Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Wisconsin Supreme Court: Prosser Now Leads, No End In Sight

More craziness is coming from the Badger State of Wisconsin. The state Supreme Court election held Tuesday, which will likely decide the constitutionality of Gov. Scott Walker’s new public collective bargaining law, has taken a crazy turn. Yesterday, JoAnne Kloppenburg, the state’s assistant attorney general, declared victory by just 204 votes of almost 1.8 million ballots cast. Today, however, a much different story is unfolding. Now the official count has incumbent Justice David Prosser ahead by 40 votes statewide, as the tabulations in Winnebago County were apparently mis-reported by the Associated Press.

Judges in Wisconsin run in non-partisan elections, but it is clear that Prosser is part of the state Supreme Court’s 4-3 conservative majority and Kloppenburg would join the liberal wing to give them the advantage.

Another county clerk also is reporting further discrepancies as the canvass of votes continues. It appears that Prosser will add a large number of votes from Waukesha County. Kloppenburg is getting a boost from some rural counties. The big story, however, may be not counting an entire locality. The town of Brookfield in Waukesha County, was apparently missed altogether. Thus, the Waukesha County under-count could exceed 14,000, no small number especially when dealing with such minuscule differences between the two candidates. If the canvass verifies this mistake, estimates predict that Prosser’s lead will grow to about 7,000 votes.

It is clear that the final result here won’t be determined for weeks, as litigation is sure to follow from the candidate who ends up a few votes short in the final certified tally. The election was cast as a battle between the public employee unions and Gov. Walker’s support groups. The fact that this battle was fought to a virtual draw, with a turnout almost double that of their normal odd-year election (and two-thirds of the total number of those casting ballots in the 2010 general election) must be viewed as a victory for Walker. The unions are energized, have superior organizational ability and resources, and should have finished in the low 50s for this election, particularly in a union-friendly state such as Wisconsin.
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A Wisconsin Majority: 50.007 Percent to 49.993 Percent

Normally, a spring election that features only a state Supreme Court justice running for re-election is not a major political story, but everything emanating from Wisconsin these days is bigger than life.

Such is the story of Supreme Court Justice David Prosser who, in running for a second 10-year term, appears to have lost by just 204 votes of more than 1.48 million ballots cast. Because Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial new budget law that severely restricts public employee collective bargaining will likely go before the Wisconsin Supreme Court to test its constitutionality, this race became highly significant.

The non-partisan Supreme Court is perceived to have a 4-3 conservative bent and Prosser is part of the majority. Therefore, the campaign posed a test for both union and conservative activists who took to the streets in order to flex their respective political muscle. The results suggest that the two sides fought to a draw. At this writing, union-backed Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg has declared victory, but absentee ballots remain to be tabulated and we can expect a lengthy recount process whatever the actual final result.

The voter turnout was extremely high, thus affirming the polarized state of Wisconsin politics. In the 2010 general election, just over 2.1 million people voted. In the normally sleepy April election held yesterday, more than 68 percent of those voting last November returned. In the 2009 Supreme Court election, less than 800,000 people participated, proving the motivating effect of this public employee union issue upon the electorate.
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Derailing the Ryan Express in Wisconsin?

Liberal activists are beginning to tout a new congressional candidate who they believe has a chance of unseating House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) next year. The Swing State Project, a national liberal campaign blog, is reporting that Kenosha County Supervisor Rob Zerban is taking concrete steps toward assembling a 2012 electoral challenge against the popular Republican incumbent.

Paul Ryan is an up-and-coming national Republican political figure. Now in his 7th term in the House, he was elected in 1998 at the young age of 28. Mr. Ryan was appointed ranking member of the Budget Committee in the last Congress and became the panel’s chair with the Republican sweep back into the majority in the last election. Ryan’s name has popped up as a long shot presidential candidate, and also a possible Senate contestant if Wisconsin’s senior Sen. Herb Kohl (D) decides to retire. For his part, Rep. Ryan is committed only to running for re-election in 2012, saying he wants to finish his allotted terms as Budget chairman in order to make progress toward the goal of reducing the federal deficit before running for another office.

