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Wisconsinites' votes a head-scratcher for experts

By   /   August 15, 2012  /   10 Comments

By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – What to make of you, Wisconsin?

First, you choose (re-choose), three darlings of the conservative movement — Gov. Scott Walker, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (now vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan), and Reince Priebus, former head of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, now chair of the Republican National Committee.

But then …

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, the Wisconsin GOP candidate for U.S. Senate

You select former Gov. Tommy Thompson over his more-conservative counterparts to face U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-2nd District, in November in the race to replace U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.

And still …

You like President Obama more than you dislike him (53 percent to 42 percent) and, if the November presidential election was held now, you’d choose Obama over presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney (50 to 43 percent), according to the latest Marquette Law School poll.

The Marquette poll results are based on a survey of 519 likely voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The poll was conducted Aug. 2-5.

“I think first of all, it’s a mistake to assume rationality,” University of Wisconsin-Madison political expert Dennis Dresang said, with a little laugh. “And Wisconsin, in particular, has been known for splitting itself all over the place.”

Indecisiveness, however, can cut a messy political path, one that puts Wisconsin in the permanent “Purple State” category.

For example:

  • During the time in which Thompson served as Wisconsin governor, when he was popularly elected to an unprecedented four terms, Wisconsinites also chose, as U.S. senators, Democrats Kohl and Russ Feingold.
  • Feingold, viewed as one of the Senate’s most progressive members, won a third term in 2004 by 12 percent – then lost to newcomer conservative Ron Johnson six years later by 5 percent.
  • In 2008, Wisconsinites voted in a Democratic Legislature and chose Obama over Republican John McCain by 14 percent. Two years later, Wisconsin Republicans swept to power, winning the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature.

“We’re on a pretty good role, aren’t we?” Republican strategist Mark Graul said.

Still, he added, “You can never rest on your laurels.”

There’s no doubt that life is looking pretty good for the Wisconsin GOP right now.

As the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza recently put it, “The Badger State now can lay claim to the Republican vice presidential nominee, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the most famous governor in the country. Not bad for a state that the Republican presidential nominee hasn’t carried since 1984. If the 1990s and earlier 2000s saw a Republican Party controlled by men from Texas — George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey— then this decade’s Texas certainly looks like Wisconsin.”

What may be worse for the state’s Democratic Party: Unlike the GOP’s Ryan, Walker and Priebus, there are few obvious up-and-coming Democrats here that are setting the electorate’s hearts afire.

“If you’re looking ahead to 2014 and a gubernatorial race, for example, I think it’s far from obvious who the (Democratic) gubernatorial candidate is,” said Dresang, director of the Center on State, Local, and Tribal Governance at the UW’s La Follette School of Public Affairs.

But if the political landscape favors the Wisconsin GOP, Wisconsin’s own history could be a thing of hope for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Even Graul said, “Anybody that studies the history of politics would tell you you’d be silly to think that (the GOP strength is) going to last forever. … It’s a cyclical thing. It’ll be cyclical. Republicans are not going to be riding high for the next 100 years.”

Allin Walker is one of the people charged with ensuring that the GOP stronghold in the state is as short-lived as possible.

“If you ask people a series of questions, about for example, traditional Democratic Party issues, they say, ‘yes, yes, yes, yes,’” said Walker, chair of the Door County Democratic Party. “And they get to the end (of the survey) and are asked, ‘Are you going to vote Democratic?’ And they say, ‘I don’t know.’”

Walker said he believes that the Democratic Party hasn’t been able to translate those “yeses” into votes because the party has focused too much on facts alone.

He points, as a positive example, to U.S. senatorial candidate Baldwin’s stories about her grandparents, who raised her, to illustrate the stakes involved in the Medicare and Social Security debate.

“We’ve been very fact-based,” Walker said. “We’ve been very rational-based, and we’re moving in to the kind of gut level for the next two months.”

“We’re asking our canvassers to start with their story — not 20-minute stories, but at least an issue that they’re passionate enough about to knock on that person’s door or make that phone call,” he said. “‘Start with your own story — and then listen.’”

Dresang said he has “no idea” which would-be candidates are waiting to take up the Democratic mantle.

But he noted that Kohl wasn’t known for much beyond keeping the Milwaukee Bucks in Wisconsin before his successful ran for Senate — albeit with a lot of money of his own to fund a campaign.

And Feingold, too, was a virtual unknown when he won for the first time in 1992, winning the Democratic primary in that election because voters rejected the mud-slinging political tactics of Feingold’s opponents, Dresang said.

“If you’re a Democrat (now) you’ve gotta be concerned,” he said. “On the other hand, that’s not something new, and we don’t have strong parties in this state. … It’s very, very candidate driven more than anything else.”


