Before looking at the Senate race in Wisconsin, there is also a Governor’s race this year. Here, Republican Scott Walker, a state lawmaker, leads Tom Barrett by 10 points in the most recent poll and by an average of about 9 points overall. This puts him on a trajectory towards a Republican victory in November. In all honesty, I know very little about Barrett and I really care less. The fact is that incumbent Democratic Governor Jim Doyle has an approval rating of 29%. Even if Barrett said all the right things in this campaign, he is guilty by association with party affiliation.
The biggest surprise in Wisconsin is the trouble Russ Feingold finds himself in this year. Before challenger Ron Johnson surged in the polls after the late primary is inconsequential. Previous polling indicated that Feingold would have had serious problems with another potential Republican opponent in David Westlake. So while Johnson’s primary victory may have been TEA Party influenced, Feingold’s problems have very little to do with the TEA Party itself. Polling since the primary shows Johnson up by seven points (and a 6.7 average overall according to RCP). Even if Feingold should somehow pull this out, this change of events in Wisconsin has changed the national strategy of the Democratic Party from one of offense to defense. For example, the DSCC recently pulled money from Missouri anddiverted it to Wisconsin to defend Feingold. It is also no coincidence that Obama has visited the state twice since Labor Day. To illustrate the underlying problem with Feingold’s position, was it really a coincidence that Feingold had a competing event on Labor Day and did not appear with Obama in Milwaukee on Labor Day? The fact is the economic conditions in Wisconsin are associated with Obama and the Democratic Party. Hence, the blaming and finger-pointing at Bush and Republicans is gaining little traction with the electorate.
No matter who ran against Feingold, his original numbers dating back to May of this year had him in the low 40 range. While Democrats saw the same dynamic in North Carolina with Richard Burr and targeted him, time has shown a drift towards Burr and away from Marshall there. Conversely, they overlooked Feingold’s own low numbers. The reason is that Wisconsin is taken for granted because it is noted for its “progressivism.” However, a subtle shift occurred in the 1980s and 1990s when Wisconsin actually became a vanguard state for enactment of conservative policies. For example, the highly successful welfare reform initiatives of Clinton were actually modeled on Wisconsin’s successful program under a Republican Governor.
Most ominous for Feingold is the fact that Johnson has broken and stayed above the 50% mark since mid-September. In the same time period, Feingold’s numbrs have remained fairly static, never rising above 45%. And that is all true despite the money flowing into the state and the President flying into the state.
Feingold’s only real chance is to rally the youth vote in the collegiate centers of Wisconsin. And although Obama may have drawn 26,000 to a rally in Madison, whether this translates into votes remains to be seen. It is also odd that Obama would use the opportunity to rail like a cry baby about campaign finance reform. Meanwhile, Johnson has stayed on the topic of the economy. Despite Feingold’s name affixed to a major piece of campaign finance reform legislation, that is not the issue this year. And, quite frankly, the Wisconsin economy has not helped Feingold’s chances. Considering that he voted for Obamacare and the stimulus further places a dent in his alleged armor. He did not get a chance to vote on cap-and-trade (thankfully), but given the high ratings from environmental groups, one can imagine where Feingold stands on that issue.
Of Wisconsin’s eight Congressional districts, five are held by Democrats. All three Republican seats are considered safe. In the 5th, Jim Sensenbrenner represents the most Republican district in the state while in the 6th, voters have not sent a Democrat to Congress since 1978. Normally, in a district rated +2 Republican on the Cook PVI with a decent minority population, it potentially spells trouble for Republicans. Except the Republican in this case is Paul Ryan in the 1st District. Ryan has never received less than 57% of the vote in elections thus far and2010 should be no exception. Additionally, Ryan is the primary voice behind the Roadmap For America (who says Republicans have no ideas?) and is a rising star in the party. His intelligent exchange with Obama during the health care debate summit televised before inducing a coma on the country proved Obama to be a blubbering liar without the aid of teleprompters.
Only two of the five Democratic seats are considered safe- the 2nd and the 4th. One is an open seat being vacated by David Obey in the Seventh District. Here, the Republican candidate Sean Duffy leads his opponent, Julie Lassa, by 9 points in the polls. This district is weakly Democratic (+3 Democrat on Cook PVI). Being rural with a low minority population, demographics alone would favor Republicans in an open seat. And Obey, despite his power in Congress, represents the staunch incumbent having represented the district since 1969. Incidentally, to illustrate perhaps the true leanings of the district, before Obey, the district was represented by Melvin Laird who went on to become Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Defense.
In the Third District, Ron Kind is taking on Republican Dan Kapanke. Like the 7th district, demographics actually favor Kapanke. Although less competitive than the Seventh, should Kind prevail here, it will not be by much. And hurting Kind’s chances even further is his votes in favor of the big three Obama initiatives- health care, cap-and-trade, and the stimulus. Likewise, incumbent Democrat Steve Kagen in the 8th district has an identical voting record on the big three. This district is rated +2 Republican on the Cook PVI. It is no secret that Kagen rode in on the coat tails of Obama and with no Obama at the top of the ticket- in fact, likely Republican winners at the top of the ticket this year- Kagen’s chances against Republican Reid Ribble are even further diminished. In fact, Ribble currently leads by 10 points in the polls.
Wisconsin, like the false interpretations of voters by the Democratic Party in Indiana, is indicative of the unease in America’s heartland with Obama and his policies. Democrats almost nonchalantly took for granted the alleged progressivism of Wisconsin when in fact, that progressivism was waning. It is conceivable that this sentiment could spread west from Wisconsin into Minnesota and eastward into Michigan and possibly south into Illinois. At the very, very least, Wisconsin has altered the national strategy of the DSCC. Whether Obama and the remaining Democrats in the Senate and Congress get it through their thick skulls, the valan