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Money dump: WI's Senate District 23 very much in play

By   /   May 25, 2012  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead and M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Someone, it appears, thinks Terry Moulton might lose, or at least is willing to commit $227,000 toward making that happen.

The buzz for a while has been that Democrats’ best chance of winning one of the four Senate seats up for recall on June 5 is in Senate District 21, where Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, is trying to fend off a challenge from his Democratic predecessor, John Lehman.

But spending this month — from liberals and conservatives alike — indicates they aren’t quite certain that Moulton, facing former Democratic Rep. Kristen Dexter, can hold onto the District 23 seat. 

“Obviously if a group jumps into a race, they must think they can make a difference, and they must think a race is close enough for them perhaps to become a deciding factor,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, or WDC, a group with union ties that tracks political spending.

Democrats need to pick up one of the four Senate seats up for grabs in the recall election to regain a majority in the state Senate, which could, at least for the time being, stymie the policy hopes of Republicans, who still will control the Assembly.

Up until Thursday, the liberal Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund has spent about $1.27 million in the current round of recalls — all on TV ads critical of Gov. Scott Walker, according to the WDC.

That’s unusual for Greater Wisconsin, McCabe said, which has focused on legislative races in the past.

On Thursday, the Fund, an independent political organization known as a 527, returned to form  — dropping $226,918, mostly on ad buys, in opposition to Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls.

“I would have been a little surprised if they would have sat off the Senate recalls because that’s where they’ve specialized in the past,” McCabe said. “Obviously, the governor’s race has been the main event.” 

The Greater Wisconsin Fund also committed $25,065 on anti-Wanggaard radio ads, and another $250,000 on TV and online advertising critical of Walker, who faces his own recall election against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Greater Wisconsin’s Moulton ad purchases follow an even larger ad buy by another group a couple of weeks ago targeting Dexter. 

Between April 26 and May 9, the Republican State Leadership Committee spent $369,100, mostly on TV and online advertising, opposing her.

The RSLC is a national organization that supports the election of state-level Republicans.

In total, the Greater Wisconsin Fund spent $502,000 on the three recalls Thursday — the same day it received more than $1.5 million, including a $900,000 contribution from the Democratic Governors Association.

So, just who is the Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund?

And why is it spending money on a race others have ignored, or have begun to write off?

According to the WDC, the Fund is a corporation started in 2010 that is part of the broader group, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a tax-exempt, 501(c)(4) organization that works to influence legislation and public opinion.

The Fund can spend money to support, or oppose a candidate, but cannot consult, coordinate or cooperate with candidates and must report any spending within 24 hours, according to the WDC.

And why the Fund is buying ads, now, to oppose Moulton?

An official from the Greater Wisconsin Committee did not return a phone call from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment.
But Dan Romportl, executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, or CERS, said there’s a good reason for the push: The race is closer than some believe.
“We have never seen our internal polling showing a blowout either way. It’s always been within the margin (of error), or right around it,” Romportl said. “The history of that district suggests another tight race.”
But there’s another reason for the increased interest by Democrats, Romportl said.
With state Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, opting not to seek re-election to his Senate District 12 seat, Republicans are targeting that swing district hard, and Democrats know it, Romportl said.
“Now the 12th is in play, and I think we have a better than average chance to pick it up this fall,” he said. “Now the Democrats are looking at it saying, ‘We’ve got to pick up two seats” in the recall election in order to wrest control of the Senate.
Bob Salt is chair of the Democratic Party in Dunn County, part of which lies in Senate District 23.
Salt said he hasn’t seen internal polling for the Moulton-Dexter race. But he believes Republicans did so well in 2010 because Democratic-leaning voters were convinced by media reports that it was going to be a Democratic bloodbath, and stayed home.
The strategy for Democrats is to get those people back to the polls on June 5, he said.
Dexter’s campaign said she couldn’t respond to questions Friday afternoon because she was out campaigning.
Little information has been released, publicly, indicating how candidates are faring in the four state Senate recall elections coming June 5. 

But the Wanggaard-Lehman race was the closest in mid-April, according to a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling for the liberal Daily Kos blog.

That poll, of 761 likely voters, indicated:

The poll had a margin of error of 3.5 percent, and was taken April 13-15.
Romportl said the numbers continue to show the 21st Senate District remains highly competitive.
“It’s a true 50-50 district in every sense of the word,” he said. “Incumbents have a very tough time.”
Lehman learned that in 2010.
Fitzgerald has held his Senate seat since 1994. But the remaining three seats are newly Republican, with the GOP winning all three of them in the 2010 Republican wave.