Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

21 Election Winners and Losers

Beyond the ballot totals, which groups, advocates and trends won or lost?

By - Nov 9th, 2022 02:22 pm
Tony Evers and Donald Trump.

Tony Evers and Donald Trump.

Less than two weeks before Election Day, former President Barack Obama was in Milwaukee to campaign for Democratic candidates in Wisconsin, and talked about issues like the economy and abortion rights. Then he added one more issue whose importance he emphasized. “If you do need another reason to vote,” Obama said, “consider the fact that democracy is on the ballot.”

It was definitely on the ballot with Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels both running as election deniers, suggesting without evidence that the 2020 election was invalid, and proposing various ways to undermine the state’s system of election to assure the Republicans “will never lose an election again,” as Michels promised his followers.

For that matter the Republican candidate for Attorney General, Eric Toney, criticized members of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission and seemed sympathetic to calls to disband it.

As it turned out Michels and Toney both lost, with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul both winning a second term. Evers vetoed a long list of Republican bills intended to make it more difficult to vote in Wisconsin, and will likely oppose any such bills in his next term. Thats a victory for democracy.

But the election was also a loss for democracy as Johnson won reelection, along with election deniers Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Tiffany, the two Wisconsin congressmen who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election in Arizona and Pennsylvania.  And aides to Fitzgerald (then the majority leader of the state Senate) reserved rooms in the state Capitol on the day false electors met there to sign paperwork. The two have now been joined by newly elected Republican congressman Derrick Van Orden, who attended the Jan. 6, 2021 Trump rally at the Ellipse, which was based on the false claim the election was stolen, but contends he did not accompany the group that then entered the Capitol.

Other winners and losers in the election:

Loser: Donald Trump: Across the county most of his favored candidates lost. In Wisconsin he endorsed Michels and also promoted the write-in candidacy of Adam Steen, doing a robocall where he slammed Robin Vos as a “horrendous RINO.” Steen was crushed by Vos.

Winner: Incumbency. One key reason Evers did better than fellow Democrat Mandela Barnes was his incumbency. Across the country nearly every incumbent governor won reelection.

Loser: Racial Harmony. Which brings us to another key reason Barnes lost, an onslaught of ugly ads relentlessly associating a young Black candidate with crime. One ad actually darkened Barnes’ skin. The sheer number of these ads and their nasty tone was unprecedented in Wisconsin campaign history.

Winners: Absentee voters: By Tuesday, 741,795 people mailed in their absentee ballot or voted in-person in the state, according to data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, a huge increase from the 565,591 people who voted absentee ahead of the the 2018 midterms. Nationally, the percent voting early also rose.

Losers: Republicans opposing voting by mail: The effort led by Trump continues to fail: the percent of those voting on election day had dropped from 78% in 2004 to about 27% by 2020 while the percent voting by mail rose from 14% to about 50%. And the trend has continued since then.

Winner: Ticket splitters: At a time when the partisan divide has gotten vicious, there are still independents, both nationally and in Wisconsin, who split their ticket. That could be seen in Wisconsin, where Democrats did not run the table, with Republicans likely to also win the race for state treasurer.

Winner: Nerdy Niceness: Evers continues to be underestimated as a politician, but perhaps now, after winning a second term, people will realize how effective that nerdy nice guy persona is. It’s very difficult to run smear ads — and Michels and his supporters ran a ton — against a guy who is such a genuinely nice guy. Some people say he’s boring, Evers noted, “but it turns out, boring wins.”

Loser: A Legislature Supermajority: The Republican push to win a veto-proof Legislature fell two Assembly districts short of the goal, meaning legislators will have to deal with disagreements from a Democratic governor. Who knows, they might even forge some bipartisan agreements.

Loser: Gerrymandered voters. Republicans fell short of a super majority despite successfully creating one of the worst gerrymanders in the nation, which will continue for another decade. The result is districts so uncompetitive that more than 20 had only one candidate on the ballot in November. That’s not democracy.

Winner: Pollster Charles Franklin. His final poll for the Marquette Law School had Evers tied with Michels and Johnson with a 2% edge over Barnes. Both results were close to the mark and well within the margin of error. 

