We're told every election that this is the most important election of our lifetimes, at least by those who are on the ballot. Every election is indeed important and can have significant consequences beyond the next two years. For example, whichever candidate is elected governor in November will have a significant role in the redistricting process in 2021. Will Republicans have complete control over the process as they did in 2011 or will there be a split government, leaving the courts to decide it? Will Democrats take over Congress and impeach the President for only the third time in history?
Barring a huge Democrat wave, Republicans will maintain their majority in the State Assembly. In Wisconsin, the GOP currently holds five of the eight Congressional seats—a majority they likely will maintain. However, there will be close races up and down the ballot at the federal, state, and local level. Here are the ones that could have the most impact, in Wisconsin and nationally:
Scott Walker (R) is running for a third full term—albeit his fourth election, including the recall—against State Superintendent Tony Evers (D). At its core, this race is nothing more than a referendum on Walker. Few voters remain who don't have an opinion on Walker; most either love him or hate him. Evers has been elected statewide three times as Superintendent, never receiving less than 57 percent of the vote. However, those races were a much lower turnout and haven't had the same partisan tone as the one he is in now. Walker has won by six points in each of the three elections for Governor.
Tammy Baldwin(D) is up for her first re-election after defeating former Governor Tommy Thompson (R) in 2012. In that election, Wisconsin voted for Barack Obama and Baldwin only five months after Walker beat back his recall challenge. Baldwin now takes on State Senator Leah Vukmir (R). While Baldwin is not as vulnerable as other Democrats around the country who are on the ballot this fall, Wisconsin has seen more money spent on ads in this race than any other race in the country.
Baldwin is among 10 Democrats running for re-election in states Donald Trump carried in 2016, while only one Republican is running in a state carried by Hillary Clinton (Dean Heller - Nev.). With limited resources, Republicans cannot challenge all 10 seats and Democrats cannot defend all 10 seats, so both sides will be triaging as the election gets closer. It remains to be seen which way Wisconsin will go in November.
U.S. House of Representatives - 1st District
Speaker Paul Ryan surprised many with his announcement earlier this spring that he would not seek re-election. Democrat Randy Bryce (a.k.a. "Iron Stache") raised millions of dollars from around the country after his first campaign ad went viral prior to Ryan's announcement. No one would think the seat was in play if Ryan was running for re-election, but the fundraising advantage for Bryce and the partisan makeup of the district makes a flip to the Democrat's column possible.
Republican Bryan Steil—businessman and member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents—won the nomination in August with the backing of Speaker Ryan and most of the Republican establishment out of the gate. Additionally, reports of Bryce's nine previous arrests have led to national Democrats dropping support over the course of the campaign. The 1st District has drifted more Republican over the course of the years and will likely stay in GOP hands.
U.S. House of Representatives - 6th District
The 6th Congressional District has been represented by a Republican in all but two years since 1939. The only reason this race is even in play is because of the name and money of Republican Glenn Grothman's Democrat opponent, Dan Kohl. Kohl is the nephew of former U.S. Senator and Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl. While he ran unsuccessfully for State Assembly in 2008, he has been working in politics in D.C. before moving back to Wisconsin to run for Congress.
Grothman was first elected in 2014 and defeated both his opponents by 20 points. With Kohl's significant family wealth and Grothman's lackluster fundraising, this race will be closer than it normally would but likely will remain in the GOP column.
Wisconsin State Senate
There are four races that both sides are focusing on: 1st, 17th, 19th, 23rd. Republicans currently hold an 18-15 majority in upper chamber and represent all those districts except the 1st. And even in the 1st, the GOP lost that seat for the first time since the 1970s in a special election in June when Democrat Caleb Frostman defeated Andre Jacque. Jacque and Frostman will face each other again in November.
Senator Howard Marklein (R-17th), Chair of the Senate Financial Institutions Committee, holds the seat most likely to flip to the Democrats of any seat. This district consistently votes for Democrats at the top of the ticket (Obama, Clinton) yet votes for Republicans down ballot. Marklein is a prolific fundraiser and is facing a first-time candidate in Democrat Kriss Marion.
In the final two seats, Republicans are favored to retain control unless the Democrat wave is big enough to carry the underdog challengers. Senate President Roger Roth faces Outagamie County Democrat Party Chair Lee Snodgrass in the 19th, and State Representative Kathy Bernier (R) is running to replace Senator Terry Moulton against physician Chris Kapsner (D).
If you have any questions on these races or any others, or about how to release funds in your conduit before the election, please don't hesitate to contact me at 608-441-1215 or via email. To see what will be on your ballot on November 6, visit myvote.wi.gov.