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Wisconsin in 2012: Battleground State Report

Can the tea party continue their winning trend in 2012?


Wisconsin in 2012: Battleground State Report

Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin

Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images

While Wisconsin has long been viewed as one of the more liberal states in the country, the state has recently seen a bit of a conservative revolution. In 2008, Obama turned typically conservative-leaning states such as Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana into swing or battleground states, the tea party revolution has turned Wisconsin back into a swing state for 2012.

Presidential Battle

After trouncing John McCain 56-42% in the state in 2008, President Obama was hoping Wisconsin would be an easy victory heading into 2012. But Republicans had a big time rebound in 2010 and look to keep momentum rolling in their favor. Mitt Romney will attempt to deliver an economic message that drove the tea party to victory, a message successfully delivered by now-US Senator Ron Johnson and Governor Scott Walker. Tommy Thompson, the fairly popular former governor, is likely to be the Republican nominee for the senate race and could provide extra help up the ticket.

Recall Elections

In addition to the regularly scheduled national, state, and federal elections, Wisconsin will also hold a key recall election on June 5, 2012. The recall election features Republican Governor Scott Walker and four state senators who passed a series of conservative legislation that angered state Democrats and labor unions. Read more about the 2012 Wisconsin recall elections).

Senate Battle

After tea party candidate Ron Johnson upended 3-term liberal Democrat Russ Feingold during the 2010 GOP revolution, Republicans are now taking aim at the state's other US Senate seat. Herb Kohl announced he would not seek re-election and Feingold also passed on a run. Tommy Thompson is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, and early polling shows he would perform quite well against his Democratic opposition. While the race was not penciled in early on as a likely pickup opportunity, the Wisconsin seat has become key pickup opportunity for Republicans who are aiming to re-take control of the senate.

Electoral Trends

Wisconsin has voted for the Democratic nominee for president in 7 straight election cycles, and no Republican since Ronald Reagan has carried the state. While Obama won by 15 points in 2010, George W. Bush was competitive in both 2000 and 2004, losing by low single-digit margins in both tries. Prior to 2010, Democrats had control of both US Senate seats for 48 years, with the exception of one single two-term stint during the Reagan era. The US Congressional delegation has swung back and forth over the years, usually following national trends.

Like with most swing state contests, the major question is if the electorate will be more like that of 2008 when "hope and change" was all the rage, or more like 2010 when "don't tread on me" became front and center. In 2010, Republicans swept the governor's race, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold, took the congressional delegation lead, and also nabbed control of both the state senate and the state house. It's highly unlikely that Obama can repeat his success of 2008. However, even win George W. Bush was doing well nationwide, he was still unable to take Wisconsin meaning it will certainly be an uphill climb for Romney.

Major Issues

In Wisconsin, the races for president and senate may prove to be just as much a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker as it is on the candidates themselves. The Democratic candidates will lean heavily on collective-bargaining and will get a boost from big labor in that endeavor. If Walker wins his June 5 recall election, the Republican candidates will view Walker's positions as the winning ticket and will continue that battle on the national stage, probably using Wisconsin as the model.

Since Obama and the Democrats have no interest in talking about the economy or unemployment, they will probably stick with saying that Republicans like Wisconsinite Paul Ryan want to push grandma over the cliff while in her wheelchair (an actual DNC ad). Republicans will hammer away at the economy, unemployment, gas prices, and Obamacare.


November momentum will depend heavily on the outcome of the June recall elections and the ability of big labor to get out the vote. If big labor is strong enough to oust Walker, they will probably have enough juice to carry Obama. If the Republicans beat back the heavily funded effort to oust them, this will point to Wisconsin being a very competitive race for both the presidential and senate contests. A GOP victory could provide extra momentum heading into November and remind the political establishment that the tea party is there to stay.

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