here.
Senate District 32: The 32nd covers LaCrosse and Vernon counties, including the city of LaCrosse. It voted 57-41 for Obama in 2012, but Clinton carried it by a much narrower 49-45 spread.
State Sen. Jennifer Shilling fended off former State Senator Dan Kapanke by just 56 votes in 2016, and she may face him again this year. Kapanke represented a previous version of the seat from 2004 to 2011, when he lost a recall election fueled by Walker’s Act 10. Each of his races have demonstrated a sizable contingent of crossover support, largely stemming from his status as owner of the LaCrosse Loggers baseball team. If Kapanke runs again this year, a little improvement at the top of the ballot could easily doom Shilling. And it goes without saying that defeating the Senate Democratic leader would be quite the scalp.
Summary: Getting to 22 votes in the State Senate will be easier than winning a supermajority in the State House. Senate Districts 10 and 30 are likely to flip, which means everything hinges on whether Republicans can defeat Shilling.
Supermajorities in both legislative chambers are possible and should be pursued in 2020. Control of the redistricting process in 2020 would allow Republicans to solidify their legislative majorities and control of six of the eight Badger State congressional districts.
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