The Wisconsin primaries promise to pack a real punch tonight. Here’s a rundown of what to watch for when the clock strikes 8pm local time (9pm Eastern).
Incumbent Scott Walker faces token opposition and will cruise this evening. But his vote tally- indeed, the number of voters opting to participate in Republican primaries overall- will be important to watch. Democrats have a competitive gubernatorial election but may still amass fewer votes collectively than he will IF Republican participation in the U.S. Senate contest matches previous statewide primary contests.
After an easy re-election as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Evers threw his hat into the ring and remains the most recognized Democratic hopeful. Indeed, he leads in the scant public polling we have seen, but the same polling has still indicated an open race. If he were to win tonight, it should be obvious from the very first votes: the earliest counties to report in Wisconsin, now, include Waukesha, Dane, and Milwaukee. However, if the early returns show a closer contest, Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin union, is my guess for a “surprise” victor. Expect him to perform strongest in Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Rock, all of which should report within the first hour. Dane County will be a battleground split a half-dozen ways. Union-minded voters could pull for Mitchell, generic primary goers could pull for Evers, while plenty of Madison residents may opt for their Mayor, Paul Soglin. Along the Mississippi River, Kathleen Vinehout may place first or second, having represented State Senate District 31 since 2006. Rounding out the top five candidates is activist Mike McCabe, who has polled about as well as the rest: trailing Evers but with plenty of undecideds to persuade.
In the race to challenge incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin, two Republicans have been locked in contention: Kevin Nicholson and State Senator Leah Vukmir. Polling has been all over the place, but there are some ways to tell who will pull this out, early in the night. At the close of polls, those three counties mentioned earlier come into play: Waukesha, Milwaukee, Dane. The third is a Democratic stronghold but still contributes a sizable number of votes during Republican primaries. Typically, though not always, the more “moderate” Republican candidate eats that up. Who is the more moderate isn’t relevant here: it’s who wins their votes, and this will come into play towards the end of the night. Milwaukee’s suburbs are slightly more on the moderate side of the scale (in the county proper), and they typically are some of the last to report. We should get an initial count from each, then it’s conservative powerhouse county Waukesha indicating who won over Walkerland before Ozaukee and Washington start rolling in. The “WOW” will contribute greater than 1 in 5 votes, so a solid lead in these pockets is an insight to what you’ll see in the rest of the eastern half of the state, and likely puts it away statewide for the leading candidate there. But if things remain tight, even in the suburban counties around Milwaukee, then Dane and Milwaukee will likely “finish” the night as the deciders.
U.S. House 1st District, Republican
With Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s retirement, a vacuum was quickly filled with his former staffer Bryan Steil. Five other Republicans are running, but we anticipate this side of the district’s races will be over quickly, as two of its key counties now report rather quickly- Waukesha and Milwaukee.
U.S. House 1st District, Democratic
Randy Bryce has been a fundraising juggernaut with an initial goal of defeating Speaker Ryan. With his retirement, he’s focused on winning a rather expensive primary, one in which, at least in terms of money, he’s dominated all year. His only opponent, Cathy Myers, has raised a respectable $1.3 million but has only $160k cash on hand. Bryce has raised almost $6.3 million and has over $1.6 million cash on hand. Expect Bryce strongest in Kenosha, Racine, and Rock as the initial returns roll in. If there is an upset, Myers will probably pull it off in the more Republican counties of the district (Waukesha, Walworth, etc).
U.S. House 4th District, Democratic
Democratic incumbent Gwen Moore faces little opposition in her primary and will win handily tonight.
U.S. House 4th District, Republican
On the Republican side of things, Cindy Werner and Tim Rogers face off for the right to be the sacrificial lamb in an overwhelmingly Democratic district.
U.S. House 5th District, Republican
Forty-year incumbent Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner faces little opposition in the most Republican district in the state and will win handily tonight.
U.S. House 7th District, Democratic
Two Democrats face off today for the right to challenge incumbent Republican Congressman Sean Duffy. Margaret Engebretson and Brian Ewert are both new to the political scene and it’s hard to ascertain any real geographic strongholds. Fundraising and spending has been a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the seven figures gushing out of 1st District, and it’s understandable why: Duffy’s seat is considered far safer and he has almost $2.5 million cash on hand– twenty-five times that of both Engebretson and Ewert combined.