Since I took a good share of the summer off from blogging here and I haven’t done much in terms of the statewide picture, I’ve been getting requests for that kind of overview from out-of-state readers. This seems like a good time to do it. Others may disagree with my take — and they often do — but here is how I see things right now.
Since Scott Walker won the right to complete his term in a June recall election and Congressman Paul Ryan was selected as the GOP’s vice presidential running mate for Mitt Romney later on this summer, some have tried to make the case that Wisconsin will continue along the path of becoming a red state this November. My take: that’s very doubtful. While it might be tempting for hardcore conservatives to pretend they’ve been running the table in the Badger State, it just ain’t so. Walker came into office with a 19-14 majority in the Wisconsin State Senate and he’s already lost that house to the Democrats before even completing a single two-year election cycle; his midterm. While it is possible that the GOP’s gerrymandering may give the Senate back to them after the November election, it’s not a sure thing and it may prove to be too narrow of a majority to carry an aggressive conservative agenda, even if they do.
And that isn’t the only problem that the Republicans have. Courts have struck down important parts of Walker’s agenda, leaving them inoperative unless they can be successfully appealed. Voter ID isn’t in effect. Wisconsin Act 10 — that union-busting law that was the centerpiece of the 2011 protests, Walker’s agenda and now, public budgets for school districts, counties and municipalities – has been declared unconstitutional. Walker is so out of sorts over it that he’s holding his own petition drive over it (and if you want to receive more fundraising communications going forward, be sure to sign up.) An investigation over illegal campaign activities in Scott Walker’s Milwaukee County Executive office has expanded into state government.
On the ground, Wisconsin is still very much a battleground state, at this point. Many tens of millions of dollars in TV, direct mail, robocall, literature and support infrastructure have been spent here in 2012. Wisconsinites have been subjected to relentless levels of political advertising since the beginning of Governor Walker’s term. Between non-partisan elections, primaries, recalls and the general election, many people will have been to the polls a half dozen times in 2012: February, April, May, June, August and November. There has been talk of “voter fatigue.” Personally, I don’t see much voter fatigue, but I do think that people are worn out on the idea of widespread recalls and I don’t expect it to be coming up much again for a while. Regardless, that’s not going to be a factor in November.
Current polls show a widening lead for President Obama and for Democratic Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin over former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson in the U.S. Senate race for the seat currently held by Democrat Herb Kohl. Tommy’s problem? He’s been successfully branded as “Tommy Inc.” – a well-liked guy in the past who left Wisconsin years ago to join the Bush Administration before cashing in as a lobbyist. (He says Romney is dragging him down – not a good sign that even the Republicans think Wisconsin is necessarily becoming a red state.) Of perhaps even greater significance is that this was one of the seats the Republicans hoped to pick up in their quest to take over the U.S. Senate. Current projection: the Democrats should hold 53 or 54 seats in that house after November, partly thanks to some serious bungling at the top of the ticket and folks like Congressman Todd “legitimate rape” Akin in Missouri.
Congressman Paul Ryan will not only be unable to bring in Wisconsin’s electoral votes in for Romney, but he recently found it necessary to put $2 million into his own Congressional campaign to hedge his bet toward having a job of any kind in Washington next year.
President Obama, Mitt Romney, Congressman Ryan, Vice President Biden, Ann Romney and Michelle Obama have all been to Wisconsin within the past month. My expectation? Over the next month, we will see the Romney campaign and the conservative outside funders redeploying resources out of Wisconsin and into states where the odds don’t seem quite so long. The Thompson Senate campaign may also see less interest from outside funders if he can’t find a way to stop the bleeding in the polls, which have represented a remarkable reversal since mid-August. It’s difficult to dismiss the polling numbers because they have proven to be fairly accurate indicators over the past several years in Wisconsin.