State Democrats Could Sink Still Lower
Yes, they’re at a historic low. But things could get worse.
To get a picture of just how low Democrats have sunk in Wisconsin, you might start with the Republican margin in the Wisconsin Assembly, where they now have 64 members compared to 35 Democrats. The media has noted this is the biggest margin for Republicans since they had 67 representatives in 1957, but that’s actually far worse than it sounds, because the Democratic Party barely existed back then. During the entire first half of the 20th century the battle was mostly between stalwart Republicans and Progressives, with the Democrats almost like a third party. So for Democrats to sink to the level of the 1950s is to hit the very bottom, when the party was beginning to be reborn.
Republicans have all the marbles, including a 20-13 margin in the Senate, the positions of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and treasurer, and a 5-2 conservative majority in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Democrat Doug La Follette still serves as Secretary of State, but the position is meaningless, as the office was stripped of all power and most of its funding years ago.
Evers is up for reelection this spring and you can expect Republicans to go all out to defeat him. “Now’s the time to continue to get what they can,” Republican lobbyist Brandon Scholz crowed to the Wisconsin State Journal.
For decades, the state teachers’ union, WEAC, had great success getting their candidate elected superintendent. But the end of collective bargaining has left the union greatly diminished, with far less ability to fund elections and marshall supporters.
And you can expect dark money from voucher supporters to come pouring into Wisconsin to take out Evers. “I do believe there is likely to be some national money in this race,” said Dodgeville School District administrator John Humphries, who is running against Evers. “School-choice advocates are going to be a very important player,” he told the paper.
Humphries and former Beloit School District superintendent Lowell Holtz are eyed as the candidates who support school vouchers, American Federation for Children’s Wisconsin lobbyist Justin Moralez told the State Journal. The federation spent heavily on the November legislative races and will undoubtedly do the same for this election.
And the challengers, aping Trump, “can paint Evers as the establishment who has done nothing,” as Scholz declared. Evers, in short, could face a very tough election.
Meanwhile, you might think Walker is vulnerable in 2018. The most recent Marquette University Law School Poll showed his approval rating at just 42 percent, and his rating has been slumping (in the high 30s to mid-40s) since his reelection in 2014. But recall that Sen. Ron Johnson’s approval rating was even worse and after way outspending Democrat Russ Feingold in the final months of the election, Johnson still won.
The reality is the Democratic Party has a very weak bench. They have been so decimated in the legislature that the talent pipeline has shrunk. And while the gerrymandering that helped create this situation has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court, the chances that the U.S. Supreme Court (with a new Trump appointee) will uphold the decision don’t look great.
Next to be targeted by Republicans will be Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. She was elected in 2012, a presidential year, but will be running for reelection in 2018, a mid-term election when the Democratic turnout (particularly of minority and college student voters) is always lower. The Hill picked Baldwin as one of 10 Senate seats that could flip in 2018.
Two possible opponents are Northern Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy, a rising star in the party (who recently declared that Madison is a “Communist” city and then laughed about this with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson). Another possible challenger would be Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, whom GOP operative Chris Rochester salutes as “incredibly likable, genuine, sharp, and steeped for years in the issues at the forefront of Wisconsin voters.” A rather different take on her was offered here.
Republicans seem to expect so many possible opponents to Baldwin that a GOP primary is likely. Yep, everything’s coming up roses for the party these days. It remains to be seen if the moribund Democrats have any kind of strategy to turn around the party.
Update 2:30 p.m. December 9: This story originally suggested Tim Cullen was likely to withdraw from the race due to health problems. Cullen has contacted me to say “That is 100% not true. I pursue this effort, calling people, meeting with people almost daily… looking to a formal announcement early next year.” Sorry, Tim. My apologies for the error.