Now that the initial euphoria of the Republicans hanging onto control of the Wisconsin State Senate has worn off, it’s time to start digging through the numbers. I’ll let the political pros like Kevin Binversie, Lance Burri, Christian Schneider and the semi-anonymous Recess Supervisor handle the various main political aspects since, up until Tuesday afternoon, I had been on vacation for a week.
“Polls And Votes”‘ Charles Franklin, WTMJ-AM’s Charlie Sykes, and Randy Melchert all at least touched on elements of a numerical analysis. Franklin focused more on the comparisons to the 2010 gubernatorial election, especially in a Twitter follow-up that specifically dealt with how the Republican Senators compared to Governor Scott Walker. Sykes noted that far fewer people voted for the winners on Tuesday than they did for the winners in 2008. Melchert compared the Republicans’ vote percentage to that of Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in his April 2011 re-election.
Even though Wisconsin has historically seen far less party loyalty by its voters than other states, and the recent election that is closest in structure and general energy to the recall elections was the Supreme Court election, I am a bit wary of using that as the main point of comparison. After all, the office of Supreme Court Justice is officially a non-partisan office, while the office of State Senate is a partisan office. Moreover, in all six districts, there were significantly more people voting on Tuesday than voted in April and in one (the 2nd), more people voting on Tuesday than voted in November 2010, which is something that, honestly, surprised me. Still, as Melchert noted, the Republicans as a group did rouglhy a percentage point better than Prosser in those districts.
Focusing solely on either the 2010 gubernatorial election or the 2008 elections is a bit problematic. 2008 was, despite the fact that all six Republicans were elected/re-elected that year, the second half of the Democrat wave. After two extremely-close Presidential elections, Barack Obama beat John McCain by 14.1 percentage points (ignoring the minor-party candidates and write-ins as the Associated Press did not report that on Tuesday’s elections) statewide, and by a cumulative 7.4 percentage points in the 6 districts that had elections Tuesday. Moreover, two of the six Republicans, Robert Cowles and Luther Olsen, did not have a Democrat challenger in 2008.
2010, on the other hand, was a Republican wave, as Scott Walker beat Tom Barrett by 5.8 percentage points (again ignoring the minor-party candidates and write-ins) statewide and 12.7 percentage points in the 6 districts. Since both Walker and Barrett are from the Milwaukee area, there is no real “hometown” factor for which to adjust.
The simplest way to take out the effects of the two opposing waves is to average the top of each ticket. That gives the Democrats a 4.2 percentage point edge statewide before any other effects such as incumbency or “waves” get added in, while it gives the Republicans a 2.7 percentage point edge in the 6 districts.
The overall “What Happened?”
The Democrats took only two of the minimum of three seats they needed to gain control of the Senate. In a shift from what earlier polling had suggested, it was far closer to being only a 1-seat gain for them than a 3-seat gain. The two races that were closest were Sen. Luther Olsen’s 4.2 percentage point win over Fred Clark and Jessica King’s 2.2 percentage point win over Sen. Randy Hopper. Indeed, the Democrat Party of Wisconsin “crown jewel” of the 8th Senate District turned out not to be all that close as Sen. Alberta Darling beat Sandy Pasch by 7.3 percentage points.
Moreover, the six Republicans outpaced the Democrats by a cumulative 5.5 percentage points, almost 3 full points better than the “baseline”. That was weighted down by the underperformances by Olsen and Hopper.
Various sources have placed the total amount of money spent on these 6 recalls, the failed recall of Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), and the two still-pending recalls of Sens. Jim Holperin (D-Conover) and Robert Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie) at somewhere between $30 million and $40 million, with the vast majority of that in support of the Democrats. It is hard to put that in perspective, as the normal Senate elections have been “undercards” to either gubernatorial or Presidential elections. It is far greater than what has been spent on any other set of Legislative elections or any “stand-alone” statewide election, and it at least approaches the estimated $37 million spent on the 2010 gubernatorial election.
2nd District – Robert Cowles beat Nancy Nusbaum 60.4%-39.6%
By any measure, this was an unmitigated disaster for the Democrats. Up until this summer, Cowles hadn’t faced a Democrat since at least 2000. However, his 20.8 percentage point win, the largest margin of the night, easily outpaced any numerical measure of comparison. It was over 15 percentage points greater than the “baseline”, almost 5 percentage points greater than Walker’s 16.3 percentage point win in November, and roughly 3 percentage points greater than Prosser’s win in April.
On the turnout front, the district saw the lowest turnout relative to the three recent major elections. Turnout barely beat that of the April Supreme Court race, was not even 3/4ths that of the 2010 turnout, and barely half that of the 2008 turnout.
8th District – Alberta Darling beat Sandy Pasch 53.7%-46.3%
As noted above, this was the “jewel too far” for the Democrats. They thought that Darling’s 1.0 percentage point win over then-Assemblyman Sheldon Wasserman in 2008, lower than the 2.5 percentage point advantage the “generic” Republican holds over the “generic” Democrat, actually meant something significant. All it meant was that her 7.3 percentage point win on Tuesday over Pasch, who succeeded Wasserman in the Assembly, was nearly 3 percentage points less than Walker’s win and roughly 3 percentage points worse than Prosser’s win.
This district will become more Republican when the redistricting law takes effect; it will lose Shorewood and some other very-Democratic areas in Milwaukee County and gain some more area in the suburban counties, which as a whole are the most-Republican in the state.
