DemDaily: Wisconsin Wavers

November 1, 2022

Now just one week out from the November 8, 2022 midterm elections, the battleground state of Wisconsin is at the center of the fight for control of the US Senate.

Senator Ron Johnson, the GOP's most vulnerable incumbent, is the only Republican Senator facing reelection this year in a state that supported Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race.

Purple State Politics
In the critical Midwest swing state, the two most recent presidential elections were decided by less than one percentage point. In 2016, Donald Trump carried Wisconsin with 47.2% of the vote to Hillary Clinton's 46.5%.

In the 2020 election, Joe Biden reclaimed Wisconsin as a blue, if not purple state, with a 49.5% to 48.8% victory over Trump.

The political divide is reflected in the split control of party power in the state. While the Democratic Party controls the offices of Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer and Attorney General, the Republican Party holds a majority in the State Senate and House.

The Wisconsin legislature is considered the most gerrymandered in the country. Although Democrats swept all five statewide races and won 53% of votes cast for the State Assembly in 2018, they retained just 36% of seats in the chamber.

The 2020 redistricting process did little to alter the landscape. Wisconsin's new congressional map, approved by the state Supreme Court after a legal showdown between Evers and the GOP state legislature, carves the state into six Republican-leaning seats and two Democratic strongholds. Republicans currently hold five seats to Democrats' three.

Wisconsin is also one of six states with one Democratic and one Republican US Senator. The Badger State's junior Senator is Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who was elected in 2016 with 51.4%, succeeding retiring Democratic Senator Herb Kohl.

Senior Senator Ron Johnson (R), a former plastics company CEO, was first elected in 2010, defeating Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold 51.86% to 47.02%. He was reelected in 2016, defeating Feingold in a rematch, 50.2% to 46.8%.

A staunch Trump ally, Johnson was active in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, including an attempt to arrange for pro-Trump electors to illegally cast Wisconsin's electoral votes for the defeated president on January 6, 2021.

He subsequently pushed conspiracy theories about the US Capitol attack, at one point blaming Nancy Pelosi, and voted to declare Trump's second impeachment trial unconstitutional.

Democratic nominee Mandela Barnes, who previously served in the State House for two terms, was elected Wisconsin's first African American Lieutenant Governor in 2018, running on the ticket with then-state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. The two unseated incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, 49.5% to 48.4%.

Evers is now in a fierce reelection battle with Trump-endorsed businessman Tim Michaels, with just one percentage point separating the two in recent polling. The outcome of both the Senate and gubernatorial elections will be viewed as a bellwether for the 2024 presidential race.

Barnes, who announced his challenge to Johnson in July 2021, all but cleared the Democratic field of seven candidates by the August 9, 2022 primary, securing 77.5% of the vote.

Wisconsin has been viewed as Democrat's best chance to flip an incumbent, but Barnes' 7-point post-primary polling lead has dissolved. An October 14-22, 2022 Data For Progress poll of likely voters showed Johnson leading Barnes 51% to 46% (MOE: ± 3.0%).

Barnes, however, is outpacing Johnson in fundraising, having reported a 3rd-quarter fundraising haul of $19.5 million, for a total of $35 million raised in the election, with $2.55 million cash on hand. In the same period, Johnson took in $11.6 million, for a total of $31.94 million raised with $3.52 million cash on hand.

Those numbers are dwarfed by spending from outside groups, which have invested nearly $88 million on the race thus far. Of that, roughly $35.1 million has been spent on ads opposing Barnes and around $27.4 million has been spent in opposition of Johnson. NPR estimates that total outside spending in the race could exceed more than $200 million by Election Day.

GOTV: 50,000 new voters have registered in the state since August 1, making it the highest number of registered voters ever for a midterm election. While Wisconsin does not register voters by party, as of October, 65,000 more voters lived in counties that voted for Tony Evers (D) than Scott Walker (R) in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

Where to Vote in Wisconsin!

DemList will keep you informed.

DemDaily: US House: The Landscape and Latest Polling 10/31/22
DemDaily: 2022 Governors Races: The Final Battlegrounds 10/26/22
DemDaily: The Abortion Battlegrounds 10/19/22
DemDaily: Status of The Senate: Races and Ratings 10/12/22

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Ballotpedia, OpenSecrets, WPR, Wisconsin PBS, New York Times, Mother Jones

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