Zerban undoubtedly looks better on paper to the Democratic candidate recruitment team than he does face-to-face against Ryan. Though he is an elected local supervisor, Kenosha County represents only 25 percent of the 1st CD total population, and the Board of Supervisors has 28 single-member districts. Therefore, Zerban’s entire constituency is just short of 5,500 people, only about 7.5% of the total congressional district population.

The liberals also opine that Ryan is too conservative for what should be a marginal congressional district, and that redistricting really won’t greatly affect his seat. They say this because the territory occupies the southeast corner of the state, bordering Illinois on the south and Lake Michigan to the east, so it doesn’t appear much can change.

Both arguments are incorrect. First, WI-1 is a much different district than when former Armed Services Committee chairman and future US Defense Secretary Les Aspin (D-WI-1) represented the seat during his 22-year congressional career (1971-1993). Pres. Barack Obama did carry the 1st in 2008, but only with 51% of the vote. Former Pres. George Bush performed well there in 2004, winning a 54-46 percent victory. Bush also carried the 1st with 51% in 2000.

For his part, Ryan has been a huge vote-getter during his congressional tenure. He has averaged an impressive 64.4 percent through his seven elections, four times breaking 65 percent of the vote. He is a strong fundraiser, too. In 2010, when he romped to victory with 68 percent, Ryan raised more than $3.9 million for his re-election. His year-end 2010 report shows he finished the campaign cycle with over $3 million cash-on-hand, one of the best financial entries for the entire House.

In terms of redistricting, the 1st district must shed 17,169 people. Since Republicans are in total control of the Wisconsin redistricting process, the swing between Ryan’s district and those of neighboring Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2; +40,296 over-populated) and Gwen Moore (D-WI-4; -41,858 under-populated) will result in Ryan receiving a few more Republicans and the two Democrats also getting a bit stronger. Thus, the new WI-1 is likely to be even better for Ryan than the current district configuration he has dominated over the past 10 years.

While the controversy over Wisconsin’s public employee labor policy continues toward a political meltdown, thus throwing the state’s politics into chaos, Rep. Ryan appears completely secure for his 2012 election. Though Supervisor Zerban may well be preparing for a run against him, such a battle will likely sputter and become another easy ride for the veteran Republican. National Democrats will likely find more tempting targets in other locations than Chairman Paul Ryan’s southern Wisconsin district.
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Wisconsin Polling Results

More data is now available pertaining to the attitudes of people in Wisconsin — and within America — regarding the Badger State’s highly publicized budget stand-off. Both sides remain intransigent in their positions. Polls are breaking relatively even in terms of support for Gov. Scott Walker (R) or the public employee unions. Walker’s backing has waned a bit after the unions said they would accept the governor’s financial terms in exchange for the bargaining organizations continuing to possess their current status and privileges. Walker rejected the compromise.

Three recent polls on the subject were entered into the public domain. The Wisconsin Reporter conducted a poll through Pulse Opinion Research, a company owned by Rasmussen Reports. The survey (Feb. 21; 500 “likely” Wisconsin voters) showed a virtual dead heat as to the respondents’ opinion of Gov. Walker’s performance. By a margin of 49-48%, the respondents were favorable toward Walker. Additionally, on a 71-22% count, those participating in the Reporter poll believe that the governor’s fiscal requirements placed upon the unions are fair, but a 56% majority also say that public employees should have the right to collectively bargain. With Wisconsin’s history of being a strong union state, breaking even is actually good news for Walker.

