Let the Campaigns Begin!

 Joe Murray  |    January 25, 2007

The elections of 2004 are already underway. The Presidential Primary was held on February 17 and U.S. Senator John Kerry held on for a narrow win in Wisconsin. Candidates at the national, state and local level are all working to set up their campaign organizations and raise money to fund their campaigns.

We won’t know exactly how the political landscape will look until July 13, when nomination papers are due at the state Elections Board and all candidates have stated their intention to run, walk or retire.

We can, however, take a look at some of the developments so far in 2004 as we move closer to November 2.

Wisconsin a Key State for Bush and Kerry

If you like up-close and personal presidential politics, you’re going to love Wisconsin this year. Badger State voters will see lots of George W. Bush and John Kerry because Wisconsin is a key state for both campaigns in the November 2 election.

In the 2000 presidential election, Gore carried Wisconsin by 5,708 votes over Bush, or two-tenths of one percentage point. This ranked Wisconsin as the third most competitive state four years ago.

Presidential election experts and campaign strategists on both sides include Wisconsin in a group of 11 battleground states that may well decide the outcome in the November election. These were states where the outcome in 2000 was either close or very close: Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Wisconsin, West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. Combined, these states total 127 electoral votes of the necessary 270 to win the presidency. Wisconsin has 10 electoral votes, down from 11 in 2000.

Southwest Wisconsin

Voters in the southwest corner of Wisconsin will participate in some of the most hotly contested races from the presidential contest down to State Assembly.

Democrat and Republican strategists alike have their sights set on a 10-county area where voters show a willingness to vote for either side depending on the political environment and issue agenda. Counties include Crawford, Grant, Iowa, Juneau, LaCrosse, Lafayette, Monroe, Richland, Sauk and Vernon.

The last Republican to carry these 10 counties at the presidential level was George H.W. Bush in 1988, with 51 percent of the vote. In 1992, Bush "41" slid to 35 percent; Bob Dole received 35 percent in 1996; and George W. Bush garnered 45 percent in the 2000 election.

In addition to the extra emphasis on southwest Wisconsin at the presidential level, there will be other races that generate higher turnout.

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold will face re-election against one of four candidates running in the GOP primary: car dealer Russ Darrow, Attorney Robert Lorge, businessman Tim Michaels, and State Senator Bob Welch. If historic voting patterns are any guide, voters in the southwestern corner of Wisconsin are split rather evenly on Feingold. In 1992, Feingold carried the 10-county area 52 percent to 48 percent over incumbent Republican Bob Kasten; in 1998, Feingold narrowly edged Republican Mark Neumann 51 percent to 49 percent.

For the first time since his election to the House of Representatives in 1996, Democratic Congressman Ron Kind from LaCrosse will face a potentially stiff challenge from Republican state Senator Dale Schultz of Richland Center.

Kind has sailed to easy victories since his win over Jim Harsdorf eight years ago. With a reasonably well-financed campaign by Schultz, and election activity up and down the ballot in this corner of the state, Kind will have to engage with a seasoned opponent with 20 years of experience.

Southwest Wisconsin will also have to replace retiring Democratic State Senator Mark Meyer from LaCrosse and Republican Assemblyman DuWayne Johnsrud of Eastman. Meyer and Johnsrud announced their retirements in February and March of this year.

This 10-county corner of southwest Wisconsin will be a challenge to both parties. In this part of the state, Democrats have carried the top-of-the-ticket while Republicans have been stronger at the state and local level. This is classic "swing" territory.

State Senate

Five potentially competitive State Senate races will highlight the 2004 elections. Senate District 32, in southwest Wisconsin due to the retirement of Democrat Mark Meyer; Senate District 22, the Kenosha based seat held by Democratic State Senator Bob Wirch; Senate District 30, a Green Bay-Oconto-Marinette seat held by Democratic State Senator Dave Hansen; Senate District 12, a large northern Wisconsin district that stretches from Shawano county in the South to Vilas County going north. The seat is held by Veteran Democratic State Senator Roger Breske; and Senate District 10, a St. Croix-Burnette County district in Western Wisconsin held by Republican State Senator Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls.

Election watchers from both sides believe these five districts are competitive and may very well decide the make-up of the State Senate next January.

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