WISPOLITICS.COM POST-ELECTION POLITICAL STOCK REPORT --A collection of insider opinion-- (Nov. 7, 2012)
Barack Obama: In a battle of turnout machines, the president and his team beat a recall-honed ground game led by Gov. Scott Walker and RNC Chair Reince Priebus. Obama's 53 percent-to-46 percent win over Mitt Romney proved to be half of his 14-point margin over John McCain in the state four years ago. But it extends a GOP losing streak in prez races that began in 1988 and makes Republicans wonder if they can ever take ownership of the state's 10 electoral votes. Insiders say Republicans can take solace in that Obama's win appeared to have little effect in congressional and legislative races down ballot.
Tammy Baldwin: Madison's congresswoman makes history by taking down a Wisconsin political legend, 51 percent to 46 percent. In beating Tommy Thompson, she becomes the first woman elected to the Senate from Wisconsin and the first openly gay candidate elected to the chamber. With the addition of Baldwin and others, the number of women in the Senate climbs to the highest level ever -- 20, according to unofficial results. Baldwin gets credit from insiders for crashing through two glass ceilings with a well-funded, disciplined campaign that pulled in a lot of under-30 voters, according to exit polling. Baldwin and her team aggressively defined Thompson early in the race while fending off charges that she was “too extreme” for Wisconsin. But observers wonder how she'll get along with a philosophical opposite, conservative Ron Johnson, in the Senate.
Campaign spending: The presidential and Senate races along with a targeted House race in the 7th CD boost campaign spending in the state to record levels. National reports and FEC filings show at least $73 million in candidate and interest group spending in the Senate race, $45 million in prez-related ad spending, $8.4 million in total spending in the Sean Duffy-Pat Kreitlow 7th CD race and millions more in legislative races around the state. That's all on top of the estimated $93.5 million spent in the 2012 recall elections for governor, lieutenant governor and four state Senate seats.
Sean Duffy and Reid Ribble: The two Republican freshmen cruise to re-election in their northern Wisconsin House seats despite Obama's win. Margins suggest they have the opportunity to burrow into those seats and hold on to them for a long time, insiders say, perhaps cementing a 5-3 GOP advantage in the congressional delegation for years to come.
Senate Republicans: They're back in the majority, and almost with the same number of seats they had in early 2011 before all the recalls. Coming back with 18 seats, insiders say, will allow them to avoid the GOP nightmare of a 17-16 majority that could have allowed Dems to hold up Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda by picking off caucus moderates like Dale Schultz on various votes. Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald and his team get there with Tom Tiffany in the northern 12th and with Rick Gudex in the Oshkosh-area 18th -- assuming his almost 600-vote lead holds up after the canvass and a possible recount. The pending 18-15 majority gives them breathing room for next session, making it easier to pass Walker's budget and move on other agenda items like mining.
Turnout: Presidential turnout comes in at around 3 million, a 70 percent mark just short of the record 74.8 percent in 2004. There's a drop-off down ballot (could voters have been turned off by the negative Senate race, some wonder?). But the top number impresses election-watchers and calms Dems who worried a shorter in-person absentee voting window, alleged minority intimidation tactics, tighter residency requirements for students, and confusion over the court-challenged photo ID law would suppress the vote.
Paul Ryan: The Janesville congressman falls well short of what insiders viewed as one of the biggest reasons Mitt Romney added him to the presidential ticket - delivering Wisconsin. Still, Ryan wins re-election to his House seat - albeit by a smaller margin than he's used to - and comes out of the 2012 race as a frontrunner for the presidential nomination in 2016. Republicans pin on Ryan little of the blame for Romney's loss in Wisconsin and other swing states, though there's plenty of second guessing on whether it would have been better to put Sen. Rob Portman on the ticket considering how much closer Ohio was in the end. Insiders say Ryan avoided major gaffes on the campaign trail and proved an able and enthusiastic candidate who can cross generational lines. But they also say he faces challenges in how he and fellow House Republicans approach the political realities of avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff. Agreeing to revenue increases could erode Tea Party support while road-blocking a solution could damage him with middle-of-the-road voters who already may be wary of some of his conservative beliefs.
Wisconsin Republicans: They won back control of the state Senate, maintained a big margin in the Assembly and held the seats of two House freshmen. Then why are they feeling so bad? Insiders say it's a realization that in presidential years, the top of the state ticket remains stubbornly blue -- despite the help of Reince Priebus at the RNC and Scott Walker in the guv's office. Mitt Romney's defeat wasn't much of a surprise to many GOP strategists. But they come away from Election Day saddened and stunned by Tommy Thompson's loss to Tammy Baldwin.
Bipartisanship: Post-election talk of bipartisanship often comes after hard-fought November elections. Propelling the talk is serious fatigue from recalls, the most contentious two-year legislative session in memory and what many perceive as a general desire by leaders to get back to “normal.” Some insiders also see signs of more civility at the Capitol as Gov. Scott Walker looks to set the stage for a 2014 re-election run and veteran Rep. Robin Vos, who has forged working relationships with Dems, looks to chart a different kind of speakership than Jeff Fitzgerald. But cynics say Republicans may talk nice but will continue to ram through agenda items like a pro-mining bill.
Tommy Thompson: The Thompson brand takes a major hit with the loss to Baldwin. The 70-year-old Thompson, the state's longest-serving governor and national health secretary, had flirted previously with a return to public life after leaving HHS and even tried an ill-fated bid for the presidency in 2007. But after watching Ron Johnson come out of nowhere to beat Russ Feingold two years ago and Scott Walker take the guv’s office, he decided now was the time for a comeback. Shortly before winning the primary in August, Thompson declared that if he made it through that race, he’d be a shoe-in for the general. And that, some say, was his downfall, never realizing just how much the environment had changed since his last bid in 1998 and misunderstanding the dynamics of modern-day politics. Thompson backers are stunned that he lost to a Madison liberal who was little known outside her district at the beginning of the campaign. But insiders on both sides say Thompson was just another Republican on this Election Day and that Baldwin ran the superior campaign.
Roger Rivard: The freshman GOP rep from northwestern Wisconsin loses by fewer than 600 votes after publicity for his “some girls rape easy” comment. Had he kept his mouth shut, Republicans say, he probably would have won. He's among five legislative incumbents to lose on Election Day -- three Republicans and two Dems, including Sen. Jessica King of Oshkosh if her loss holds up.
Assembly Dems: In a presidential election year when their candidate wins by 7 percentage points, they make no overall gain against a Republican majority. Insiders chalk it up to a number of factors, including a map Republicans drew to give them an inherent edge in Assembly races for the next decade. Others point to a disparity in help from outside groups as a significant factor in coming back at just 39 seats in the 99-member chamber. But critics charge Assembly Dems weren’t aggressive enough in trying to raise money on their own or recruit top-notch candidates who could benefit from the natural bump their party gets in turnout during presidential years.