It is a ludicrous even pitiable date for a major election – Tuesday, August 9, the dog days of summer. It is hard to motivate voters or plead with them to step away from typical activity in vacation friendly Wisconsin. Harder still to explain the confounding early voting rules, why you must bring ID this time or justify how absentee ballot requirements have been used to create such horrible primary placement.
Few realize the importance of this August primary. Sure, several state races don’t really face off until November – IF there’s only a lone Democrat and a lone Republican running. Many don’t even realize how many races will actually be decided August 9 in the Democratic or Republican primaries.
For unhappy Dems and disgruntled Republicans, a national tide is emerging that could benefit struggling Wisconsin, a rescue through an election blitz. But only if the blitz begins Aug. 9.
|Harley lover Nehlen hopes to ride Ryan out in the primary|
That CD1 contest forces Republican voters to stay in their own lane because every vote will count. More on that race later.
August 9 will decide many important contests or, as in the Ryan-Nehlen case, threaten unexpected newness.
In Milwaukee, several key races will be over August 9 depending on who wins the Democratic primary. On that ballot hinges the re-election of John Chisholm as district attorney. Or whether hard charging Mandela Barnes, abandoning his Assembly seat, will rise to be 4th District state senator over entrenched Lena Taylor. It also determines if the deserving Rep. LaTonya Johnson picks up the state Senate District 6 mantle of Nikiya Harris Dodd, who for family reasons is leaving. But first Johnson has to wrestle to the ground Milwaukee school board’s Michael Bonds, who failed badly in a recent run for the Common Council, and Lena Taylor’s outside-money-funded chief of staff, Thomas Harris. These races and other decisive August contests will be discussed in depth in my next column.
If that is not enough reason to vote Aug 9, roll your eyes over the whole state and consider:
- Russ Feingold has a token Democrat to overcome in August, then the real contest is between him and US Sen. Ron Johnson November 8. August is still important because strength on the ballot is often more revealing than who is leading in the polls.
- August will determine which of two Democrats take on the GOP’s newest gift to insane House statements, Glenn Grothman, for US Congressional District 6. The most likely is Sarah Lloyd and she could give Grothman a run for his life in November even in this long conservative region.
- A similar primary before the November finale is taking place in CD 7, the largest district geographically covering northwest and central Wisconsin. Author and communication arts professor Mary Hoeft is hoping her passion for public education will defeat fellow Democrat Joel Lewis, a Marathon County Board member, for the chance to face off in November against former reality celebrity, sportscaster and long-time pain in the austerity butt – Rep. Sean Duffy. Common sense wants him gone and Hoeft may do it.
- Rep. Gwen Moore is predicted an easy repeat over a ghost from the patronage past, Gary George, which on Aug. 9 will pretty much determine Congressional District 4 (gerrymandered by the GOP to be extremely Democratic in Milwaukee).
- In CD8, where Rep. Reid Ribble has refused to run again, the primary contest is only on the Republican side. So progressive hopes have to wait for November. Then well-known Tom Nelson -- popular Outagamie County Executive, a nonpartisan position, and former Democratic Assembly majority leader (in the long ago days of 2010 when bipartisanship had a chance) – gets to go full bore. Nelson is only 40, a reminder of how quickly political fortunes can reverse in Wisconsin.
This would be a key pickup for Democrats – a district that spans Marinette, just east of Wausau, south through Appleton and Chilton, and also includes Door County. The GOP is likely to weaken itself in a three-way primary.
|Ron Kind challenger Myron Bucholz|
- Other primary races look safe for congressional incumbents, except for a maverick uprising among progressives over CD3 incumbent Ron Kind who has hurt himself in trade stance and his inability over 18 years to reverse poverty trends and the loss of education funding.
