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Political Notes by Jon Fuhrman - June 2024

A few months ago, I wrote about why I was so confident we would win the White House, hold the Senate and flip the House.  Three elements underlay my assessment: actual results in the last two years of special elections; the presence of reproductive rights amendments on numerous state ballots; and a significant and unusual organizational advantage over the GOP at this stage of the election.


As it happens, Wisconsin is a case in point on this last element.  Wisconsin has been the classic toss-up, battleground state; Trump broke through in 2016, winning by 1% (27,000 votes), then Biden carried the state by 0.65% (20,000 votes).  Democrat Tony Evers was elected Governor in 2018 by a 1% margin (30,000 votes).  


But despite these fingernail margins, the State Legislature has been overwhelmingly Republican:  64-35 in the State Assembly, 22-11 in the State Senate.  How did that happen?  Well, back in 2010, the GOP won control of the Legislature and the Governorship, and they did just a bang-up job of reapportionment.  Wisconsin became a paradigm of unfairness, of a blatant abuse of process that gave the GOP a rock-solid, totally safe majority for the entire decade.


Then came 2022.  Democrat Tony Evers, who had won only narrowly in 2018, won re-election with a 4% margin, or 90,000 votes – practically a landslide for Wisconsin.  Then, even more surprisingly, in 2023 there was an off-year election for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  That seat just happened to be the swing seat on the 7-judge court.  Democrat Janet Protasiewicz, who had openly opined about the patent unfairness of the current legislative districts, won in a honest-to-God landslide, with an 11% margin of 200,000 votes.


Well, true to her word, she created a 4-3 majority on the court that tossed out the old maps as violating the state constitution, precluding any federal appeals.  So this year, the entire Assembly, and half the Senate, are up for election with new maps that creates numerous swing districts, pretty much reflecting the makeup of Wisconsin voters.


Just a few weeks ago, I was on a Zoom call with Ben Wikler, the head of the Wisconsin Democratic Party (and, by the way, probably the most effective state leader in the country and, for my money, a good bet to become DNC chair in 2025), along with the Democratic Minority Leaders of the Senate and Assembly.  Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer talked about their plan to flip the Assembly; under these new maps, Biden would have won 49 of the Assembly seats, and Tony Evers would have won 52 of them in 2022.  Ten of the Assembly seats are toss-ups, with likely margins of +/- 2%.  Democrats are already out door-knocking, assisted by substantial IE (Independent Expenditure) groups which, thanks to changes in the Wisconsin law enacted by the GOP, can completely coordinate their activities with state candidates (in most states, that is strictly taboo).  


Part of the Democratic plan is to have a candidate in every single legislative race – no more uncontested races to let GOP candidates slide by.  And even in the reddest of the districts, where Dems really don’t stand a chance, the State Party has pledged significant support.  One of Wikler’s mantras is “Lose by Less” – that is, even in the most rural and conservative areas, Democrats still need to work hard to trim the margins, and those extra votes then accrue upwards to Congressional, US Senatorial, and Presidential candidates.


So the Wisconsin Dems have a goal, a plan and the operational chops to make it work.  They’ve set an ambitious financial goal to fund this ground game, and they are well along the way to reaching their targets.  


This may be one of the best examples of “bottoms-up coattails”, where success at the local level, particularly in turning out Dems, propels candidates in Congressional and state-wide races.  But it’s not the only example.  Dems seem to be far better organized, and more motivated, than the GOP at the nitty-gritty work of identifying, persuading and getting our folks out to vote, either by absentee ballot, by early voting, or in person on election day.  


I’m guessing that this is the sort of organizational effort that will help propel us to a trifecta in November.

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