Public Policy Polling went into the field Feb. 24-27, interviewing 768 Wisconsin voters, and found Walker’s numbers to be weakening. PPP shows Walker’s job approval rating turning slightly upside down, now 46:52% favorable to unfavorable. The numbers actually might be a bit better for the governor than one might notice at first glance, however. Though Walker won the November election 52-46%, PPP reports a dead heat among the cell sample when asked gubernatorial preference from November. The governor received 47% of the group’s votes and Democratic nominee Tom Barrett garnered an equal percentage. By a 52-47% margin the respondents would vote in Barrett’s favor if the election were held today. In terms of recalling the governor, an equal number would sign a petition to place the question on the ballot (48%) as those who would not.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press also conducted a national survey on the Wisconsin situation through Princeton Data Source, under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The poll questioned 1,009 adults from around the country (678 via landline, 331 on cell phones) during the same Feb. 24-27 period as PPP. They found 41% of the respondents supported the union position and 32% back Gov. Walker. The key difference here is that Pew surveyed “adults,” not screening for likely or even registered voters. Such samples tend to skew more liberal. Thus their results, which slightly but decidedly favor the unions, are predictable.

The data assessing the political fall-out in Wisconsin show that Gov. Walker has more staying power than others who have proposed similar cuts in other places during previous times. The trend suggests that the pro-Walker forces must continue to reinforce the reasons for the governor’s actions as the union arguments are certainly gaining some steam, especially when considering whether or not the general population favors collective bargaining rights for public employees. It appears Walker needs to provide a stronger foundation to support his argument for wanting to change the current union representation system.
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Wisconsin Fight: The Public Perception

Rasmussen Reports released the results of their new nationwide poll (Feb. 18-19; 1,000 registered US voters; conducted by Pulse Opinion Research for Rasmussen Reports) pertaining to the controversial Wisconsin budget showdown. By a margin of 48-38 percent, the respondents favored Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) position on the dispute versus that of the state’s public employee unions. To help curb the Badger State’s huge budget deficit, Gov. Walker is promoting a bill to force public employees to pay for half of their pension benefits and 12.5 percent of their healthcare program, among other things. The legislation would also limit some of their current collective bargaining rights. Protestors on both sides of the question have been swarming the state capitol building in Madison drawing considerable national attention. The legislation is stalled because Democratic state senators have fled to Illinois in order to break a quorum.

The poll also clearly identifies a fundamental issue of polarizing difference between Democrats and Republicans: 68 percent of Democrats support the union position while the exact same number (68 percent) of Republicans support Gov. Walker. Fifty-six percent of unaffiliated independent respondents favor Walker’s stance, accounting for the overall 10-point margin in his favor.
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Our 2012 Senate Outlook

With three new Senate vacancies already present in the 2012 election cycle, it’s time to update our election grid. Democrats, including the two Independent senators who caucus with the party, must defend 23 states compared to just 10 for Republicans. The GOP needs a net gain of four seats to claim the outright majority, but 13 to reach 60, the number needed to invoke cloture on any issue.

Democratic Seats – Most Vulnerable

North Dakota – Sen. Kent Conrad’s retirement gives the Republicans their best shot at converting a Democratic state. The GOP political bench here is robust and strong, thus the eventual Republican nominee will enter the general election as the favorite.

Nebraska – Sen. Ben Nelson, a retirement possibility, is politically damaged. He already trails at least two potential GOP candidates in polling, Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg. Right now, in this very early going, the Republicans are favored to convert the state.

Lean Democrat

Florida – The politically marginal Sunshine State suggests that Sen. Bill Nelson (D) will face a highly competitive 2012 election challenge. The GOP field is yet to be determined, but Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) appears to be the only Congressman positioning himself for a run. Right now, Nelson must be viewed as the favorite, but this will become a serious race.

Michigan – The Republican resurgence here, and the early polling, suggests that Sen. Debbie Stabenow has a difficult road to re-election. GOP candidates have yet to come forward, thus the current Lean D rating is attached. Michigan is certainly a state to watch. The presidential election year turnout model is a plus for Stabenow.

