Tommy Thompson: The former guv survives a bruising GOP Senate primary, and quickly gets labeled by some as the early favorite in November given his history of winning statewide and national Republicans' focus on Wisconsin. Insiders chalk up Thompson's win to a number of factors, including kind words in the closing days from Gov. Scott Walker and veep candidate Paul Ryan plus a four-way race with three candidates splitting the anti-Tommy vote. Thompson hit a ceiling of about 35 percent in most polls taken throughout the course of the campaign and finished with 34 percent of the vote on Tuesday. That's not exactly a resounding win. But with Eric Hovde, Mark Neumann and Jeff Fitzgerald also vying for the nomination, it was just enough to seal the deal. Insiders say it was also key that Fitzgerald pulled votes from Hovde and Neumann, adding it's likely one reason the former guv was so kind to the speaker in his comments throughout the campaign. Insiders expected Thompson to do well outstate, far away from the more conservative wing of the GOP that's been emboldened by talk radio over the years. But they also say he more than held his own in the Milwaukee area -- a big boost that helped compensate for a poor showing in the Green Bay area. Looking to November, some Republicans believe Tammy Baldwin is too liberal to win statewide and Thompson will win in a romp. But others aren't so sure, cautioning it will be a difficult race, particularly since Ryan's placement on the national GOP ticket gives the Obama campaign extra motivation to win Wisconsin. The president's turnout operation, if ramped to the max, would be a boost for Baldwin, some say. A rush of TV ads come in immediately after the primary with conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS hitting Baldwin on the airwaves right away. Meanwhile, Senate Dems add $2.3 million to their buy in Wisconsin, pushing their time reserved between Sept. 11 and Election Day to $5.2 million.
Mark Pocan: The Madison lawmaker gets a most noteworthy 48th birthday gift when he gains the Dem nomination for the 2nd CD with a landslide victory, all but guaranteeing he’ll be a freshman when Congress reconvenes in January. Pocan will face Republican Chad Lee on the November ballot, but that race will be mostly a formality in the heavily Dem district dominated by the Madison media market. Pocan is now following in the footsteps of Tammy Baldwin, making the transition from a Madison-based Assembly seat to the House, and he’ll likely be able to hold the seat for as long as he wants considering the district’s makeup, election-watchers say. Dem rival Kelda Roys did her best to tear down Pocan, trying to link him to Scott Walker and the Koch brothers. But those attacks didn’t stick, and insiders say they backfired on her. Pocan rolls to 72 percent of the vote, while Roys pulls in a paltry 22 percent. Roys burned bridges in the attacks she lobbed against Pocan and irritated many in her own caucus who felt she was throwing them under the bus as well for attacking him over bills they also supported, insiders say. But some say time heals all wounds and Roys, who turned 33 this summer, will have ample time to rehabilitate her image and resurrect her political career.
Legislative progressives: The Dem Party's liberal wing pulls off a series of wins in contested primaries, particularly in Milwaukee, that signify the arrival of freshman Dem Sen. Chris Larson as a political force. Larson and progressives got behind a series of candidates who were better organized and outworked the competition, insiders say. That may be no more apparent than in the 6th SD, where Nikiya Harris pulled off what many consider the shocker of the night. Not only did she beat state Rep. Elizabeth Coggs -- whose family name has been golden in Milwaukee politics for years -- but she also did it convincingly, winning almost half of the vote in a five-way primary. Progressive favorite Dan Riemer knocked off moderate Rep. Peggy Krusick, while Mandela Barnes beat pro-school choice Rep. Jason Fields. In both cases, the wins were by convincing margins. Elsewhere, Rep. Sandy Pasch emerged victorious in the 10th AD, where she moved after being redrawn into a heavily GOP seat, while La Tonya Johnson won the 17th and Evan Goyke took the 18th. Still, those wins come at a cost to the African-American delegation, which slips from six members in the Assembly this session to an expected three come January. The wins by Pasch and Goyke in particular inflame racial tensions with white candidates running for districts with significant black populations. That's particularly true of Pasch, who moved into the district to run. But others counter it's not their racial background, but their stances on core Dem issues that make them the best fit for the district. The wins hearten progressives who see it as a victory for the party's core principles and their organizational efforts, while others lament what they see as a shift to the left that leaves no room for moderates. While insiders see Larson as a winner with the candidates he backed, Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, is seen by some as taking a hit for seeing her preferred candidates come up short.
Incumbents: For the most part, incumbents made it through Tuesday’s primaries unscathed. But longtime Milwaukee Dems Jason Fields and Peggy Krusick lose -- in both cases decisively -- to more progressive challengers. On the GOP side, some incumbents, particularly freshman Mike Endsley of Sheboygan, were considered vulnerable going into Tuesday’s election, but come out with solid wins. Republicans like Dean Kaufert of Neenah and Travis Tranel of Cuba City were targeted for their votes against the guv’s collective bargaining changes. But Gov. Scott Walker endorses them anyway. Republicans particularly kept a close eye on Endsley. After taking a Dem-leaning seat two years ago, he took a series of tough votes and stood with the GOP agenda. His reward was a much more Republican seat to run in, but he also drew a primary from Devin LeMahieu, the son of state Rep. Dan LeMahieu. The younger LeMahieu didn’t raise much money -- though his dad gave him $500 -- but Republicans fretted the name and the new territory that Endsley picked up -- right from LeMahieu’s back yard -- might work against the incumbent. But he ends up winning with 60 percent of the vote, and some insiders wonder whether Robin Vos, the speaker-in-waiting, will punish the elder LeMahieu in some way for being part of the caucus spending thousands of dollars on an incumbent in a race where it never should have had to lift a finger. That includes some wondering whether LeMahieu’s JFC seat could be in danger.
