** Promoted from the diaries. – Aaron **
No other state in the union saw as big of a transformation of political control in the 2010 election as Wisconsin, going from liberal domination to conservative leadership. Following Gov. Walker’s bold collective bargaining reforms, the Left protested, whined, and forced recalls that ultimately failed. These activities spurred the Tea Party into action and gave them invaluable preparation to advance the conservative movement. Now Tea Party leaders are running for office and upgrading their Congressional representation. The Wisconsin 6th Congressional District race demonstrates their political muscle and shows how they keep winning in Wisconsin.
Perhaps the Left’s biggest miscalculation in Wisconsin was what their tantrums would do to the Right. Typically the Left has had significant advantages in ground game and grassroots organization, but the Left’s childish activities helped the Right to see the need to create a permanent political infrastructure. Local Tea Party groups and leaders quickly learned how to run sophisticated recall elections against liberal State Senators who fled the state to avoid a vote on the collective bargaining reforms. The Tea Party also became a stronger influence over the legislative process by pushing for rejection of Medicaid expansion, which would have cost the state in the long run. While the Right typically only shows up for election related activities between Labor Day and Election Day, they learned to de facto organize year round.
These activities no doubt helped Gov. Walker increase his win margin from 2010 to the 2012 Recall Election. It also helped to significantly narrow the gap in Obama’s win in 2012. In fact, no other battleground state saw as large of a swing from 2008 to 2012. Obama won Wisconsin in 2008 by 14 points, but that win was halved to 7 points in 2012 (even though Romney’s base was significantly less enthusiastic than Walker’s).
The Tea Party in Wisconsin is increasingly focusing on finding and running candidates for local office to build a farm team of conservatives who are poised to run for office in the future. In this past spring election cycle, two Tea Party leaders won County Board Supervisor races, in Waukesha County and Vilas County. They have also found candidates to run and represent their values by flipping local boards in Menomonee Falls and Kenosha.
Furthermore, the Tea Party targeted Congressman Tom Petri, a moderate Republican who had represented the 6th Congressional District for 35 years. In January, they began looking for possible candidates to primary challenge Petri. Ultimately, while several solid conservatives considered a run, State Sen. Glenn Grothman announced his primary challenge in April. This credible challenge (Grothman had previously defeated a RINO state senator to get his seat in 2004) forced Petri to retire, rather than run again. With an open race, two other candidates joined the primary. At the primary’s end, Grothman won by 219 votes and had received considerable local Tea Party support. One local tea party group even geared up for a possible recount, which ended up not taking place.
Simply put, the Tea Party continues winning in Wisconsin, demonstrating its increasing strength. Rather than putting on political rallies, they are organizing year round, finding candidates to run for office and represent their values, running for office themselves, and primarying long-time moderate incumbents. The national media may ignore the Tea Party’s wins, but the evidence is clear from Wisconsin that the Tea Party is getting smarter and keeps winning.
Matt Batzel is the National Executive Director of American Majority, after serving as the Wisconsin Executive Director for them from 2010-2014.