Toss-ups

Missouri – Sen. Claire McCaskill is polling in the dead heat range against former Sen. Jim Talent (R), the man she defeated in 2006. Talent is not a sure candidate, but former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman is. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) also is reportedly considering entering the contest, particularly if Talent remains on the sidelines. All would be very competitive against McCaskill in a state that is trending a bit more Republican during the past two elections.

Montana – Sen. Jon Tester can also expect a very competitive GOP challenge in what is normally a Republican state in a presidential year. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) has not yet committed to the Senate race. Former Lt. Governor nominee Steve Daines is an official candidate and actively raising money.

Ohio – Sen. Sherrod Brown faces tough sledding presumably against newly elected Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R). Ohio will again assume its normal role as a battleground state for the presidential campaign, which, in 2012, could help Taylor. This may become the most hotly contested Senate race in the country.

Virginia – The actions of former governor and Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine and defeated gubernatorial candidate and ex-DNC chair Terry McAuliffe (both saying they won’t run for Senate in 2012 under any circumstances) suggests that Sen. Jim Webb will seek re-election, even though the incumbent has yet to confirm his intentions. Former senator and governor George Allen (R) will soon announce his candidacy, setting up a re-match with Webb. The Democrat won by 7,231 votes of more than 2.3 million cast five years ago. Early polling suggests a dead heat.

Questions

Hawaii – Speculation is prevalent that Sen. Daniel Akaka, who will be 88 at the time of the 2012 election, will retire. If so, the Republicans will be competitive with former Gov. Linda Lingle. If Akaka runs, and early indications suggest he will, the Democratic incumbent should have little trouble winning again.

New Jersey – Sen. Bob Menendez is polling below 50% in early survey trials but comfortably ahead of all potential Republican rivals. Though the senator is the decided favorite today, this race could become one to watch. Republicans may be looking most favorably toward entrepreneur John Crowley, who appears to have the potential of generating measurable political strength.

New Mexico – Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) is in strong position for re-election and is viewed as a heavy favorite. Republican former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), always a good vote-getter, could make challenging Bingaman a competitive race. She is said to be seriously considering launching a bid.

Wisconsin – Though he has been mum on his re-election intentions, Sen. Herb Kohl is another retirement possibility. If he chooses not to run, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings to run again. Should the senator seek re-election, he will likely face only a minor challenge.

Likely Democrat

Connecticut – Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) retirement, thereby avoiding an unpredictable three-way race, greatly improves the Democrats’ chances. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and ex-Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz are announced Democratic candidates. Edward Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator, is rumored as a possibility. The two losing 2010 nominees, Tom Foley in the governor’s race and Linda McMahon for the Senate, are both mentioned as possible candidates; so is former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2).

Pennsylvania – Until the Republicans field a top-tier candidate, something they have yet to do, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is a strong favorite for re-election. A serious campaign could develop, but not unless a stronger Republican joins the current field of candidates.

Rhode Island – The Republicans could move this state into the competitive category if former Gov. Don Carcieri (R) decides to run. In a presidential year, it is unlikely he will, so Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is a solid favorite for re-election. 2010 gubernatorial nominee John Robitaille (R) has already closed the door on a senatorial challenge.

Vermont – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) is another strong favorite for re-election, but state Auditor Tom Salmon (R) is making noises about challenging the first-term senator. A statewide official would give the Republicans the opportunity of making this a competitive race.

Safe Democrats

California – Dianne Feinstein (D)
Delaware – Tom Carper (D)
Maryland – Ben Cardin (D)
New York – Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
Washington – Maria Cantwell (D)
West Virginia – Joe Manchin (D)

Republican Questions

Arizona – Retirement rumors are swirling around Sen. Jon Kyl. The senator has yet to begin an active re-election effort, thus suggesting he may decide to call it a career. The seat is competitive in an open situation.

