State Assembly Democrats Hope to Shrink Big Republican Majority


 Joe Murray  |    June 08, 2018
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Heading into the 2010 midterm elections, Democrats controlled the Wisconsin state assembly 51-46 with two independents. That meant the GOP needed four seats to gain outright control of the lower chamber. When county clerks finished counting the votes, Republicans netted 13 new seats that November and took a commanding 59-40 seat majority. And over the next three election cycles, the Republican majority grew to the current 63-35 advantage it has today.

As Assembly Democrats look ahead to the November 2018 elections, they believe they finally have the right political environment for the first time in nearly a decade to shrink the dominant Republican majority and begin their comeback from a powerless minority party. Indeed, unless something dramatic happens to change the direction of the 2018 elections, many political prognosticators are predicting that Democrats will likely pick up seats in the Assembly for the first time in eight years.

Since January 2017, Democrats across the country have picked up more than 40 previously held Republican seats in state legislative, congressional and gubernatorial seats in off-year and special elections, with one of those pickups in Wisconsin. At press time, two more special elections in Wisconsin are pending that could eventually factor into this count. With Donald Trump and Republicans in full control of all the levers of power in Washington, the 2018 midterm elections are very likely going to prove, once again, that the party of the White House is certain to lose congressional and legislative seats in November. It’s a question of how many seats and where.

This article analyzes 15 potentially competitive seats in the Wisconsin Assembly where minority Democrats have the best chance to pick up seats from Republicans this November. How many and which districts might flip from red to blue remains to be determined by the voters, but page 25 reviews 15 Republican districts that most political insiders would place on the ‚Äúhighly competitive in 2018‚ÄĚ list.

15 seats: With a historically large Assembly Republican majority of 63 seats with one seat currently vacant, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos will have his work cut out for him as he tries to hold on to as many seats as possible in a challenging political environment for Republicans this year. However, if a ‚Äúblue wave‚ÄĚ election develops as November approaches, additional seats could come into play. For now, a total of 15 target seats is a big number, and Democrats will have to decide how to allocate their financial resources in the most efficient way to capitalize on the opportunities possible with these 15 targeted districts.

Western and Central Wisconsin: The majority of the 15 targeted legislative districts are located on the Western side of Wisconsin and, to a lesser extent, Central Wisconsin. And Western Wisconsin is considered classic ‚Äúswing‚ÄĚ territory. In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama carried Western Wisconsin as he cruised to easy victories in both elections. In 2014 and 2016, Scott Walker and Donald Trump carried the western side of the state with equally strong margins. With 11 of the 15 competitive districts lined up on the western side of the Badger State, the party that performs best at the top-of-the-ticket will have a significant influence on down-ballot races for state Assembly.

Open seats: Three of the 11 competitive seats on the western side of the state are open seats. In the 68th Assembly District, current state Rep. Kathy Bernier is vacating her seat in the 68th Assembly District to run for the open state Senate seat in the 23rd District, Lee Nerison is retiring in the 96th Assembly District, and Ed Brooks is retiring in the 50th Assembly District. Open seats are generally much more difficult to hold than seats with incumbents running for reelection, so these three districts will likely be more challenging to hold for Republicans than the other eight seats.

Money matters: Fundraising for the majority party is always easier than the minority. In March, all candidates and campaign committees reported their fundraising totals for 2017, and the Republican campaign committees, as expected, raised significantly more than the Democrats. The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee (RACC) reported a cash balance of $805,920, while the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee (ADCC) reported $292,675 at the end of last year. Given the stakes in the outcome of this year’s elections and the size of the Republican majority in the state Assembly, it will not be an easy task for Assembly Democrats to match Republican fundraising totals this year. Special interest groups are far more likely to give to a majority party they expect to remain in control after the November elections.

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Watch for more information about state Assembly elections in future issues of Wisconsin Real Estate Magazine.

Joe Murray is Director of Political and Governmental Affairs for the WRA.

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