By Tom Still
MADISON – If you’re considering a friendly bet with your spouse, your boss or the bartender, here are seven lucky trends to watch on Election Day.
Follow how Mark Green is polling in western Wisconsin. Republican candidate for governor Green has represented a congressional district and a legislative district in northeast Wisconsin, so it’s no surprise he wasn’t well known in the western third of the state. Just look at his personal campaign appearances in the closing weeks – Superior, Eau Claire, Platteville, La Crosse and more. Why? His polls told him it was his Achilles heel. To improve his chances to win, Green must avoid the fateful arrow of big losses in western Wisconsin.
Follow how Jim Doyle is polling in Milwaukee County. Democrats usually need a comfortable margin in the state’s most populous county to win a statewide race. That’s less true these days with the emergence of other Democratic power bases, such as Dane County, but it’s still important for incumbent Gov. Doyle to emerge from Milwaukee with a comfortable margin. There’s been a crisis of credibility in Milwaukee surrounding voting procedures, however, and that may keep some voters away from the polls. Also, some black voters are still angry with Doyle over his handling of “school choice” issues. If turnout is normal for an “off-year” election, however, Doyle’s odds to win re-election increase.
Watch Brown County in the 8th Congressional District race. Democrat Steve Kagen is an allergist who has members of his party itching to regain the seat now held by Green. Republican John Gard is speaker of the state Assembly and a tireless campaigner. At stake is not only the 8th District seat but possibly control of the U.S. House of Representatives. To win, Kagen must be competitive in Brown County. Recent history explains why: Brown County provided Green a 7,000-vote margin in 1998 when he defeated Democratic incumbent Jay Johnson. In 1996, when Johnson won an open seat, his margin of victory there was 11,000 votes. If Gard wins the swing votes in Brown County, he’s a modern Mr. Smith packing his bags for Washington.
Also, watch Brown County in the race for governor. Kagen’s strong showing has meant Green needed to shore up his base in his own backyard. Some of his late television advertising buys have been in the Green Bay market, which may have been the last place he expected to be spending money at this point. Doyle has also bought ads in the Green Bay market in hopes of cutting into Green’s hometown base, something Green is less likely to pull off in Dane County.
Keep an eye on young voter turnout. In the 2004 presidential election, 68 percent of Wisconsin’s eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 showed up to vote. Some 10,000 new young voters have registered in Wisconsin so far this year. Who says the Internet generation only leads a virtual life? On Tuesday, the issue that has students riled up one way or the other is the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages, civil unions and other “look-alike” marriages. There’s no solid way to predict how those students will vote in the race for governor – or if they will simply bypass that ballot choice. But if the “no” vote is strong on campus, that could backfire on Republicans who thought this amendment was a no-brainer lure for conservatives when they voted to put it on the ballot.
The attorney general’s race may be a bellwether. So far as the Doyle campaign is concerned, they traded up in the A.G.’s race in the September primary, when Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk seized the nomination from troubled incumbent Peg Lautenschlager. But the Green camp also liked the outcome when J.B. Van Hollen defeated a more conservative Paul Bucher in the GOP primary. The polls show it neck-and-neck between Falk and Van Hollen, but Falk seems to dislike campaigning almost as much as Van Hollen enjoys it. In a race for an open seat, personal perceptions can matter.
Watch for the 1974 and 1994 landslide effect. After the Watergate scandal and President Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Democrats roared back into power in Congress and in many state capitols, including in Wisconsin. In 1994, the conservative revolution led by Newt Gingrich and his “Contract with America” sparked a Republican victory – and the Wisconsin Legislature was no exception. If the pundits are right and 2006 is a Democratic year, look for Republicans to lose control of some statehouses for the first time in a decade or more. That’s less likely in Wisconsin than some other states, simply because the GOP enjoys stronger majorities here. But a big Democratic day could cost Republicans a few seats in the Assembly and Senate.
Remember to vote. It’s no fun to bet your bartender if you didn’t actually ante into the game.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.