Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rvier of red buries the blue (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel state elections summary)

Wisconsin only state where Democrats lost governor, Senate seat, Legislature (link includes article and various election videos)

On a night when America turned from blue to red, few states swung harder than Wisconsin, where Republicans experienced their greatest electoral gains in decades, picking up a governor, Democrat Russ Feingold's U.S. Senate seat, both state legislative chambers and two U.S. House seats.

A battleground state that Barack Obama dominated two years ago dealt him and his party a sharp political rebuke Tuesday, as Democrats lost ground with one key voting group after another - independents, blue-collar whites, suburbanites.

Nationally, the GOP recaptured the U.S. House and whittled away at the Democrats' big Senate majority, transforming both the balance of power in Washington and the electoral map heading into the 2012 election for president.

Here in Wisconsin, Republicans gained a governor and U.S. senator in the same election for the first time since 1938. This was the only state in the country where Democrats lost the governorship, a Senate seat and an entire legislature.

Wisconsin has now had two back-to-back elections in which each party won historically large victories - a sign of the volatility of the times, of the economic turmoil of the region, and of a swing electorate that neither side can take for granted.

Two years ago, Democrats achieved their biggest presidential win in Wisconsin since 1964. Obama carried more counties in Wisconsin than any other state, painting the state blue from city to suburb to countryside.
This year, Republicans had their best midterm election in 72 years.

Was this simply another "no" vote against the party in power, much like rejection of Republicans in 2006 and 2008?

Or were voters making a more conservative statement about government overreach?

There were signs of both in this election.

If the exit polls are correct, this was a distinctly more conservative electorate than the one four years ago that re-elected a Democratic governor, Jim Doyle.

It also was an electorate shaped by economic discontent and political dissatisfaction, with a bare majority of Wisconsin voters disapproving of the Obama presidency, and 63% dissatisfied or angry about the way the federal government is working.

The economy was overwhelmingly the top concern of voters; nothing else was close. And much like two years ago, nine out of 10 Wisconsin voters said they were worried about the direction of the nation's economy next year.

The result was something easily recognizable to Republicans this summer and fall, because they'd been on the opposite end of the same frustration and unhappiness. "It's just like '08 and '06 - in reverse," said state GOP chair Reince Priebus last month.

Tuesday's election cost two Democratic incumbents their jobs (Sen. Feingold and U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen of Green Bay), launched new Republican careers (Senate victor Ron Johnson and congressional winners Sean Duffy of Ashland and Reid Ribble of Neenah), elevated Scott Walker to a high-profile Midwestern governorship, and gave one of the GOP's ascendant national figures (Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville) a major new platform in the national debate. Ryan will become the budget chair in the GOP-controlled House, where he's expected to play a central role in the tug-of-war between the parties over spending, taxes, and the size and role of government.

Both of the Democrats at the top of the ticket, Feingold and gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett, lost ground with key swing constituencies that favored Obama two years ago: suburbanites, blue-collar whites, political independents.

One of those groups, blue-collar white voters (those without college degrees), looms especially large in Wisconsin, making up 55% of the electorate Tuesday. Democrats cannot do well statewide in Wisconsin without performing well with this group. Obama won these voters in Wisconsin in 2008, winning 52%. But on Tuesday, Feingold won only 41% and Barrett only 40% of these voters.

The exit polls suggested that the electorate in Wisconsin was more conservative than the one four years ago but a little less conservative than some pre-election polling suggested it would be. Self-described conservatives made up 36% of the total vote, higher than the 27% of four years ago, but not as high as in 1994, when they made up 42% of the Wisconsin vote.

Democratic and Republican voters turned out in roughly equal numbers.

That was also a change from four years ago, when Democratic voters were 38% of the total vote and Republicans 34%.

Change is biggest factor

But it was more than just the makeup of the electorate that shaped the outcome Tuesday. Shifts in public sentiment were key to the GOP victories. In this election, the change agents were the Republicans, not the Democrats.

The exit polls showed that almost a third of the voters in the U.S. Senate race cited change as the biggest factor in their vote, and they broke for Republican Johnson 3-to-1.

This was the first time in Wisconsin since 1980 that more than one incumbent member of Congress lost in the same election, and the first time since the mid-'90s that Republicans won a majority of the state's congressional delegation.

Almost half of Wisconsin voters (45%) favored repeal of the new health care law, according to the exit polls, and those voters overwhelmingly chose the Republican candidates for governor and U.S. senator.

Tea party supporters modestly outnumbered tea party opponents (37% to 32%) among Wisconsin voters, the exit polls showed. (Just under 30% said they were neutral).

And asked whether they think government should do more to solve problems or is doing too many things better left to individuals and businesses, 56% of Wisconsin voters said government is doing too much, while 41% said it should do more.

In traveling the distance from deep blue in 2008 to bright red in 2010, Wisconsin swung more dramatically than most states Tuesday, but it had company, especially amid the economic unease of the industrial Midwest.

Republicans made gains across the board in the region, including in states that are leading presidential battlegrounds: Ohio, Iowa, Michigan.

As a result, Obama will be campaigning throughout the Midwest in 2012 in states led largely by Republican governors, not Democratic governors.

And if anyone thought that Wisconsin, after giving Obama a blowout, 14-point victory in 2008, was no longer a true presidential battleground, this election will come as a corrective. The success of the GOP ensures that Republicans, as did George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, will have Wisconsin in its crosshairs in 2012, knowing that it's a state Democrats cannot afford to lose if they hope to win a second term for Obama.

Republican Women of the North, Northern WI,

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