Will Wisconsin Democrats Strike Gold in 2022?
The party has a shot at controlling all federal and constitutional partisan offices in the state for just the second time during the direct election era
Post-primary polling by Marquette University and FOX News recently found both incumbent Governor Tony Evers and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes with modest single digit leads in their gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races against Tim Michels and Senator Ron Johnson respectively.
The notion that Democrats could hold the governorship and flip a U.S. Senate seat in a purple state during what was expected to be a GOP-wave cycle would seem to be a remarkable feat.
But Wisconsin Democrats also seemingly have a shot at a true historical rarity.
Democrats in the Badger State currently hold six of seven offices elected statewide: Governor (Evers)/Lieutenant Governor (Barnes), Secretary of State (Doug La Follette), Attorney General (Josh Kaul), Treasurer (Sarah Godlewski), and one U.S. Senate seat (Tammy Baldwin).
La Follette and Kaul are running for their 12th and 2nd terms respectively; Godlewski ran for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination but eventually withdrew and endorsed Barnes. [Fitchburg Mayor Aaron Richardson won the Democratic nomination for Treasurer].
If Democrats run the table in elections to these state offices and unseat Senator Johnson, they would hold all partisan offices elected on a statewide ballot for just the second time in the direct election era.
The only time the party has pulled off this feat since 1914 was after the Watergate scandal broke. During the 1974 elections:
- Governor Patrick Lucey was reelected to a second term along with his running mate, Martin Schrieber
- Doug La Follette won the open seat for Secretary of State which had been held by Republican Robert Zimmerman for eight terms (and his father, Fred Zimmerman, for nine terms prior)
- Former two-term Attorney General Bronson Cutting La Follette flipped the open seat to return to his old position
- Treasurer Charles Smith was reelected to his second of eventual five terms
- U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson won his third and final term as fellow Democrat William Proxmire was in the midst of his fourth
This Democratic hold lasted four years through 1978 when Republican Lee Dreyfus won the governorship along with his running mate Russell Olson.
Prior to the direct election of U.S. Senators, Democrats achieved this feat just twice – in 1854 and in 1891-1892 – for a total of seven years since statehood.
By contrast, Republicans have controlled all partisan statewide offices for 65 years since statehood, but not since Senator Joseph McCarthy’s death in 1957.
As for the 2022 cycle, Ron Johnson has always been on the short list of the nation’s most vulnerable Republican U.S. Senators.
But even if Barnes flips that seat and Evers prevails at the top of the ticket, it is hardly a given that Democrats will sweep the remaining constitutional offices.
Democrats have swept all partisan executive offices in only seven of the 74 election cycles with constitutional offices on the ballot since statehood – in 1853, 1873, 1890, 1892, 1974, 1982, and 2018.
The 1890 and 1892 elections mark the only back-to-back sweeps Democrats have recorded for these executive offices.
It should also be noted that even if Democrats sweep these statewide races this November, it is likely (with Ron Kind’s retirement in the 3rd CD) that the party will only end up with two of eight U.S. House seats – the party’s lowest number and percentage of U.S. House seats since the early 1950s.
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