Between 2000 and 2008 Wisconsin has certainly gone from purple, to solidly blue. Being a lifelong Wisconsin resident, and a compulsive follower of Badger State politics, I thought I'd devote some of my diary space to a semi-regular update of the Democrat's chances at continuing their dominance in 2010. What follows is a brief wrap up of the (from my perspective) competitive contests that should keep Wisconsin politics interesting for the next 1 year and 10 months.
P.S. This is my first diary, and my first attempt at political analysis, outside of a college political science class, so bear with me.
This one is a toss up right now as near as I can tell. It is a completely different race depending on whether or not Governor Doyle decides to run for re-election, so I'll talk about each potential path separately. Doyle hasn't made a definite statement on whether or not he will run. During his victory speech in 2006 he did say that the '06 election was his last statewide campaign. I think a lot of people took that to mean that he was receptive to a Cabinet position in the next Democratic Administration, which he wasn't offered. Certainly he hasn't been acting like an incumbent not running for re-election, and no other person has stepped up to establish themselves as a front runner. If Doyle runs for re-election I think he has an excellent shot of holding on and beating any Republican opponent. In '06 the Republicans threw the best that they had against him and he won by a convincing (and larger than expected) margin. Wisconsin has blued significantly since then. On the other hand...
If Doyle decides not to run for re-election this is an entirely different race. Right now Barb Lawton (the LG) seems to be the front-runner. She's something of an unknown quantity statewide, and I don't know much about her chances. Beyond Lawton I'm not sure who would run from the Democratic side, but maybe Ron Kind (WI-03) seems to me like he could be a viable alternative candidate to Lawton, though it may mean giving up his House seat to the Republicans. Certainly Doyle's primary opposition from '02 have probably both missed their opportunity to run. Current Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk is already embroiled in a difficult re-election for her post this spring, after being the only statewide Democratic candidate to lose in 2006 (Attorney General). Her stock began to decline in 2002, and it has continued to fall precipitously. Tom Barrett, the then congressman, and current mayor of Milwaukee might have slightly better prospects for a run at the governorship than Falk, but a lack of progress in rehabilitating the city of Milwaukee, perceived in other (especially critical rural areas) of the state could be tough to overcome.
There are a number of Republican candidates that could make a run at this seat. Rep. Paul Ryan from Janesville could run here, or for the Senate. Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County Executive has already made noise about running. There is current Ambassador Mark Green, who could decide to come back and make another run after losing to Doyle in 2006. Current Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen could run too, though he has indicated that he has no plans to right now. He was the only Republican to win statewide office in 2006, and he would be following the same path that Doyle took to the governors mansion. Finally, there is always the prospect that former Governor Tommy Thompson could return to state politics, after his disastrous stint as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and an equally disastrous dark horse presidential run. No matter how long he is out of the spotlight, his name always seems to be in the mix for statewide office.
If Governor Doyle chooses not to run again, this race will probably be a key one in measuring the effectiveness of the GOP's comeback nationwide. The one wild card will be President Obama. Right now he is very popular in the state, and he would probably carry a lot of campaigning weight if it looks like the Democrats may have trouble holding on to the governor's mansion.
-2010, United States Senate:
My sense right now is that there would have to be a major reversal of Democratic fortunes statewide, and nationwide for current incumbent, Senator Russ Feingold, to be in serious jeopardy of losing his seat. In the darkest days 2004, Feingold didn't run from, but embraced his condemnation of the USA PATRIOT Act. Despite this being deemed political suicide, Feingold stuck to his guns, and won re-election convincingly. His opponent in that race was weak, and was dogged by foot-in-mouth disease, but the fact that the only senator who voted against the USA PATRIOT Act could be re-elected from a moderate midwestern state is telling.
The list of possible opponents for Feingold is close to the same as the list of Republican contenders for governor, with the exception that Paul Ryan is probably closer to the top of this list than he is to the list of gubernatorial candidates. Which leads me into...
-2010, Wisconsin 1st Congressional District:
This is Paul Ryan's seat right now. It contains the Democratic cities of Janesville and Racine, and Republican rural and suburban areas. My feeling is that he will be the next congressional target for the Democrats in Wisconsin. As discussed before, if Ryan decides to move up the ladder he has two choices, Governor, and the Senate. However, he may decide to stay where he is. Ryan is not only the rising star of the State Republicans, but he is also a rising star in the Republican Congressional delegation. He seems poised for a leadership position, especially if the Republicans lose more seats in Congress in 2010, and he may not want to exchange that for a very difficult race against a popular incumbent senator.
The other thing to consider here is that, the worse the economy gets, the more political trouble Ryan may find himself in. At the end of last month, the long troubled Janesville GM plant closed. Ryan, long a free trade advocate, could have trouble living that down. If Ryan gives up this seat for a Senate or Gubernatorial run, he just might hand this seat to the Democrats in the process. Ryan would probably do better to wait until 2012 to make a Senate run. By that time the economy may have improved significantly (politics aside, I really hope it does!), and Wisconsin's other incumbent senator, Democrat Herb Kohl, will be 77 years old. It may be wiser for Ryan to wait and see whether or not Kohl will retire, than to challenge Feingold in 2010.
Wisconsin of course has seven other congressional races in 2010, but none of them look too compelling right now, with the exception of the 8th District, which may heat up at some point. State legislature races will also probably be pretty important, since Wisconsin may (or may not) lose another congressional district in the 2010 Census. The state Republican party may have their hands full trying to take back one of the houses of the legislature, in order to prevent a pro-Democratic redistricting in case this happens.