While turnout was “only” a few tenths higher than 90% of the 2010 turnout, that is more of a case of the residents voting in just about every election – the 73% of 2008 turnout was the greatest of the 6 districts.
10th District – Shelia Harsdorf beat Shelly Moore 57.7%-42.3%
If the 2nd was a bitter pill for “establishment” Democrats, this was that same pill for both the unions and the online left. Moore, a teacher, was the very embodiment of the public unions that were so upset with the budget repair bill. Netroots Nation organized field trips into the district during their conference in nearby Minneapolis. None of that helped, as the 15.3 percentage point win was greater than the 13.0 percentage point win Harsdorf scored against Alison Page in 2008, nearly double the 8.2 percentage point advantage the Republicans start with in the district, and roughly 10 percentage points greater than Prosser’s margin of defeat in the district. Indeed, the Democrats as a whole didn’t even bother mentioning the budget repair bill and its limitations on collective bargaining once the actual campaigns got rolling.
While turnout was only about 64% that of the 2008 election, it was actually higher than that of the 2010 election.
14th District – Luther Olsen beat Fred Clark 52.1%-47.9%
Much like Cowles in the 2nd, Olsen has not had to actually run a general election campaign in quite a while. Indeed, in his victory speech, he mentioned that it was the first time he had to run against a Democrat. Unlike Cowles, however, he underperformed against someone who represents the western third of the district in the Assembly – his 4.3 percentage point win over Clark was significantly weaker than the 5.8 percentage point advantage the “generic” Republican should enjoy, and almost a quarter the 16.7 percentage point win Walker had in the district.
Like the 8th, the 14th will be reshaped significantly through redistricting, losing Baraboo (Clark’s home, though all that appears to mean for Clark is he will need to change the district number on his business cards as there are no other incumbents in the redrawn district) and gaining more rural areas of Columbia and Dodge Counties. Since I am not that familiar with central Wisconsin, I don’t know what effect that will have on the relative partisan balance of the district, though it would seem to benefit Olsen personally as his major constituency is the farming community, especially soybean farmers.
18th District – Jessica King beat Randy Hopper 51.1%-48.9%
The old adage that affairs are political career killers (just ask Jack Ryan, who was on track to be Illinois’ junior Senator in 2004 before his, ah, “rejection of assimilation” became public) was proven true once again. After barely surviving round 1 in 2008 with a recount-verified 0.2 percentage point win over King, Hopper fell by 2.2 percentage points in the early rematch. That margin of loss represents the biggest drops of any of the 6 districts from the +5.9% Republican “baseline”, the approximate 2 percentage point Prosser win, and the nearly-16 percentage point Walker win.
Speaking of that “baseline”, King may want to just make the commute from Oshkosh rather than getting a place in Madison. If the Republicans put up a halfway-decent candidate next year, then the streak of not sending a Democrat for a full Senate term since 1932 will remain intact.
32nd District – Jennifer Shilling beat Dan Kapanke 55.4%-44.6%
This was to be expected. Walker carried the district by less than a percentage point, Prosser lost by about 14 percentage points, Obama carried the district by over 23 percentage points, and the Democrat starts with a over-11 percentage point advantage. Throw in the fact that Shilling is popular in her Assembly district and she wisely was about the only Democrat official who condemned the vandalism of Kapanke’s property when the budget repair battle was white-hot, and it became nearly inevitable that Kapanke’s personal popularity stemming from his ownership of the Northwoods League La Crosse Loggers wouldn’t be enough to carry him to victory.
First things first, there won’t be any recounts. The closest race, once the write-ins are added in, won’t be within the 2 percentage points that gives the campaign a reduced rate on picking up the cost of actually conducting a recount, much less the 0.5 percentage point threshold that shifts the cost of conducting a recount to the counties.
There are two recall elections of sitting Democrats next week – Jim Holperin in the 12th District (northeast Wisconsin) and Robert Wirch in the 22nd District (Kenosha County). The conventional wisdom (such as it is in this unprecedented season of recalls) is that Kim Simac is poised to beat Holperin, while Jonathan Steitz will fall short. That’s likely based on older assumptions, as the same set of polls that showed the Republican tightening in this past Tuesday’s elections showed the Steitz/Wirch race tightening. Moreover, the Republican Party of Wisconsin is actively organizing GOTV efforts in both districts.
The unspoken wild card is the fact that the 22nd District will become a safe-Democrat seat next year as it sheds western Kenosha County in favor of the city of Racine, and neither Wirch nor Steitz currently live within the soon-to-be-new boundaries.
Going further out, the Democrats are still promising a recall attempt against Scott Walker. I usually don’t offer free advice to the Democrats, but I will make an exception in this case – be careful of what you wish for. Walker has not forgotten how to campaign (like Olsen), nor does he have personal baggage (like Hopper). Besides, I don’t think the unions will be as generous with the money this time.
Revisions/extensions (8:18 am 8/11/2011) - I highly recommend reading Craig Gilbert’s analysis of the turnout on JSOnline. Also corrected a typo caught in the comments of the Greenroom version.
R&E part 2 (4:53 pm 8/11/2011) - WisPolitics has a rather exhaustive list of links from just about everybody on both sides of the aisle, from the pols to the bloggers, and the media in between. My thanks to them, as well as William Jacobson and Tom Blumer, for linking here.