  • Bonnie Jotblad

    I don’t trust polls. They change daily. So what they say one day is likely different the next. In my opinion, we can’t afford another four years of Obama. Maybe that’s why we have a device on Mars. If it’s possible to move off a planet that’s broke, both morally and financially, and go to Mars. 🙂

  • Mary

    I believe Wisconsinites will come to their senses and vote Romney/Ryan ticket this Nov. This presidential election is SO CRUCIAL….. it will determine whether the current administration will finalize this country becoming a socialized nation under Obama or the free country for which our founding fathers sacrificed so much. Chief Justice Roberts put the ball in the American people’s hands…..if you don’t like Obamacare or the current administration then it is our duty to vote them out of office. Quit being so complacent America……listen an read carefully as to what the current administration is doing……lies, unlawful mandates, deception, and over spending your hard earned money!! I’m voting Romney/Ryan, Thompson because I don’t want to see our country become another “European Mess”. God Bless America!

  • Rightwinger

    Doesn’t anybody spell check any more? It’s “on a roll” not “on a role”!!!!!!

  • grammadiane

    I’ll be voting for Obama-Biden….I don’t want to see 4 years of reverting back to Bush era politics….Obama isn’t for socialized politics either….He wants the middle class to survive…….under Bush the rich got richer and the middle class sunk….You don’t want that again and neither do I…We need to have Democratic control in both the Senate and congress….Maybe then Obama can do what he intended to do without GOP interference…What we need to do is silence the Tea Party and give our country back what it so desperately needs…Leadership with a mind of it’s own…not Tea Party run…….Get Smart American !!!

  • Mary Jo Hane

    Mary’s comment could not be any clearer. (8-16) Our country has a clear choice. Social programs or a strong economy? You cannot have good social programs without a strong economy, something the Obama and the Dems do not understand. They have ignored our Constitution, are giving money we don’t have to the UN and other countries and trying to buy the vote by supporting illegals in our country. Romney/Ryan deserve to be elected. Paul Ryan is the only person with enough integrity to propose and spell out how to get our country on
    the path to solvency again. Harry Reid and the Senate has stonewalled long enough. It’s time we all wake up!

  • Greg Hofmeister

    Obama has to go without a doubt. As it is we are going to spend years fixing the mess he and his administration have made of our economy and our rights.

    Wisconsin has shown the way to other states with the election and confirmation of Governor Walker and his approach to doing the public business. We can note with some pride that he has never stooped to the level of his opponents in trying to trash the opposition but has stuck to issues and has put his efforts into watching out for the tax-paying public’s interests.

    We can only hope that Romney/Ryan can do the same for the country at large. One of the key issues the country faces is repairing our fiscal and monetary policy. Obama and his gang have proven that they are clueless about what to do in this arena.

  • Jim Newman

    How can you trust a President who does not believe we are a Christian nation, that we are more Muslim than Christian, who does not understand the military, who believes it is OK to murder the unborn (yes, that is what abortion is), whose agenda is buying votes – rather than making the able to work, who has not accomplished 20% of what he stated he would do in 4 years, who forgets the Democrats controlled both houses the last 2 years of the Bush administration and yet he wants to blame the Bush administration for our economic mess; who does not understand business like give a loan of almost 1/2 billion dollars to a solar company known to be in trouble, which then filed bankruptcy a few weeks after receving the loan leaving the taxpayers with another chunk of defici. He does not know how to lead our country in the direction we need to go, who condones and endorses lifestyles contrary to the Word of God in the bible he claims he believes in. And the list goes on and on. I thought he would give us positive change. All I have seen is the opposite.

  • Larry Wittmann

    I live in Wisconsin and I know Wisconsin people are the hardest working people in the nation. Our work ethic is second to none and we take great pride in taking care of ourselves. No matter the political affiliation people in Wisconsin are fed up with high unemployment and that happens to be the hot stove issue here. While all the usual talking point issues such as abortion, foreign policy, etc. have some importance nothing tops employment here. Wisconsinites will not take their eye off the ball on the employment issue. Therefore, I am fairly confindent this state will not re-up Obama and company.

  • Joyce Wilcox

    What’s so hard to understand about the recent Senate primary? Three conservatives split the conservative vote between them. Thompson won by 34 % of the vote. The other 66% went to the conservatives. The same thing happened during the Presidential primary. Too many conservatives split the vote and we ended up with another semi conservative. Maybe one day these conservatives willl understand that it is more important to stand together and win the election than to have to be the one to win and then lose. Liberals know this. Tammy Baldwin had no opponents to drain her war chest.

  • Kurt Kasdorf

    How could any one vote Democrat with all the tings going on: Ballots being send to dead people and pets, Obama care was won do to bribery and now we are trying to prevent our young man in harms way from voting . These are just a couple of items and there are to numerous items to list them all.

    I would be to ashamed to vote democrat.