State Legislature Election Preview

Find out what races we will have our eyes on as the results come in, and what each race means for control of that house.

State Assembly

There is no question that the large majority Assembly Republicans built in 2010 will, for the most part, be intact after the 2012 elections. Going in to Tuesday’s elections the Republicans have about a 20-seat majority over the Democrats. Redistricting and retirements give and take away some of each party’s seats, but the math ends up being more favorable to the Republicans.

While control is not in play, there are a number of seats whose outcome will determine which side can declare victory. For the Republicans, any number close to their current 59 seats would be a win. 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 would undoubtedly be a success. Even if Republicans come back with a net loss of one or two seats they can claim a successful defense of their caucus.

Assembly Democrats had high hopes that sharing a ticket with President Obama would result in significant gains across the state. But this isn’t 2008 Obama, and a closer result at the top of the ticket makes it much more difficult at the bottom. When you combine redistricting, a weaker Obama, and a significant financial disadvantage, those high hopes have quickly turned into a more sobering reality.

This being the case, there appears to be more than a handful of competitive races in the assembly that could go either way. If assembly Democrats are able to put the majority within sight (i.e. get to 44 or 45 seats), they can declare victory after Tuesday’s elections.

Here are the competitive seats to watch:

No Incumbent Open Seats

  • 35th – Republican Mary Czaja versus Democrat Kevin Koth
  • 85th – Republican Pat Snyder versus Democrat Mandy Wright

Incumbent versus Incumbent

  • 43rd – Republican Evan Wynn versus Democrat Andy Jorgenson – Jorgenson is expected to win.
  • 61st – Republican Samantha Kerkman versus Democrat John Steinbrink – Kerkman is expected to win.

Democratic Incumbent versus Challenger

  • 70th – Democrat Amy Sue Vruwink versus Linda Vandermeer

Republican Incumbent versus Challenger (Ordered by Likelihood of Flip)

  • 44th – Republican Joe Knilans versus Deb Kolste
  • 75th – Republican Roger Rivard versus Stephen Smith
  • 68th – Republican Kathy Bernier versus Judy Smirga
  • 72nd – Republican Scott Krug versus Justin Pluess
  • 67th – Republican Tom Larson versus Deb Bieging
  • 93rd – Republican Warren Petryk versus Jeff Smith
  • 51st – Republican Howard Marklein versus Maureen May-Grimm
  • 30th – Republican Dean Knudson versus Diane Odeen

At this point, our information suggests that Knilans will lose due to redistricting, but most of the rest of the Republican incumbents will return. Insiders would be surprised, but not shocked, if a Democrat prevailed in any of the above races.

Keep in mind, even if Democrats win every seat that is in play on this list, they will still be the minority party.

State Senate

Had Sen. Jim Holperin not retired from his northern Wisconsin swing district seat, there would be much more intrigue surrounding state senate results. But he did, and his seat is a virtual lock to be filled by sitting GOP Rep. Tom Tiffany, assuring Senate Republicans of at least a 17-16 majority in Wisconsin’s State Senate.

While both sides tried to put other seats in play, there appears to be only one seat that is up for grabs with another seat on the fringe. Both seats have incumbent Democrats on the defensive. These seats are important in regard to how the Senate will operate going forward. If Republicans hold a 17-16 advantage, any single senator can kill a proposal, and Democrats in the body will be 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. An 18-15 advantage will certainly allow Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald a little breathing room and more options for success in passing his agenda.

The Toss Up:18th District Democratic Sen. Jess King versus Rick Gudex

Even before redistricting, this seat was Republican by the numbers, although in presidential turnout years it resembles a swing district. In 2008 Jess King lost to then Sen. Randy Hopper by less than 200 votes. King took on Hopper again in 2011 during the first round of senate recalls and this time prevailed in another close race. She now is on the ballot for state senate for the third time in two years.

Sen. King’s opponent is Rick Gudex, a local official from Fond du Lac. A relative unknown in the beginning, Gudex has benefitted from over $3 million in third party ads and is in a strong position to knock out the incumbent.

The last round of polling in this race shows it is too close to call at this point, with Democratic internals showing King with a slight lead and Republican internals showing Gudex with a lead. King needs a strong campus turnout and some Obama momentum to pull out a win, while Gudex needs the district to do what it historically does—elect a Republican.

The Long Shot: 30th Democrat Sen. Dave Hansen versus John Macco

Sen. Hansen is running for his fourth term in office, which will make him one of the longer serving legislators in the building. Surrounded by Republican elected officials in a Brown County area that can be tough on Democrats, Hansen has been able to survive and thrive in his Green Bay district.

In 2012, Hansen is facing his toughest test since his first election in 2000 in the race against Republican John Macco. A local businessman with long standing family ties in the community, Macco has put forth a strong challenge, backed by aggressive third party interests. Many thought the success of Gov. Walker in Brown County during his recall election meant that Brown County was ready to toss out another Democrat, but at this point in time, Hansen’s popularity in the district has him holding enough of a lead in both Republican and Democratic polling for him to feel mildly comfortable.

Obama’s Thursday visit to Green Bay should help boost turnout that favors Hansen, but Macco has run a solid campaign and many hold out hope that his momentum will continue and spike on Election Day with a fickle Brown County electorate.