Last week, I took a look at the contests to watch in the West’s most intriguing swing state: Nevada. This week, we’ll venture a few time zones eastward to the Midwest.
After all, few states have a better claim to bellwether status than Wisconsin. In 2016, Donald Trump flipped the state by just 22,748 votes. Four years later, Joe Biden won it back with a margin of only 20,682 votes. When compared to Michigan and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin is the loosest brick in that rebuilt Blue Wall which proved integral to Biden’s 2020 strategy.
Therefore, it’s the natural next place for us to look toward as we enter the final month of the 2022 campaign.
Wisconsin Senate: Barnes vs Johnson
Which incumbent Republican Senator is President Biden most focused on defeating in November? Well, according to Gabriel Debendetti of New York Magazine, it’s Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson. At this moment, it’s unclear whether the President will get his wish.
For a while, the odds were looking good. Democrats chose their young Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes to go against Johnson, and the first head-to-head polls between the two in August found the Democratic nominee ahead.
As a result, Republican groups spent millions on ads accusing Barnes of wanting to defund the police. Despite accusations of racist messaging, the TV spots were effective at hurting Barnes’ standing in the polls as Sen. Johnson soon assumed the lead.
All of all this served as the backdrop to the candidates’ debate last Friday night. With the format favoring the more charismatic Barnes, Johnson was put on his back foot on issues like climate change, Social Security and Johnson’s involvement in a fake electors scheme. It remains to be seen, however, whether the debate will have any real effect on the polls.
At the moment, there’s some disagreement on just where the race stands. Cook Political Report considers the contest as a toss-up, while Sabato puts it in the Lean Republican column. Our own DDHQ forecast classifies it as Likely Republican, with Johnson holding a 92.4% chance of winning a third term.
For as absorbing as this Senate race is, though, it’s not the only compelling statewide contest in the Badger State.
Wisconsin Governor: Evers vs Michels
Mild-mannered Tony Evers accomplished in 2018 what Wisconsin Democrats had previously failed three separate times to do: defeat Republican Governor Scott Walker. Now Evers is tasked with winning a second term in America’s most closely contested swing state.
This year Gov. Evers is up against Republican nominee and businessman Tim Michels. Turns out, this isn’t Michels first time running for statewide office either. He was the GOP’s Senate nominee in 2004, losing by 11 points to Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, even while George W. Bush won re-election and Republicans gained four Senate seats nationwide.
Evers’ closing message is focused on painting Michels as too extreme, especially on abortion, for Wisconsin. Michels, on the other hand, is repeatedly hitting the incumbent on crime, hoping that memories of violence in Kenosha will lift him to the Governor’s Mansion.
The gubernatorial nominees have just one debate scheduled for Friday, October 14th in Madison.
Wisconsin’s 3rd District: Pfaff vs Van Orden
In the heart of Obama-Trump country lies Wisconsin’s 3rd district, the southwestern portion of the state along the borders of Minnesota and Iowa. Democratic Congressman Ron Kind has represented this area since 1996, but he decided to step aside in 2022, presenting Republicans with an enticing opportunity.
In response, the GOP re-nominated Derrick Van Orden, who lost by less than three points to Rep. Kind in 2020. Meanwhile, Democrats are backing State Senator Brad Pfaff. In his TV ads, Van Orden is touting his military experience at the expense of Pfaff’s career in politics. Pfaff, meanwhile, slams Van Orden in three separate spots for breaching police lines at the Capitol during the January 6th attempted insurrection.
Altogether, it’s clear that on November 8th we’re due for another long night of watching returns flow in from every part of Wisconsin. Of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way.