Wisconsin Democrats face a tough road in the Senate and gubernatorial races | New Policies

By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin Democrats gathering for their annual state convention this weekend are focused on re-electing Gov. Tony Evers and defeating Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, but also know history is against them at midterms as voters face high inflation, rising gas prices and growing fears of a recession.

Just how close the election could be was made clear Wednesday with the latest poll from Marquette University Law School. It showed Evers slightly ahead of his Republican opponents, while Johnson was roughly tied with every top Democrat running against him.

But the poll also showed Republicans are more enthusiastic than Democrats about voting, an important marker in a midterm election when turnout is lower than in a presidential year. Johnson’s prospect has improved and deteriorated for Evers, the lower the expected turnout in the ballot.

“Turnout matters in a game of inches in a state that has seen so many close elections in recent years,” said Marquette pollster Charles Franklin.

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And in a bad sign for incumbents, the majority of poll respondents said they felt the state was heading in the wrong direction.

Evers and Democrats know the road ahead is tough — the last time a Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate from the same party the president won was in 1990 — but they believe they can ride out headwinds.

“No matter what happens nationally, Wisconsin Democrats are united and vibrant,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler. Still, the Marquette poll showed 67% of Republicans were very excited about voting, compared to 58% for Democrats.

“There’s this real feeling that the future of our state and the whole country is at stake and Democrats voting in 2022 could affect the rest of our lives,” Wikler said.

The Marquette poll showed President Joe Biden’s approval rating at 40%, with 57% disapproval, his lowest ratings in Wisconsin since taking office. Evers’ approval rating was better at 48% while 45% disapproved.

Evers shapes his argument for re-election by serving as a roadblock to Republicans who control the Legislature, halting their efforts to restrict access to abortion, overhaul the conduct of elections and relax gun control laws fire. On Wednesday, Republicans ignored a special session Evers called to repeal an 1849 law making abortions illegal that could go into effect if Roe v. Wade is canceled.

Republicans claim Evers’ tenure was a failure, saying he did not respond quickly or forcefully enough to the violent riots in Kenosha in the summer of 2021 that he takes credit for a tax cut that Republicans wrote in that didn’t do enough to help the economy.

The Republicans vying to face Evers will meet in less than two months in the Aug. 9 primary.

The Marquette poll showed a tight GOP primary race. Tim Michels, co-owner of a multimillion-dollar construction company that won Donald Trump’s endorsement, is at an impasse with former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who is the longest running GOP racer. Michels was 27% to 26% for Kleefisch, who led the field before Michels entered the race in April.

Business consultant Kevin Nicholson was at 10% while state Rep. Timothy Ramthun trailed at 3%. Nearly a third of respondents, 32%, say they are undecided.

In the Senate race, the poll showed Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes at 25% and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry at 21%. State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski trailed at 9% while Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson was at 7%. Similar to the Republican primary poll, about a third of respondents, 36%, said they were undecided.

The poll of 803 registered voters was taken between June 14 and Monday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. For questions about the Republican primary, the margin of error was 6.3 percentage points and for the Democratic primary it was 6.2 percentage points.

Evers and the Senate candidates will all speak at the convention in La Crosse this weekend, as will U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, Attorney General Josh Kaul and other office holders and candidates.

The Democratic convention is being held in western Wisconsin’s 3rd congressional district, which has a vacant seat this year due to the retirement of Democratic US Representative Ron Kind. Republicans are targeting this tightly divided district as one they can turn around.

Three Democratic primary candidates for that seat are scheduled to speak at the convention. The winner will advance to face Trump-endorsed Derrick Van Orden, who lost to Kind in 2020 and whose participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising on the U.S. Capitol has faced criticism from Democrats.

Democrats, unlike Republicans in Wisconsin, do not vote to endorse candidates in contested primaries.

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