By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Geographically, Wisconsin sits squarely, and firmly, in the heart of the Midwest.
Politically? It’s still all over the map — an assessment reaffirmed Wednesday with the release of Marquette Law School’s latest political poll.
According to the poll, among likely voters, former Gov. Tommy Thompson has an 8-percentage-point lead over U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-District 2, in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.
Thompson leads among all Republicans vying for the GOP’s spot in the race. The GOP primary will be held Aug. 14.
In the presidential race, however, President Barack Obama leads presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney by 6 percentage points, 49 percent to 43 percent.
Romney didn’t pick up any ground since the poll’s May survey, but the president lost 2 percentage points.
The poll of 707 registered and eligible voters was taken June 13-16, after the recalls.
The November matchups for likely voters had a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points, while the results for Republican primary voters have a 5.4 percentage point margin of error.
Wisconsin hasn’t voted for the GOP presidential candidate since 1984, but Wisconsin voters consistently during that time have elected a mix of Republicans and Democrats at the state level.
“So it is sort of a paradox that frequent splits and divided government around the Capitol have been paired with this consistency in democratic votes over recent presidential elections,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin, who is leading the year-long Marquette polling project as a visiting professor. “So I don’t have a good explanation for you on that except that you know you might not want to bet on the future just based on the past.
The margins were thin in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, but not so in 2008, when Obama beat GOP challenger U.S. Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, by 14 percentage points.
Franklin said it remains to be seen if the Romney camp can narrow the gap.
The poll follows a strong showing by Republicans in the June 5 recall elections, in which the GOP won five of the six elections, including those involving Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
Republicans and Democrats see lessons in the recall elections that could prove useful heading into this fall — although they disagree on what those lessons are.
“Wisconsin voters made it clear that they wanted to move our state in a new direction in 2010 (with the GOP sweep), and based on the Recall election results, Wisconsin families showed they want to continue moving forward,” Ben Sparks, spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, wrote in an email. “Now voters have the opportunity to begin moving our country in a new direction.
President Obama is clearly out of touch with Wisconsin families, and has showed that he’s not willing to make the bold decisions to move our economy forward.”
La Crosse County Democratic chairwoman Vicki Burke attributes Walker’s win to Democrats’ inability to get their message across, in part because unlimited fundraising allowed Walker to have anti-recall ads on the air for months.
“I think the lesson for us is always make sure that you manage the message well,” Burke said. “We have a great ground group, and we’re very organized in our get out the vote (efforts), but the thing that we also have to remember is that the message is extremely important.”
The Marquette poll indicates both parties need to do better introducing their candidates to voters.
All the Senate candidates, save Thompson, are unknown to significant swaths of the Wisconsin electorate.
Twelve percent of poll respondents said they didn’t know enough about Thompson to form an opinion — far fewer than for his GOP competitors, former Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann of District 1 at 45 percent, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, of Horicon, at 52 percent and businessman Eric Hovde at 62 percent.
Thirty-nine percent said they didn’t know enough about Baldwin to form an opinion.
Republicans, though, have a bigger time crunch, with primary voters choosing a GOP candidate in less than two months.
Baldwin doesn’t have the pressure of having to compete in a primary.
No matter who is elected in November, can politicians ultimately get along and compromise?
Apparently, it depends on whom you ask — and how you ask the question.
The Marquette poll asked a similar question, in two versions, to the poll respondents.
Half heard, “Do you think it is possible for Republicans and Democrats to cooperate more with one another in state government, or do you think their differences are too great for them to cooperate?”
Among those respondents, 58 percent said it was possible to cooperate more.
The other half of respondents, however, heard this question: “In their election night speeches, both Mayor (Tom) Barrett and Gov. Walker called for more cooperation between the political parties. Do you think it is possible for Republicans and Democrats to cooperate more with one another in state government, or do you think their differences are too great for them to cooperate?”
Among that group, only 51 percent said more cooperation was possible.
The drop, Franklin said, wasn’t statistically significant. But he laughed.
“It’s almost as if being reminded of the two candidates and their inevitable conflicts, even when it was paired with quoting them as calling for cooperation, didn’t bring people along to favor or believe more cooperation would be likely,” he said.