At last, Wisconsin has a Congressional map. Well, probably.
Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court approved a map drawn by the Governor’s Office after one conservative Justice broke from the pack and joined the liberals in a 4-3 majority opinion. Despite coming from Democratic Governor Tony Evers, this map mostly leaves in place current Republican majorities in the state legislature. Evers’ hope was to prevent an even more lopsided plan, and while Republicans are appealing the decision, the U.S. Supreme Court may well decline to take the case.
The Badger State currently has five Republican Representatives and three Democratic ones, although with the impending retirement of Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, the GOP will likely soon hold a 6-2 edge. Kind’s Southwestern district, which runs along the Minnesota border, is practically the epicenter of Obama-Trump voters. Without the 13 term incumbent, this R+9 district is widely expected to flip in November.
The only other district within striking distance for another party is the 1st, the Southeastern seat sitting under Milwaukee and above Illinois. This R+6 seat, represented by Bryan Steil, could conceivably be competitive some day but likely not in November.
With the map, and the generic ballot stacked against them, Democrats will have to shift to the statewide contests in pursuit of some victories.
Evers Stronger Than Anticipated in Gubernatorial Contest
Given the national climate, and Gov. Evers’ own razor-thin win over Scott Walker in 2018, the Wisconsin Governorship should be a ripe Republican prize in 2022. Yet Evers is far from a hopeless candidate. In fact, a recent Marquette University Poll showed Governor Evers standing surprisingly strong.
After falling underwater for the first time in October 2021, Evers’ approval rating jumped back up to 50% with 41% disapproving. Evers also has a decent 47% favorable rating alongside a 41% unfavorable rating. While not stellar, that spread is identical to Senator Tammy Baldwin (42-36) and considerably better than Senator Ron Johnson (33-45).
Over on the Republican side, former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch is leading the field of hopefuls with 30%. Businessman Kevin Nicholson is in second with 8%, while Assemblyman Timothy Ramthun sits in third at 5%.
Kleefisch’s lead might be a partial result of having a higher name ID than her opponents. For instance, half of respondents are familiar with her, while 80% and 86% are unaware of Nicholson and Ramthun respectively.
Can Johnson Pull Off a Three-Peat?
As discussed above, Sen. Ron Johnson kicks off March in a less secure position than Gov. Evers. Nevertheless, Johnson has defied the odds twice before, winning in 2010 and 2016 despite being down in the polls at this point in both those contests.
Additionally, unlike former Sen. Russ Feingold in 2010 and 2016, there is no clear Democratic front-runner this time. Even so, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes remains a step ahead of his opponents. The Marquette survey found him with 23%, ten points ahead of Milwaukee Bucks Senior VP Alex Lasry’s 13%. Further down, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson sits at 5% while State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski secured 3%.
Johnson is considered the most vulnerable Republican Senator this year, not just due to Wisconsin’s toss-up status, but also because of Johnson’s fiery partisanship. Whereas another Senator in his position might go great lengths to appear moderate and bipartisan, consider Pat Toomey’s efforts in 2016 for example, Johnson takes the opposite approach.
I could cite dozens of controversial quotes and stances from the Senator over the years, but I’ll just stick with his assertion that the January 6th insurrection “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to [him]”.
A talented Democratic opponent could make such statements stick to Johnson, yet there’s no guarantee the eventual Democratic nominee will be up to that task. Furthermore, if the environment in November 2022 resembles the one in November 2021, Johnson could still easily ride a red wave to victory.
We’ll begin to get a clearer picture of this race, and all of the other contests throughout Wisconsin, after the state holds its primary on August 9th.