The executive directors of the state's Dem and GOP parties agree Wisconsin is a swing state.
The direction of that swing, though, is a matter of debate between Dem Kory Kozloski and Republican Mike Duffey.
The two party execs agreed on Wisconsin's swing-state status at the start of a WisPolitics.com luncheon yesterday at The Madison Club. Kozloski explained that by saying he expects a lot of national focus on Wisconsin leading up to the general election because of the open seat in the 8th CD and the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Ron Johnson and Dem challenger Russ Feingold.
Kozloski and Duffey then launched into their reasons for expecting voters to back their parties up and down the ballots in fall. Kozloski cited a Public Opinion Strategies poll out this week by GOP pollster Gene Ulm that showed Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump in Wisconsin by 12 percentage points.
"I think certainly Donald Trump's numbers certainly have to be very concerning for him in Wisconsin," Kozloski said, "when you look at his unfavorables that we've seen over the last several months in every poll that has come out."
But Duffey pointed out it's still early for polls, and the Wisconsin primary was only last month. Give it time, he said, for momentum to build toward the general election.
Plus, Duffey said, Clinton has her own problems.
"You can't neglect the fact that Hillary Clinton's unfavorables are incredibly high in the state of Wisconsin," he said. "On April 5, she won one county. So, to suggest that she's got enthusiasm on her side in the state of Wisconsin, I think, is not representative of the entire picture."
Here are their partisan takes on other top races:
Johnson-Feingold Senate race
Duffey and Kozloski made it clear the Senate race is a top priority.
Kozloski said Johnson, R-Oshkosh, has been down to Feingold in every poll conducted on the race and has trailed Feingold in fundraising in each of the past three quarters. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin's exec also said Trump could be a weight around Johnson's neck in the race.
Johnson, Kozloski said, either has to endorse Trump and risk losing votes or go it alone.
"Sometimes he seems to be saying he's going to support Donald Trump," Kozloski said. "Other times, he seems to be saying, 'Well, I'm not really sure if I'm going in that direction.' He's got to make a pretty clear decision about which way he's going."
Duffey, though, said the first-term senator elected in 2010 is a "citizen legislator" who fits perfectly the role of outsider voters this cycle seem to crave. And if trust is a factor for those voters, he said, Feingold is at a disadvantage after breaking pledges not to take money from outside the state or from lobbyists.
On top of that, the Republican Party of Wisconsin exec said, Feingold will have Clinton at the top of the ticket with all of the secretary of state email and Benghazi scandal attached.
"If I'm the Democrats, I'm concerned about Hillary Clinton," he said, "who's the consummate Washington insider tainting the fact that Russ Feingold has spent 30 years in public service, accomplishing nothing other than getting elected repeatedly."
8th CD race
With an open seat in the 8th CD following U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble's retirement, both execs see opportunity.
Duffey said the Sherwood Republican set the bar high for the district, and he expects the winner of the Republican primary to find the path toward taking the seat. The GOP candidates are Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, and Mike Gallagher, a former Marine who also worked for the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee.
Outagamie County Exec Tom Nelson is on the other side. The former state lawmaker drew praise from Kozloski, who called him the hardest-working candidate he has met.
Kozloski said the race will be among the most-watched by the national Democratic Party.
"He's going to have the resources," he said. "He will outwork any candidate in the race, and I'm very confident in November he will be the next congressman from the 8th Congressional District."
"And I'm sure Tom Nelson is a nice guy," he said. "But somebody who ushered through the Doyle spending increases and tax increases is not somebody that's going to represent what I believe is what the voters of the 8th district want."
The GOP has dominated the past several cycles in the state Senate and Assembly, but Duffey said his party still will be on "offense" in fall.
Of the Republican candidates on the ballot, Duffey specifically named Green Bay lawyer Eric Wimberger, who is challenging Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, in the 30th SD, and former GOP state Sen. Dan Kapanke, who is taking on Dem Minority Leader Sen. Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse.
"Despite the historic majorities, I believe there's some vulnerabilities in the Democratic state Senate candidates," Duffey said, "and we've got a great set of challengers in the western and northern part of the state."
On the Dem side, Kozloski made special mention of:
*Winnebago County Exec Mark Harris, who is running to fill the 18th SD seat vacated by the retiring Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac;
*Waupaca Mayor Brian Smith, who is mounting a challenge against Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, in the 14th SD;
*former Dem Rep. Mandy Wright, who lost her Wausau-area seat by 85 votes in 2014 and is running to fill the 85th AD spot left open by retiring Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Wausau;
*and Jeff Wright, of Plain, who is challenging Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, in the 51st AD.
Duffey said GOP candidates can take credit for balancing the state deficit, pushing the unemployment rate below the national average and raising the labor participation rate to the highest in the country.
"I think that there's a good-news story," he said, "for the governor and the Legislature to tell."
But that story also includes the state being 35th in job creation, 50th in entrepreneurship and saddled with 10,000 layoff notices last year, Kozloski said. He said candidates such as Joint Finance Committee member Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, will have to explain that.
"These candidates, people like Tom Tiffany, now have to run on that record and people asking, 'What have you done? What has changed here in Wisconsin over the last six years?'" Kozloski said. "And the answer that people are coming up with is, quite simply, nothing."