9 Election Takeaways
Tom Barrett might be in trouble, Chris Abele definitely is. So is Puente.
Does Bob Donovan have a chance against Tom Barrett? Is Chris Larson now the frontrunner for county executive? Did “signgate” hurt Nik Kovac? Will any incumbent aldermen lose their jobs? Here are the night’s biggest takeaways.
1. Chris Abele Could Lose
Easily the night’s biggest surprise. Sure we knew Abele was vulnerable, but who thought he’d lose the primary? Larson’s narrow victory, by only 708 votes, makes his campaign suddenly look very alive, despite a series of missteps. The primary performance should greatly help Larson’s fundraising efforts. He was outspent 20-to-1 in the primary by Abele.
To avoid awkward political confrontation over the next six weeks, just tell your friends you intend to vote for Chris. Also, don’t open your mailbox. It’s going to be loaded with campaign mailers.
Fun fact: When Larson successfully challenged incumbent Democratic state Sen. Jeff Plale in the partisan primary in 2010, Larson’s wife, Jessica Brumm-Larson, couldn’t make the election night party at Studio Lounge in Bay View. She was busy with an internship for her PhD in Psychology in Omaha, Nebraska. The reverse was true last night, Larson was stuck in Madison performing his duties as a state senator, while his wife held down the fort, answering questions from the media and posing for photos.
2. Larson Outpolled Barrett In The City
City of Milwaukee residents cast 31,272 votes for Larson last night and just 30,039 votes for Barrett. Larson thumped Abele in the city, getting 31,272 votes (49.64 percent) to Abele’s 25,321 (40.20 percent).
3. The April Election Suddenly Looks Insane
I predicted this was going to be a crazy election going in, but few seemed convinced, given that Barrett and even Abele looked like shoo-ins for reelection. This April we’ll have Bernie Sanders versus Hillary Clinton, which has become a very hot contest, and Donald Trump versus Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and more, which is a truly insane primary. Rebecca Bradley versus JoAnne Kloppenburg for the state Supreme Court looks like a toss-up. Barrett versus Donovan will be a blast. Abele versus Larson is a dead heat. Seven hotly contested aldermanic races. All in the same election? Let’s get ready to rumble!
4. Is Mayor Barrett Vulnerable?
Despite winning the primary fairly easily, last night wasn’t quite the result the Barrett campaign wanted. The incumbent mayor needed more than 50 percent of the vote to make it clear this was no race. Instead he got 46 percent, which will help Donovan’s money-raising efforts.
With a higher turnout in the general election, who benefits? Donovan supporters likely came out in droves knowing the southside alderman needed to beat Joe Davis to stay in the race, but the general election will bring out the less impassioned, who seem more likely to go for Barrett. And who do Davis’ 12,060 votes (18.51 percent) go to? Polls show strong support in black community for Barrett, suggesting they lean toward him.
The key question is: can Donovan’s strong performance generate political donations from outside the city? Without that, Barrett’s huge advantage in campaign crush cannot be overcome.
5. Puente Is In Trouble
Robert Puente, the least visible member of the Milwaukee Common Council, won his six-way primary with 43 percent of the vote. But anything less than 50 percent is bad news for an incumbent. Chantia Lewis and outgoing county supervisor Martin Weddle were in a virtual dead heat (splitting 39 percent of the vote), with Lewis ultimately prevailing with 864 votes over Weddle’s 799. If Weddle voters back Lewis (something I’m expecting), Puente could be thrown out.
6. Kovac and Bauman Cruise
The two most vocal streetcar supporters crushed their competition in the primary. Nik Kovac received 77 percent of the votes and will face Shannan Hayden (19 percent) in the general election. Robert Bauman received 58 percent and will face Monique Kelly (22 percent). Bauman, a longtime transit supporter, has his face fittingly plastered in advertisements on the side of bus stop shelters across his district. Kovac doesn’t appear to be doing much advertising, and has yard signs lining the East Side and Riverwest. Those yard signs were the source of controversy when Kovac was accused of taking down an opponent’s sign, but that doesn’t appear to have hurt him at the polls.
Also worth noting: Milele Coggs, sixth district alderwoman and another streetcar supporter, pulled in 68 percent of the votes in her district. She’ll face Tory Lowe in the general election, who received 17 percent of the votes.
7. Third Time Is The Charm For Chevy Johnson
In an open race for the second aldermanic district seat currently held by Davis, Chevy Johnson received a commanding 38 percent of the votes. Johnson, who most recently worked in the mayor’s office, has run twice before for the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. Johnson will face longtime Davis aide Sherman Morton (who got 23 percent of the vote) in the general election.
8. Is Joe Davis’ Political Career Over?
Davis, unlike Donovan, decided not to run for re-election for his council seat at the same time he ran for mayor. His third place finish in the mayoral primary leaves him scheduled for unemployment come May. But political insiders are speculating that won’t last for long. The alderman has perfected the art form of traveling on the city’s dime to conferences, and has developed quite the Rolodex of contacts from those trips. Davis has also developed a close relationship with U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. The senator even scheduled a Washington D.C.-based fundraiser for Davis on January 22nd.
Even if Davis does land on his feet with Johnson, the senior senator from Wisconsin faces a daunting fall election against Russ Feingold. My guess: Davis ultimately ends up working as a consultant to one of the many organizations he’s traveled with.
9. 79 Percent Of Voters Stayed Home
Only 20.61 percent of registered voters bothered to vote in the spring primary. If you voted, please accept my digital high five. If you didn’t vote, don’t complain next time you think the mayor did something stupid or your alderman doesn’t call you back when your garbage doesn’t get picked up.
How can we raise turnout? One perk might be getting to join a “do not mail or call list,” but only if you’ve voted in the past five elections.
Mark your calendar’s now: polls open at 7 a.m. on April 5th.