It is a race that could profoundly reshape the Wisconsin political environment. So would a Nehlen victory over Ryan, which also changes the equation for the Democratic primary. There two people who basically agree on principles offer a fresh choice – Tom Breu with a union background and Ryan Solen, an Iraqi war veteran. Either would have a stronger chance against Nehlen, a staunch but less prominent conservative.
|Nehlen without the sunglasses or the Harley|
CD1 was gerrymandered to be firmly in Ryan’s favor, but now that is also working for Nehlen, since Ryan hasn’t even carried his home city of Janesville and struggles in Racine County and portions of Milwaukee County. Despite or perhaps because of his national prominence, the hidden edges of his reputation have been effectively exposed, leading past supporters – including, ironically, Nehlen – to look elsewhere. Even when he was Mitt Romney’s choice for vice president in 2012, party leaders ran away from his plan to disembowel Medicare. His actually economic policies have come back to haunt him as they did in a Nation story, written from the Democratic side but gaining resonance with Republicans:
"Years before Trump sold Republican primary voters on the myth of his own great success, Ryan sold a credulous Washington establishment on the notion that he was a serious thinker overflowing with political courage — a policy wonk uniquely willing to tackle tough issues such as entitlement reform,” wrote Katrina vanden Heuvel. “In the past month, however, it has become more obvious than ever that Ryan's reputation is worth about as much as a degree from Trump University."
Changing the US Congress is the big hope of the Democrats, but changes in the Madison statehouse are also vital and more immediately in front of the voters.
New state Democratic Party chairman Martha Laning conceded in an interview that she is committed to a 72 county strategy for Wisconsin, with Democrats fighting for every seat, upper and lower. But she wants to involve the grassroots organizers and groups -- and that takes time and money, so this is not happening until 2018, she noted.
That is why, despite a real chance to take over the state senate, some Republicans even in the Milwaukee region have a free ride – the replacement for Mary Lazich will be the GOP’s Dave Craig, the lone candidate in Senate District 8; incumbent Alberta Darling stands alone in heavily gerrymandered Senate District 6.
Despite such gimmes there is strong likelihood of Democratic takeover in the Senate, though some key races don’t poke up their heads until November. In SD12, GOP Tom Tiffany is facing an aggressive challenge from Bryan Van Stippen, a small business owner who originally intended to run for an Assembly seat but upgraded because of “the divisiveness and extremism created by the leaders in Madison holding our economy back -- and we need to end it.”
All these cases represent Democrats who fit the district and are motivated by such issues as transportation policy, education policy and environmental issues. Noted Smith, “I’m not a conservative tea party individual and I’m just as far away from being a liberal socialist -- I’m in-between, which makes me a moderate.”
Democratic takeover of the state senate would stymie the worst instincts of the Madison lawmakers who have driven the state toward the economic and public education bottom. Even longtime GOP voters tell interviewers they want a change.
By tradition where there are two or more candidates from one party, the state party machinery isn’t supposed to officially gear up and take sides (though I would argue that Feingold is the obvious exception – he’s already being promoted on party websites).
So here’s another reason to value Aug. 9. No party is spoon-feeding its constituents through ads and billboards. Of course the better financed candidate may spend more – and where the money is coming from is often secret. But a high voter interest and turnout would confirm an electorate deeply concerned and willing to think independently.
We are seeing other groups organize to take sides in the primary. Individuals, too. Five members of CD4 have informally held “Field of Dems” fund-raisers for the NINE women they want to see elected. Hillary and Gwen Moore, of course, but they are also raising funds for Sarah Lloyd (6th CD) and Mary Hoeft (7th CD), plus state candidates LaTonya Johnson (Senate), Diane Odeen (Senate), Jennifer Shilling (Senate), Marisabel Cabrera (Assembly), and Mandy Wright (Assembly).
Organizations independent of party coffers are speaking out – including Wisconsin Progressives, Wisconsin AFL-CIO, Wisconsin Jobs Now, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Working Families Party, which will release its backings this week. These efforts are particularly notable in the Milwaukee area primary races the next column will discuss.