Eric Hovde: The businessman finishes a close second to Tommy Thompson in the U.S. Senate race and bows out gracefully, getting kudos from some conservatives in the process after a hard fought -- and often negative -- campaign. While some give Hovde credit for finishing respectably in his first campaign, others point out it came at a price as he sank more than $5 million of his own money into the losing effort. Hovde says in his concession speech that his political career is over. Some say that's understandable. After he spent big to drive up his name ID and started showing momentum in polls, opponents began to tear him down, painting him as somebody out to tap into government money while trying to avoid paying taxes. But some Republicans don't rule out that Hovde could still play some kind of role in Wisconsin politics and may even make another bid at the ballot box down the road.
Joe Wineke: When the former state Dem Party chair and lawmaker from Verona started making rumblings about trying to return to the Assembly by running for the redrawn 80th AD, some insiders got the vibe he felt the district belonged to him. But his loss to Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts Tuesday shows it’s not the Verona of old. With Epic moving in, the population has exploded and gotten more liberal and progressive, some say. That was right in Pope-Roberts' wheelhouse, even as Wineke played up the endorsements of liberal favorites like former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold. It helped that the Assembly Dem caucus went all in to help Pope-Roberts, who decided to run for the redrawn district rather than stay in the one where her home ended up in the new maps. The slams included portraying Wineke as someone simply looking to return to power with ties to the likes of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, an organization progressives loathe. Wineke tried reviving his political career first with a bid for Dane County exec last year. But that loss combined with Tuesday’s defeat likely means the end of that hope, some say.
Kurt Schuller: You don’t see many statewide office holders decide to run for an Assembly seat. You also aren’t going to find many that finish a distant third in a three-way primary. But critics say Schuller, swept into the treasurer’s office two years ago in the GOP wave, ran a poor campaign and raised little money. So they're not surprised he gets crushed in the primary for the heavily Republican 53rd AD. Michael Schraa, who owns and operates Leon's Custard in Oshkosh, won with 61 percent of the vote, Frank Frassetto, the town chairman of Black Hawk, came in second with 27 percent and Schuller was third with 12 percent. Republicans say Schuller mistakenly thought his name ID was much higher than it actually was, adding their belief that Schraa and Frassetto simply outworked him. Schuller ran for treasurer on a platform of seeking to eliminate the office through a constitutional amendment. That didn’t go far this legislative session, but the guv did cut the office budget and pull away some responsibilities, drawing complaints from Schuller. The upside for him is he still has two years left on his treasurer’s term.
American Federation for Children: The pro-school choice group makes a play in several Dem primaries in the Milwaukee area only to see all of its candidates fail. Records filed with the GAB show the group made independent expenditures to help state Rep. Jason Fields, one of only two incumbents to lose Tuesday, as well as state Rep. Elizabeth Coggs, who ran for an open Senate seat and surprisingly lost in the primary, plus three other Assembly candidates. Critics say the group’s efforts backfired, particularly after some Dems gathered to denounce what they saw as a pro-Republican group meddling in Dem primaries, calling on AFC to butt out and its preferred candidates to disavow the support. Others, though, say it wasn’t AFC’s efforts that led to the losses, but several poor candidates who were outworked and out-organized, especially with the teacher’s union and other progressive groups fired up to take out pro-voucher candidates. However it happened, the group has now seen a serious erosion of support within the Milwaukee Dem caucus for the voucher program. Since its inception, there had been a sometimes odd coalition between inner-city Milwaukee Dems and suburban conservative Republicans pushing the program. But now there are only a handful of Dems who have been open to supporting the voucher program from time to time. Still, with the Assembly still firmly in GOP hands, the losses likely won’t be much of a roadblock in that chamber at least for future school choice legislation, program supporters say.
Mark Neumann: The homebuilder and former congressman falls short in his third bid for statewide office. Neumann alienated many in the GOP’s grassroots two years ago when he challenged Scott Walker for the Republican guv nomination, and some of those feelings lingered into this summer. Neumann even ran a radio ad saying he wouldn’t have run against Walker two years ago if he knew what a good job he was going to do, but many saw the mea culpa as odd and unlikely to make GOP voters forget those attacks. Neumann continues to have a dedicated following among some in the Republican base, but it has so far proven unable to carry him to a win in back-to-back state primaries. This time, Neumann even had the help of conservative groups such as the national Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund and Tea Party Express. The praise those outside organizations heaped on Neumann only irritated Wisconsin-based conservatives who felt those groups were sticking their nose where it didn’t belong and didn’t comprehend the dynamic Neumann faced on the home front. To some, the latest loss should end Neumann’s quest to get back into public office. But some doubt he’ll go away quietly, saying he hasn’t ruled out future runs. Republicans will particularly keep an eye on the 1st CD in case Paul Ryan wins the vice presidency in November. Neumann’s Nashotah home was drawn into the 5th CD, but Ryan ascending to the vice presidency would leave open the seat Neumann represented in Congress for two terms in the 1990s.