Republicans Look to Increase Majority in Wisconsin Senate


 Joe Murray  |    March 09, 2020
Republicans

Wisconsin Republicans believe they have a good chance to increase the size of their legislative majority in the November 2020 elections. The GOP currently controls the Wisconsin Senate 19-14, which is three seats short of a historic veto-proof majority that could be used to override vetoes made by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Party insiders on both sides point to four Senate seats that will likely be hotly contested this fall. Three of these four seats are held by Democrats Patty Schachtner from Somerset, Dave Hansen from Green Bay, and Jennifer Shilling from La Crosse. The fourth seat is held by Republican Pat Testin from Stevens Point.

Looking ahead to the November general elections, there are three factors that will have a significant influence on the outcome in all four races:

  • The overall competitiveness of the presidential election¬†in Wisconsin.
  • The top-of-the-ticket voting tendencies in all four Senate districts.
  • The fundraising capabilities of the major party candidates¬†in each contest.¬†

Democrats don’t believe the GOP can claim the advantage with all three factors, and they may be right. But Republicans argue they sit in the catbird seat as it stands today. Here’s a quick overview of where things stand with eight months to go before the November elections. 

2020 election trends

In November, President Trump versus his opponent(s) will be the only race at the top of the ticket, and if the presidential race  is competitive in Wisconsin, it will have a significant influence on down-ballot elections for state Senate. Voter turnout is key in today’s hyperpartisan environment, and voter turnout projections point to a possible record in Wisconsin. 

In addition, results from the February Marquette Law School poll signal the strong possibility for another close election in the presidential race. In head-to-head matchups, Trump was either close or slightly ahead of the top five candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. Additional Marquette Law School poll results revealed the following: 

  • Trump‚Äôs job approval ratings stood at 48% approve and 48% disapprove, matching his best ratings in the Marquette Law School poll since taking office.
  • 56% approved of Trump‚Äôs handling of the economy.

In short, the Marquette Law School poll revealed that Trump has improved his standing in Wisconsin as the November general election approaches.

Unless something happens to significantly alter the current political trajectory, Wisconsin appears to be heading for another close election result in the presidential contest. A close presidential election should benefit GOP candidates running for state Senate.

Past performance

Of the four competitive Senate seats, the GOP will likely have a competitive advantage in three. Senate Districts 10, 24 and 30 all have a top-of-the-ticket lean to Republicans. Only District 32, held by Democratic leader Jennifer Shilling, leans Democratic at the top. The top-of-the-ticket advantage for Republicans is significant because three of the four competitive seats are currently held by Democrats. The GOP holds a 19-14 majority, and if one or more of the targeted seats fall into the GOP column, Republicans could expand their majority to 20 seats or more, a modern-day record for either side of the political divide.

Money

When incumbents run for reelection, they are usually going to raise more money than their challengers. In the three seats with incumbents running for reelection on this list, all three start with a financial advantage. January 2020 fundraising reports showed Schachtner with a balance of $72,263, Testin with $237,688, and Shilling with $109,481. Retiring incumbent Hansen had $40,577 cash on hand, but these funds can’t be transferred directly to the Democratic candidate who runs in this seat. All three incumbents begin their election campaigns with a strong cash-on-hand balance.

With eight months to go before Election Day, the political dynamics that put these four seats into play could change. If, however, the presidential election remains close and Trump performs well in small towns and rural Wisconsin communities as expected, the GOP could be headed for a big night on November 3.

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

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