By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — The most significant decision Wisconsinites make in next week’s election may have little to do with Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Tammy Baldwin or Tommy Thompson.
“It is remarkable how little press attention has been paid to state legislative races until the last week or so,” University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Barry Burden said.
Collective bargaining. Business tax breaks. Concealed carry. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
Now, Democrats and Republicans are battling it out for the state Senate again, as Democrats fight to hold onto the 17-16 majority they gained in last summer’s recall elections.
And while Democrats aren’t conceding the battle, a week away from Election Day, Republicans are sounding confident.
Republican strategist Mark Graul said the GOP’s chances of regaining a majority are “100 percent — because Tom Tiffany is going to win.”
Tiffany is a freshman representative from Hazelhurst, vying to fill the Senate District 12 seat left open when Jim Holperin, D-Conover, opted not to seek a second term.
Tiffany is a well-known businessman who quickly made a name for himself in the Assembly this past legislative session, sponsoring high-impact legislation that allows hunters to shoot a buck without having to kill an antlerless deer first. He also sponsored a law to significantly reform administrative rules. Both measures were approved.
Tiffany’s Senate drive has received major support from the GOP leadership.
The Democratic Party is running a little-known candidate, Rhinelander native Susan Sommer, who lived in the Milwaukee area and South Carolina for years until returning in 2008.
“I think she’s got a good chance of surprising a lot of people,” said Paul Knuth, chairman of the Oneida County Democratic Party. “I’m not a prognosticator in terms of winning or losing.”
Democrats are hoping Libertarian candidate Paul Ehlers will draw away some of the conservative vote.
“Up in the 12th, it’s an open seat, it’s a three-way race, there’s a Libertarian running in that seat,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, said on Mike Gousha’s “Upfront” show last week. “It’s been a seat that’s been represented by a Democrat in the state Senate since 1983, Barack Obama carried that in 2008, there’s about 25 percent of voters are undecided, so that’s going to be an interesting race.”
State-level candidates had until Monday evening to file their pre-election campaign finance reports.
Tiffany’s campaign reported that it had collected more than $129,000 since the beginning of August and had just over $74,000 on hand as of Oct. 22.
Sommer’s report wasn’t immediately available online.
A one-vote majority in the state Senate, however, might not be enough for the GOP to push its agenda in the next legislative session.
Last spring, despite a 17-16 majority, Republican senators were unable to pass mining legislation after moderate Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, stood with Democrats.
So the GOP is hoping to not only gain the District 12 seat, but also to pick a couple of others, with the District 18 seat held by Sen. Jessica King, D-Oshkosh, as the likeliest contender.
King won the seat in a 2011 recall election and is locked in a tight race with Rick Gudex, a Republican who is president of the Fond du Lac City Council.
And, Republicans say they have an outside shot of unseating Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, in Senate District 30, Graul said.
Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said on Gousha’s program last week that, “You’ve gotta remember. These are new districts. They were redrawn.”
Said Gousha: “Some of them (were drawn to be) more favorable to Republicans.”
“Absolutely,” Fitzgerald said. “Absolutely.”
But Knuth warned against counting out Wisconsinites’ independent spirit.
This is, after all, the state that voted solidly for Obama four years ago, solidly for Republican Scott Walker two years ago, then kept Walker in office after the recall election, but put the Senate back in Democratic hands on the same day.
Speaking specifically about District 12, Knuth said, “It’s always been large, and it’s also very versatile that way, and the issues (that people vote on) are very mixed.”
Contact Kirsten Adshead at [email protected]