Thursday, August 18, 2022


By Dominique Paul Noth

I have my problems with the Marquette University law school poll though it is one of the most scrupulously done in Wisconsin.  I fear a little bit that poll expert Charles Franklin sometimes overreaches trying to balance the rural and urban vagaries of this curious   state and thus the poll, like the university, tends to reflect more conservative concerns than a good Jesuit institution should. But that may be mainly about me and my experiences as a long-ago MU student and teacher who liked to push the institution’s buttons.

Still I noticed with interest the week of August 16 how the Senate poll put Mandela Barnes seven points ahead of incumbent ass Ron Johnson (now you know my political leanings) while suggesting that the governor’s race between Tony Evers and  unknown (before his endless TV ads) GOP billionaire Tim Michels (whose construction business has been rewarded with projects from  Evers’ tireless effort to fix Wisconsin roads, led into disrepair by GOP policies) is a contest several points closer, though Evers is still two points ahead.

Mandela Barnes (left) gained his
statewide moxie as lieutenant 
governor to Tony Evers in 2018.

That pleases me in one sense because Barnes’ reputation throughout the state as Evers’ lieutenant governor is clearly dominating any concern about his skin color (in a state not recently famous for avoiding racist concerns) and to this point Rojo hasn’t played the race card as I suspect he eventually will.

But here’s why it also worries me. The Evers race is more important and it’s tighter.

I consider the state in total to lean toward progressive policies, but it is also the classic example in the nation of how a GOP dominated legislature, even with a Democratic governor, is unhealthily self-naval focused on winning elections and keeping ordinary folks from voting. 

Forget the stupidity people feel looking at Wyoming whose voters plug away in blind support of Trump even in the face of one-time conservative darling Liz Cheney.  Sometimes Wisconsin voters behave no better. 

How else can you explain the tolerance for gerrymandering and the tendency of GOP legislators to do so little for their constituents and so much for their biggest donors? -- and keep getting elected by the folks they openly call their sheep? As election expert David Pepper recently told New Yorker magazine in a thoughtful article: “No one knows anything about statehouses. They can’t even name their state representatives. And it’s getting worse every year, since the local media’s dying and the statehouse bureaus are being hollowed out.”

To be blunt, the only thing standing between the GOP’s worst tendency and Wisconsin’s chance of improving things for its citizens is Tony Evers, the governor whose presence thwarts the GOP – and next April Democrats could thwart them even deeper when the election of Janet Protasawiecz to the state’s highest court will literally flip the balance on the high court and block the GOP from expecting favorable rulings.

Dare I say it out loud. As much as I like Barnes and dislike Rojo, re-electing Evers as governor is the most important task facing the voters in November. If along the way they can weaken the GOP hold on the legislature – even though the Democrats didn’t universally field candidates in rural GOP strongholds, misreading how much the fever for change was operating – that would be great as well.

Nationwide, in fact, history may be standing on its head thanks to constant right-wing overreach.  Only the GOP rumbles about inflation are keeping the party in the election game and it may well be the most powerful, if misapplied, issue the GOP has. 

Recent polls suggest that Biden’s calm manner as well as his sneaky progressive commitment are starting to gain traction.   Of course, young voters would rather have someone who doesn’t look like their grandpa, but so far no one in their generation has proven as politically nimble.  Politics is a different kind of marathon.

Biden is taking victory laps for the Inflation Reduction Act, which has many elements.  But its common name doesn’t reflect the climate change reality -- it’s the largest climate rescue investment in human history. 

The Democrats’ standings in national ratings are beginning to reflect this, even before Labor Day when traditionally most citizens don’t look very much at politics.  I think the abortion decision and Trump’s flirtations with prison are changing that – in fact, I am most distressed that in America there are still 20% of Americans who cling to Trump and don’t believe in the realities in front of them. They stubbornly vote for people who aren’t doing them any good.  I’m not sure Trump alone is responsible.   There has been a curious willful me-ism streak in American society for centuries.

History records that, in our two-party system, the party out of White House power does well in the mid-terms, and it is hard for pundits to recognize why this year may change that.  In the past voters almost unconsciously tried to keep the nation in balance by helping both parties.   Few believe that today’s Republicans have any ideas how to solve the issues and they are starting to give the Democrats credit for intelligently trying. 

Reality is sinking in, putting the inflation issue in balance. The country has come through COVID-19 and other diseases, a crazy Putin, aggressive China, supply problem issues, a Supreme Court attack on women and more problems that would stymie the best economy and the best administration. Yet all the GOP can think to do in their TV commercials is blame Biden – and then try to say he is too old and senile to be effective.  They can’t have it both ways as he passes the most progressive legislation in decades.

It is starting to make a difference though everything is still in doubt with November a few months away.  But look at recent polls.  I am not much enamored of how Americans keep changing their minds in polls, but only a few months ago, the pollsters were doubting the Democrats could keep the Senate and pretty much stated they would lose the House. Not today.

In August, many polls are saying the Democrats have a chance to expand the Senate and that the House could flip either way.  The Inflation Reduction Act that Biden and Congress passed is only part of the difference, but this is the part that should keep growing in the voters’ minds until November.  By then, it is hoped, more of the nation will be clear on where their brightest political future resides.

In Pennsylvania, John Fetterman's 
everyman image is a winner.

Democrats still engage in desperation email campaigns, each claiming that giving money to just this one candidate (be it Mark Kelly in Arizona or Michael Bennet in Colorado or Warnock in Georgia) was essential to keep the Democratic majority,  The Democrat PR folks haven’t caught up with the national thinking that gives the Democrats a better chance – not  only  to Kelly, Warnock  and Bennet (who are now polled as leading)  but also to Catherine Cortez Masto now leading  in Nevada, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire and even added targets – Democrat Tim Ryan in Ohio, John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Cheri Beasley in North Carolina  and amazingly Val Demmings in Florida. All are also leading or gaining in polls.

The hopes for these Democrats are even bringing tsunami dreams to some Democratic insiders.  They are chastising party leaders for not giving more money to Charlie Booker in Kentucky (running against the schizophrenic – even to Republicans – Rand Paul). Booker has rightly pointed out that what the abortion issue did in Kansas it may do again in Kentucky.

Also looking stronger are retired admiral Mike Franken who has made inroads against Chuck (“am I really going to pretend I can run again?) Grassley in Iowa at age 88, and even Budweiser heir Taylor Busch Valentine trying for the Blunt seat in  normally red Missouri (she loves to point out she would add a much-needed nurse to the Senate).    Along with those Democrats who look totally safe in their seats (Patty Murray, Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Duckworth) the odds are looking better for a broad swath of Democrats.

Recent polls suggest they may even hang on in the House. Sure, if you look at gerrymandering, we may see more of extreme Republicans like Jim Jordan and Kevin McCarthy, but not as once thought in majority positions. If progressive voters hit the polls. And the new political reality of our Internet times is that progressives in other states can send money and call their friends.

About the author: Noth has been a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association at its inception, he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 

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