Nevada – This is clearly the most vulnerable Republican seat, should scandal-tainted Sen. John Ensign win re-nomination. Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is considering a Republican primary challenge. Heller would have a good chance of winning the nomination and the seat. Democrats are in strong shape if Ensign qualifies for the general election. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) is a potential Democratic candidate and promises to make her intentions known in mid-February.

Lean Republican

Massachusetts – Sen. Scott Brown (R), elected in an early 2010 special election, must stand for a full term in 2012. Despite Massachusetts being one of the most reliable of Democratic states, Brown’s numbers appear strong and he has a legitimate chance to win again. Once the Democratic field gels, a better assessment can be made.

Likely Republican

Indiana – Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who will be 80 at the time of the 2012 general election, has already announced that he is seeking re-election. A predicted Tea Party primary challenge could be his biggest problem. Lugar looks strong in a general election, but the GOP primary situation could change the outlook.

Maine – Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) has some of the better general election approval ratings of any 2012 in-cycle senator but, she too, has Tea Party problems in the Republican primary. Her situation in that regard has improved of late, however.

Safe Republicans

Mississippi – Roger Wicker (R)
Tennessee – Bob Corker (R)
Texas – Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) – Open Seat
Utah – Orrin Hatch (R) – Potential Tea Party convention challenge
Wyoming – John Barrasso (R)

Analyzing this initial line-up, it appears the Republicans’ chances of gaining an outright majority are good today, though there is no chance the net increase could be so high as to score filibuster-proof control.
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After Hutchison, Who’s Next?

At the end of last week, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) became the first 2012 re-election cycle senator to announce her retirement. Who else may follow her lead?

At first glance, considering the senators who are either elderly, already trailing in pre-election polling, or about whom retirement speculation has publicly abounded, several have not yet committed to seeking re-election.

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R), originally elected in 1994, always runs hard-charging political campaigns. At the end of September, he uncharacteristically had $620,000 in his campaign account, a low number for someone who spent over $15.5 million during his 2006 campaign. We will have a strong sense about whether Sen. Kyl is running when the 2010 year-end financial reports are entered into the public domain, something we can count on seeing in early February.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will be 79 at the time of the 2012 election. The fact that she did not enter the 2010 California Governor’s race when her road to Sacramento would have been a relatively easy one, suggests that she is winding down her career. Her campaign account is rather flush, holding $3.7 million at the end of September. In 2006, she only had to spend $8 million, so if 2012 is anything like her competitive state six years ago, and it appears to be, the decision of whether to run again will likely be a personal and not a political one.

Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is telling supporters that he will seek a fourth term in 2012, despite being 88 at the time of the next election. He had $76,000 in his September bank account, which isn’t a telling factor since action happens late in Hawaii politics.

Speculation continues to center around Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), and the fact that he has not announced a 2012 campaign. His circumspect statements about re-election lead people to question whether he will retire from elective politics after just one term. Sen. Webb will turn 65 in February. He is promising a definitive announcement in the next few weeks. Webb’s September financial filing revealed $471,000 cash-on-hand. He spent $8.6 million in 2006.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), another incumbent who will be closing in on 80 at the time of the next election (he turns 76 in February), also has not committed to seeking a fifth term in 2012. This is of particular importance because just-defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings and will clearly run if Sen. Kohl decides to retire. With the late Wisconsin primary, the senator has the luxury of waiting for most of this year to make a final decision. Mr. Kohl had only $26,000 in his account in September but, being a multi-millionaire, his campaign financial situation is not particularly indicative of what may be his ultimate political plan.

There is another group of three senators who are actively seeking re-election, but whose political fortunes appear challenging. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and John Ensign (R-NV) all trail substantially either in primary (Ensign) or general election (Lieberman, Nelson) polling. Should their political outlook fail to improve, it is not out of the realm of possibility that some or all from this group could decide to drop out of the race prior to the candidate filing deadline.

Right now, it is difficult to project just which states beyond Texas will feature open senate races, but you can believe that several will evolve in that manner.
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