Winners: Ministers who stood watch. They were a presence at polls in the state’s urban areas, to support voters and election workers and assure that peace prevailed. That’s moral leadership.

Winners: Souls to the Polls: Another group of ministers and activists in Milwaukee continued the tradition of providing free rides to the polls for anyone who needs it without ever asking about their political views. The “Souls to the Polls” effort has a great name and exemplifies the spirit of democracy.

Loser: Rep. Janel Brandtjen: One of the leading Republican promoters of the Big Lie, and someone even Assembly Speaker Vos seems to abhor, tried to get a court to prevent the counting of military ballots, while providing no evidence of fraudulent ballots. She failed.

Winner: Military voters: It’s worth emphasizing that Brandtjen was targeting the voting rights of active service members, who bravely serve the country. Chris Yatchak, chair of Milwaukees chapter of the Union Veterans Council, said he has been an election inspector for 15 years, and has never come across a case of voting fraud. Thankfully a Waukesha judge ruled against Brandtjen’s suit.

Winner: The Liberty Group: This shadowy group ran ads to support independent candidate Joan Beglinger (who’d withdrawn from the race) against Michels. This was part of a national effort, an inside source tells me, by a Republican group of self-styled patriots, to prevent the success of election-denying candidates who sought to undermine American democracy.

Winner: City Election Commission: City officials processed all the absentee ballots so quickly they beat some smaller towns and rural areas in the state.

Loser: Talk radio host Dan O’Donnell: The city’s success came just a week or so after his rant about Milwaukee taking too long to count the vote and suggesting this was suspicious. (It’s really because the Legislature won’t let the city begin counting absentee ballots until election day, unlike in other states where they start sooner.) Needless to say O’Donnell won’t be ranting about other polling places in the state finishing their count later than Milwaukee. After all, he’s just an entertainer.

7 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: 21 Election Winners and Losers”

  1. George Wagner says:

    Nice job, Bruce. With the upcoming Spring Wisconsin Supreme Court race this Spring and the chance that a Democratically-inclined justice could be elected that would tip the balance, I wonder if you could look into the possibility of a newly aligned court taking another look at redistricting the Wisconsin state legislature. I don’t believe they need to wait around for the next census. I’m aware of the US Supreme Court’s decision saying political gerrymandering is OK and that the successful challenges to gerrymandering in other states usually have been related to minority rights, but is there any other possibility that a new state supreme court might be able challenge the extreme gerrymandering that now exists?

  2. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Dan the Klan.

  3. gerrybroderick says:

    I agree with George. Even though our State Supreme Court’s philosophical divisions currently echo those of the U.S. Supreme, that balance could be altered in the coming spring election. To await the next census will only prolong the injustice
    suffered by Wisconsin’s electorate. A stellar candidate, coupled with a well financed media campaign aimed at driving home the unconscionable partisan bias of the status quo would be required, Perhaps Mark Elisa’s law firm would be willing to lend a hand. What’s to lose?

  4. exlibris says:

    Thanks for the reporting and the summary of winners and losers. Much appreciated.

  5. Carolannbrill says:

    Hey Bruce, I think there is another story here. Supermarket Legends staffed several city sites that had been early voting sites, but not Voting Day sites. I worked along with a slew of volunteers and Souls to the Polls at Midtown and we diverted over 600 voters to their correct voting sites. The person to talk with is Linea Sundstrom who tallies it all. Some heroic efforts by voters to vote, despite coming to the wrong site.
    Love your work
    Carol Brill

  6. Also losers are the customers of the Michels construction company–who are funding a political organization with a construction company attached.

  7. tornado75 says:

    thanks bruce, always enjoy these post election pieces. i think ron johnson is an awful senator for wisconsin and he ran an offensive campaign against barnes. in my opinion, race was definitely a big player in his loss. johnson used scare tactics to get whites to vote against barnes. what does that say about wisconsinites that still believe in the angry black man who is your enemy. this was a state wide election so we need to look at this tactic state wide. makes me very grumpy.

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