By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — With 10 or so U.S. Senate races considered toss-ups this fall, Wisconsin’s race may decide whether Republicans or Democrats control the chamber. The jury is still out.
But as a competitive race in a competitive state, political pundits sure are paying close attention.
The Cook Political Report lists the seat being vacated by Democrat Sen. Herb Kohl as one of 10 toss-up Senate seats nationwide — with control of the U.S. Senate, and federal public policy, at stake.
Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.
Democrats hold a 51-47 majority in the Senate, but two independents also caucus with the Democrats.
Kohl has represented Wisconsin since 1989.
If a Republican wins that seat — once a candidate is chosen, that is — it will be the first time since 1957 that Wisconsin has been represented by two Republicans in the U.S. Senate.
That year, Democrat William Proxmire won a special election to replace Republican U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who died May 2.
Proxmire served for nearly 30 years, choosing not to seek re-election in 1988. Kohl won that seat.
Kohl’s retirement follows Democrat Russ Feingold's defeat in November 2010. Feingold was a U.S. senator for Wisconsin for 18 years before losing to Republican newcomer Ron Johnson.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin,who represents the Madison area in District 2, is the sole Democrat in the race and has Feingold’s support.
The GOP will hold a primary election in August to choose a candidate from a packed field that includes former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former Wisconsin 1st District U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, Madison businessman Eric Hovde, state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon and Rhinelander physical therapist Kip Smith.
Next month, however, the Republican Party of Wisconsin, or RPW, will decide which candidate to support at the RPW convention in Green Bay.
“I don’t know if it (who the party will support) will be a done deal or not,” heading into the convention, said Brian Schimming, RPW’s first vice chairman.
“I’ve said to candidates, said to our candidates, the ones I’ve talked to about it, ‘Observe (Ronald) Reagan’s 11th commandment and try not to speak ill of another Republican, ‘cause I don’t think that that’s helpful.’ … Frankly, I’d like our primary to be more about candidates and ideas and not about pounding on each other,” Schimming said.
The race to replace Kohl is far from the only election going on this year in Wisconsin. It’s not even the one getting most of the attention.
Experts say most voters are focusing on the governor’s recall election, which is scheduled June 5, with a primary scheduled May 8.
Political experts said the outcome of that race may have ramifications for the November elections, but what those will be are unclear.
“A Walker victory would rejuvenate the GOP base and could lead Republican voters toward candidates they believe are more ideological pure rather than those most likely to beat Baldwin,” University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Barry Burden said in an email. “It is also possible that Walker would endorse a candidate.”
There are questions, too, about whether Baldwin benefits or is harmed by not having to compete in a Democratic primary. On the one hand, candidates who don’t have a primary can virtually escape attack for months. They also, however, risk escaping the attention of the media and the voters.
“My guess is that they (members of the Baldwin campaign) look at this as a gift,” Duffy said, an opinion Baldwin herself gave Monday to law students at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
“I consider where I am right now to be a tremendous opportunity, because there’s the GOP food fight going on the Republican side, in an effort to secure the nomination from the Republican primary electorate, and I have a real opportunity to travel the state, introduce myself to the areas where I’m not as well known,” she said.
- Conservative talk show titan and author Charlie Sykes of Milwaukee's Radio 620 WTMJ AM;
- Steve Chamraz, anchor/investigative reporter at WTMJ-TV, Today's TMJ4;
- Christian Schneider, regular contributor at conservative publication National Review Online.