Politically, Wisconsin is a difficult state to prognosticate. It contains some of the most liberal bastions in America alongside pockets of staunch conservatism. It is one of the birthplaces of the American progressive movement and 1960s radicalism while being a home to strong Tea Party sensibilities. It was the birthplace of Tommy Thompson’s welfare reforms which was the template for a national model. Overall, Democratic governors are the exception to the norm despite Wisconsin’s blue state status.
Against this general backdrop, there are some interesting congressional races and a red hot gubernatorial election this year. The current congressional delegation favors the GOP 5-3. Two of the three Democratic incumbents occupy very Democratic districts and there is no fear of a Republican take over in the 2nd or 4th Districts. If there was to be a surprise- and it would be a very outside possibility- it would be in the 3rd District. Republican Tony Kurtz is considered a long shot, but a viable one. Keep an eye on this one Election Day as it may be a race that is indicative of the mood in the electorate.
Among the Republicans, their districts are mostly in borderline range except the open 6th where Republican Glenn Grothman should win as should [mc_name name=’Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S000244′ ] in the 5th. [mc_name name=’Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000570′ ], because of his name, will take the 1st District but it should be noted that Ryan could not secure this district for Romney in 2012. That leaves the 7th and 8th Districts held by [mc_name name=’Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’D000614′ ] and [mc_name name=’Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000587′ ] respectively. The 7th is located in the northern part of the state which Cook rates +2 Republican (+1 by me). Democratic candidate Kelly Westlund is mounting a decent challenge to incumbent [mc_name name=’Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’D000614′ ]. While she is touting the progressive experience, Duffy is viewed not as a staunch conservative and more as a libertarian. Both views have appeal in this district. Incumbency has it advantages and I believe Duffy will win this race.
Finally, there is the Green Bay-based 8th District where although the District is slightly more Republican than the 7th, its Republican incumbent [mc_name name=’Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000587′ ] is probably more endangered than Duffy. However, he has waged a commonsense campaign without taking too hard a stance on any issue, but remaining true to his conservative roots. His opponent- Ron Gruett- has been very vocal, populist and liberal. For example, when asked how he differs from his party leadership, he says he would put bankers in jail. His soak-the-rich through the tax code mentality may work in Milwaukee or Madison, but not Green Bay. In short, Ribble will win.
In the gubernatorial race, Scott Walker has been a lightning rod among liberals. A union backed recall effort failed, the first in American history. He actually emerged stronger afterwards. This race is classic as it pits the Midwestern practical conservatism of Scott Walker against the liberal, organized-labor-backed progressivism of Democrat Mary Burke. The flash point is education and funding. Walker’s first reforms were necessary adjustments to how the state deals with public worker unions, including teachers. The mass demonstrations and the childish running to Illinois by Democrats in the legislature is a thing of the past. The democratic process worked including a referendum via the recall process. What the unions- especially the teachers- realized is that the reforms were not the great cataclysm many predicted.
Against this background, Burke is waging a close campaign against Walker. Polling has been all over the place with Walker reaching his zenith in March. But because this is Wisconsin and given the drama of the past four years in Madison, everyone knew this would be a tough battle. Big names have come in on both sides as has outside money. And the Democrats are afraid of another Walker victory which is why they resorted to such silly actions as John Doe prosecutions against Walker that ended in the trash bin.
Furthermore, a Scott Walker loss would put a damper on Scott Walker’s presidential aspirations. Assume Walker wins and then embarks on a campaign of reforms that work. That is the Democratic fear behind a Walker victory and that is the real push behind Burke’s support. Whether it is the fake prosecutions, the “Walker hates you” subtext of statements to teachers, or the silly “war on women” meme to garner female voters and “voter suppression efforts” to garner minority voters, Democrats are pulling out all the stops in Wisconsin. It is going to fail because although Scott Walker may have his problems in Wisconsin among some segments of the electorate, but he will win reelection. Prediction: Scott Walker in a close 1-2 point race.