Besides the House and Presidential race, there is a Senatorial race this year in Wisconsin. First, however, Wisconsin is one of the hardest states to predict since their political moods seem to shift in the wind. Part of this is attributable to the nature of the state where population centers are very Democratic, but once outside that area it is very Republican. Thus, it allows a Republican Governor to win, survive a recall, then win reelection. Or, it allows a Tea Party favorite like Ron Johnson to oust a stalwart liberal like Russ Feingold.
This year, Feingold is back seeking to reclaim his seat from Johnson. It should not have come as a major surprise. After his 2010 defeat, he never really dismantled his campaign finance infrastructure. A good portion of his current large war chest is attributable to money left over from 2010. Besides their campaign money, at least $7 million in outside spending is pouring into the state with at least $4 million of it dedicated to running ads against Feingold.
It is possible that results at the top of the ticket could impact this race. Wisconsin voters supported neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump with voters preferring Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders in their respective primaries. Exhibiting some confidence in the final result, the DSCC has pulled back some funding in this race of late since Feingold has shown a consistent lead in the polls throughout.
Trump has trailed Clinton by an average of 6-7 points in Wisconsin, although Trump is closing that gap of late despite his many gaffes. Except for a couple of recent outlying polls showing Trump with a marginal 2-point lead, he- like Johnson- has consistently trailed Clinton in Wisconsin. In short, Johnson would have to seriously outperform the top of the ticket. But, the prognosis is not good.
First, it is virtually impossible to win having perpetually trailed in the polls. Something dramatic would have to happen in the time remaining, or all the polls are wrong. Second, Johnson would have to incredibly surpass Trump’s performance to allow for splitting the ticket. Third, every poll conducted thus far indicates that a split ticket will not occur.
What Johnson has going for him is the dynamics of the race this year which pits two highly unpopular candidates at the top of the ticket, and recent history where ticket splitting has rarely occurred. In other words, we are due for a spate of ticket splitting this year.
Further, the race is complicated by the presence of Jill Stein and Gary Johnson on the ballot in Wisconsin. How many votes they siphon away from Clinton or Trump remains to be seen. Generally, Wisconsin voters choose third party candidates at a higher percentage rate than the national average by 2-3 percentage points. For example, Ross Perot pulled in 10% and 21% of the vote in Wisconsin in 1996 and 1992 respectively. With a Clinton-Trump match-up, Stein and Johnson together could conceivably siphon off up to 12% of the vote collectively.
Still, Ron Johnson would have to prove his case to the voters to allow ticket splitting. Most indications are that this will not happen. Other than Mark Kirk in Illinois, Johnson is one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republicans running this year.
The Congressional delegation favors the GOP 5-3 in a blue state. In two of those Democratic districts, Republicans are not even fielding a candidate. The only competitive district is the 8th District in the eastern portion of the state centered around Green Bay. Republican Reid Ribble is retiring leaving the seat open. Republican Mike Gallagher easily won his primary while Democrat Tom Nelson had no primary opposition. Recently, the DCCC pulled a week’s worth of advertisement out of this race after a late-August poll showed Gallagher with a sizable lead over Nelson. The Democratic Party insists they still have confidence in Nelson despite the scale-back of advertisements. Unlike other areas, social security reform has played a major role in this race. Still, it is likely the GOP will hold onto this seat.
To summarize, one should expect Feingold to defeat Johnson in the Senate race, but for the GOP to maintain their 5-3 advantage in the House delegation. I also expect Clinton to pull out a 6-7 point margin of victory over Trump in this state and take the 10 electoral votes despite recent polls and Trump’s assertion of expanding the map in favor of the GOP.
After this entry, the electoral vote count stands at 249-180 in favor of Hillary Clinton. The GOP loses another seat in the Senate and the advantage now stands at 50-50. There is no change in the House with the GOP still ahead 238-197.