2012 Election Results and Implications

Most people breathe a sigh of relief at the end of election season. In Wisconsin, that sigh has been duly earned as the general election on November 6 marked the sixth time Wisconsinites went to the polls in this marathon political year. However, there is no rest for the wicked, and the real work for those who were elected is just beginning.


Wisconsin assisted President Obama in his successful attempt to secure a second term. Obama won 52.8% of the popular vote in Wisconsin.

The Obama campaign’s general lack of focus on specific issues during the campaign leaves many questions about what policy goals he wishes to accomplish in his second term. However, one issue that is somewhat resolved is the fate of Obamacare; it is here to stay since its namesake’s party controls the presidency and the senate.

There is also much speculation about who will be running various federal agencies as the President moves forward with policy changes. It is likely that there will be some changes at the top levels as it is rare for cabinet members to serve for two full presidential terms.

U.S. Senate

Sen. Herb Kohl’s retirement was responsible for all the changes to Wisconsin’s Congressional Delegation. U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) won Kohl’s vacant Senate seat and state Rep. Mark Pocan (D) won Baldwin’s vacated House seat.

Baldwin bested former Gov. Tommy Thompson 51.5% of the vote to 45.9% to become the first woman from Wisconsin to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Wisconsin now has both the most liberal, Baldwin, and conservative, Ron Johnson, members of the U.S. Senate.
Baldwin’s win played an important role in the Democrats strategy to maintain control of the U.S. Senate. The seat was classified as a toss-up which either party could pick up going into the election. Democrats have a 53-45 majority in the Senate.

U.S. House

All Wisconsin’s Congressional incumbents who ran for re-election, including Rep. Paul Ryan from Janesville, held their seats. Under state law, Ryan was able to run for both Vice-President and Congress at the same time. If he had won Vice-President, he would have then been required to resign his Congressional seat.

As mentioned above, there is one new face in the group and that is state Rep. Mark Pocan (D) of Madison, who won the seat vacated by Tammy Baldwin.

The lack of change in political party representation in Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation mirrors the lack of change in control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans held on to control of the body 233-195. The split control of Congress and the Presidency will result in either a grand compromise on the big issues facing the country, or a grand stalemate.

Wisconsin Eye Senior Producer Steve Walters sat down with members of the Capitol press corps on November 9, 2012 in the WisconsinEye studio to discuss the results of the 2012 general election. Panelists included: Jason Stein, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ; Jessica VanEgeren, The Capital Times; Shawn Johnson, Wisconsin Public Radio; and Scott Bauer, The Associated Press.

Wisconsin State Assembly

As expected, the Republicans retained control of the State Assembly. After winning so many seats in the 2010 midterm elections, many of which were in Democratic leaning districts, to come back in this presidential year election and maintain their large majority is undoubtedly a success.

Although it was a good year for the GOP over all, three of their incumbents lost their reelection bids, including Reps. Evan Wynn (R), Joe Knilans (R), and Roger Rivard (R). John Steinbrink (D) was the only unsuccessful incumbent Democrat.

Two races have not yet been called and may result in recounts. In the 70th Assembly District, incumbent Rep. Amy Sue Vruwink (D) leads challenger Nancy Vandermeer (R) by 168 votes. Incumbent State Rep. Scott Krug (R) leads challenger Justin Pluess (D) by 114 votes in the 72nd Assembly District.

If a recount does not change the results, Republicans will control the State Assembly with a 60-39 majority. This is an increase of one seat from 2011, when there were 59 Republicans, 39 Democrats, and one Independent who often caucused with the Republicans. The relatively small number of competitive races this cycle would suggest that the Republicans bought some insurance through the redistricting process. The results in the new districts are indicative of what election outcomes in those districts will look like until there is a population or ideological shift.

Wisconsin State Senate

The State Senate, which has been held by the Democrats since the summer 2012 recall elections, is back in Republican hands. This is the third majority party switch in two years.

Rep. Tom Tiffany (R) easily beat Susan Sommer (D) in the race to fill retiring Sen. Jim Holperin’s (D) seat. The win by Rick Gudex (R), a local official from Fond du Lac, over incumbent Sen. Jessica King (D) ensures a working Republican majority of 18-15. If a party holds only a 17-16 advantage, any single senator can kill a proposal, and the minority party is much more relevant, a fact evident during last year’s debate on mining where one GOP Senator derailed a bill that passed easily in the Assembly.

The only other seat that was potentially in play, the 30th District, was held by incumbent Dave Hansen (D) against a challenge by businessman John Macco (R).

Those lucky folks in the 33rd District actually get to vote one more time in 2012 to make official their selection of Paul Farrow (R) as their new state senator. The seat, which would normally not be up for election this year, was vacated by Sen. Rich Zipperer (R), who resigned in order to join Gov. Walker’s staff. Farrow’s move to the Senate opens his District 98 Assembly seat, so a special election will be held to fill that seat.

A full list of election results is available on this Hamilton Consulting webpage.