Wisconsin Senate hangs in the balance in Tuesday’s election
MADISON -- It's been four years since Wisconsin Republicans swept Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, seizing control of the governor's office, Assembly and Senate.
MADISON - It’s been four years since Wisconsin Republicans swept Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, seizing control of the governor’s office, Assembly and Senate.
Since then, Democrats have had little power to stop Gov. Scott Walker and conservative lawmakers from passing their agenda, including Walker’s controversial measure to all but end collective bargaining for most public workers, a polarizing bill relaxing regulations for iron mining, new redistricting maps and restrictions on abortion.
It looks highly unlikely that Democrats will be able to flip the 99-person state Assembly, which the GOP controls 60-38-1. All of those seats are up for election on Tuesday.
But several competitive state Senate races have Democrats hopeful that they can win control of that chamber.
“I’ve never been one to talk big at the bar,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee. “But I feel confident in the abilities of the candidates and their teams. There’s a path for us to get to the majority and we’re following it, while we’re not taking anything for granted.”
Larson said he thinks “it’s all going to come down to turnout.”
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, dismissed those comments.
“I think there’s very little chance that we lose control of the Senate,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s more a question of how many seats we come back with.”
Fitzgerald acknowledged that high turnout elections have typically favored Democrats while low turnouts favor the GOP, but he added that he believes more Republicans have become comfortable with early voting.
Joe Heim, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said he thinks Democrats would need impressive voter turnout to flip the Senate.
“It’s possible if it was a particularly Democratic year, if the Democrats’ ground game really turned out surprising numbers,” he said.
Election officials on Thursday predicted that 2.5 million people will cast ballots on Tuesday, which would be similar to the turnout in the 2012 recall targeting Walker.
Republicans held an 18-15 majority in the Senate for much of the last session. Their majority dropped to 17-15 in June when Sen. Neal Kedzie,
That seat is expected to remain Republican, with state Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, the front-runner in the race.
Seventeen of the Senate’s 33 seats are up for election, and a number of veteran lawmakers are retiring. Vacancies historically have led to competitive races, and Democrats hope to take advantage of several of them. Those include seats held by retiring Sens. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, and Joe Leibham, R-Town of Sheboygan.
Schultz has drawn criticism from his fellow Republicans in the Legislature over his fierce independence - he voted against Act 10, Walker’s collective bargaining measure, and the GOP mining law. But he has remained overwhelmingly popular in his 17th Senate district.
Schultz has stopped short of making an endorsement in the race, but has repeatedly praised Democratic candidate Pat Bomhack, a lawyer in Spring Green, and criticized state Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green.
“Pat Bomhack is a better fit for the district,” Schultz said Friday. “Howard Marklein, he said I wasn’t conservative enough, and I just felt he wasn’t a good fit for the district. But I think people should decide for themselves.”
Another vacant seat is one now held by Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, who is running for lieutenant governor. That 21st Senate District seat has swung between the parties for years, but the new GOP redistricting maps could make it hard for a Democrat to win.