Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wisconsin Governor Race

Race of the Day

October 12, 2006
26 Days Until Election Day

Wisconsin Governor

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

In 2002, Democrat Jim Doyle ended a 16-year reign of Republican Governors in the State of Wisconsin. For almost all of those years, the job was held by the popular Tommy Thompson who was noted for innovative reforms on issues such as welfare reform that would be used as a model on the national level. After the 2000 election though, Thompson was nominated by President Bush to be the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Thompson’s Lt. Governor was elevated to the top post in the Badger State. When Scott McCallum sought a full four-year term however, he was narrowly defeated by a margin of 45-41 against Doyle. Eleven percent of the rest of the vote went to the Libertarian candidate, who just so happened to be the younger brother of Thompson, the recently departed Governor, who also happened to look and sound very similar to his GOP brother. Without the margin of support that Ed Thompson received, it is hard to see how Doyle would have found the votes to win.

Four years later, Doyle is now seeking reelection in what is essentially a one on one race against a Republican opponent, Congressman Mark Green. Due to a variety of state issues, and some backlash against corruption that has reached high- ranking Democrats in the state, Doyle has at times had job approval ratings that went well below 50 percent. They have fluctuated a bit in recent months, but Doyle has never been able to achieve the comfort level in job approval that most incumbents would want. His opponent Green is a credible opponent, who was first elected to Congress by defeating a Democrat incumbent in 1998, in a politically competitive area of the state. Green initially faced a Republican primary against another candidate, who was seen as promising, but Green, of Green Bay, led in the polls, and soon the primary opponent dropped out of the race, effectively ceding the nomination.

That is not to say though that all Republicans in the state immediately lined up behind Green. During a few months in 2006, there was some buzz that Tommy Thompson himself was interested in a political comeback and that one of the things he might choose to do would be to run again for his old job as Governor. Polls showed that Thompson would have been a very heavy favorite to defeat Doyle and Green would certainly have had no choice but to yield to the former Governor, Thompson eventually announced he would not run for Governor or any other office. While that move ensured the nomination of Green, the months of speculation and the fact that Green’s political future was kept in limbo certainly took a bit of a toll on his ability to raise money or establish a sense of momentum.

Polling on the Doyle vs. Green match up has been pretty consistent in showing Doyle ahead, but usually by single digits. The most recent polls provide some evidence that the race may be tightening however and state Republicans at least, are optimistic about Green’s chances, although it appears that the Republican Governors’ Association may have decided to focus more on other states that GOP might be able to take from the Democrats. The polls out of Wisconsin have shown Doyle remaining at least a couple points below a majority of the state’s support and since the beginning of October, they have shown Green making up a little bit of ground to trail by anywhere between three and six points.

Green might actually have a better shot at this point if not for some controversy regarding his use of Congressional campaign funds being transferred to his Senate campaign, which the State Board of Elections rules was improper. Doyle has used this issue in ads against Green. In spite of that though, and due to the fact that he has inched up in the polls, Green remains a talented candidate and one who may be able to knock off a sitting Governor and return control of the executive office in Madison to Republicans once again.

Still though, the fact that Doyle remains narrowly ahead with less than a month to go, and the recent voting history of the state, indicates that the incumbent might have a slightly easier task to hold his job. While Doyle has at times been unpopular, he is not despised by most in the state and some persuadable voters may be inclined to give him another four years to try to implement his agenda. While Green has been regarded as a rising political star, this may be a tough year for a Republican out of the U.S. House of Representatives to win a state office against an incumbent in a state that typically supports Democrats for President and sends them to Washington in statewide elections. In 2000, Wisconsin was among the hottest battleground states and Republicans believed they had a chance to win it. While the GOP did come out on top in several others of the most hotly contested states, Democrat John Kerry did manage to hold on to win by a very narrow fashion, amidst allegations of serious political impropriety on Election Day, which led to felony convictions of some Democrat workers.

An important factor in this race and the turnout equation that may determine it all is a statewide ballot measure on the issue of same sex marriage. While similar questions put to voters have easily passed everywhere they have appeared, supporters of same sex marriage are optimistic that Wisconsin will end that trend. The controversial measure is certain to jazz up people on both sides of the aisle to turn out and vote and which side does a better job of mobilizing its supporters could help elect a Governor.

Mark Green, unlike his hometown Packers, is still very much alive this year, but the Democrat incumbent will not go down to defeat easily, and the challenger will have to worry about perhaps joining another political Mark Green, that one a New York City liberal, in losing a big race.

Green campaign link:

2006 Governor races predicted thus far: 14 D, 21 R
Post-election total of Governors predicted thus far: 22 D, 27 R