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WPHA/WALHDAB Legislative Update – June 2020

Wednesday, July 1, 2020  
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2020 Wisconsin Legislative Election Outlook

June 1 marked the official start of state legislative campaign season in Wisconsin. Candidates for state office turned their nomination papers into the Wisconsin Elections Commission and will now campaign ahead of the August 11 partisan primary. Candidates who win in August will square off in the general election on November 3.

The 2020 election will produce both change and consistency in the state legislature. With 7 open Senate Seats and 13 open Assembly seats, there will be plenty of new faces. At the same time, it is likely that Republicans will maintain control of both houses, extending their ten-year majority another two years.

The following seats are open due to retirements whether leaving to pursue higher office or leaving public service:

         SD-12: Tom Tiffany (R-Elected to Congress)

         SD-14: Luther Olsen (R)

         SD-16: Mark Miller (D)

         SD-26: Fred Risser (D)

         SD-28: Dave Craig (R)

         SD-30: Dave Hansen (D)

         SD-32: Jennifer Shilling (D)

         AD-8: JoCasta Zamarripa (D)

         AD-11: Jason Fields (D)

         AD-17: David Crowley (D-Milwaukee County Exec)

         AD-29: Rob Stafsholt (R-running for SD-10)

         AD-35: Mary Felzkowski (R-running for SD-12)

         AD-41: Joan Ballweg (R-running for SD-14)

         AD-44: Deb Kolste (D)

         AD-48: Melissa Sargent (D-running for SD-16)

         AD-55: Mike Rohrkaste (R)

         AD-57: Amanda Stuck (D-running for CD-8)

         AD-69: Bob Kulp (R)

         AD-75: Romaine Quinn (R)

         AD-76: Chris Taylor (D)

The current political wisdom is that Assembly Republicans are in position to maintain control following the 2020 election due to their large majority. They currently have a 63-36 seat majority. Should the election be favorable for Democrats, there is a chance they could win nine competitive seats currently held by Democrats. However, they would still be short of obtaining the majority. The nine competitive seats currently held by Republicans include:

         AD-21: Jessie Rodriguez

         AD-49: Travis Tranel

         AD-50: Tony Kurtz

         AD-51: Todd Novak

         AD-68: Jesse James

         AD-85: Patrick Snyder

         AD-88: John Macco

         AD-92: Treig Pronschinske

         AD-96: Loren Oldenburg

Likewise, it is expected Senate Republicans will also maintain control of that body. Until recently, Republicans had a 19-14 majority. However, following the resignations of Republican Tom Tiffany (elected to Congress in May) and Democrat Jennifer Shilling (resigned to take a job in the private sector), Republicans currently have an 18-13 majority.

Of the open seats, it is likely, Republicans will maintain control of the 12th (Tiffany – Northern WI), 14th (Olsen – Central WI) and 28th (Craig – Southeast WI) Senate Districts. Likewise, it is certain Democrats will maintain control of the Madison-based 16th and 26th Senate Districts, which have both garnered large Democratic primaries.

Conversely, the open seats in the 30th (Hansen – Green Bay) and 32nd (Shilling – LaCrosse) Senate Districts could potentially go either way. Looking at the performance of Republican presidential candidates in the last two elections, Romney lost the Green Bay-based 30th Senate District with 47.7% of the vote and Trump won it with 55.6%. If Trump performs well again, then it is conceivable a Republican State Senate candidate could win the district.

While the 32nd Senate District in LaCrosse is typically a strong Democrat district, Trump did significantly better than Romney. Additionally, former 32nd District Democratic Senator Jennifer Shilling narrowly defeated her opponent, Republican Dan Kapanke in 2016. Kapanke, a former Senator from the area, is running again this year. Should Trump increase support in the LaCrosse area, Kapanke may have a chance.

Political spectators are also keeping a close eye on the 10th Senate District in northwest Wisconsin, which is held by Democrat Patty Schachtner. Schachtner handily won the seat by 10-percentage points in special election in 2018. However, Republicans hold all three Assembly seats that comprise the Senate district, and Trump won the district with 55.6% of the vote in 2016. Again, a Republican candidate’s success may rely on the district’s support for Trump.

If Senate Democrats have the opportunity to flip a seat, it could be the 24th Senate District held by Republican Patrick Testin (Stevens Point). The central Wisconsin district, which includes the city of Stevens Point and surrounding areas, was once considered a Democratic district. Romney lost the district in 2012 and Trump won it with 53% in 2016. In 2018, Republicans running for statewide office lost the district. If the district continues its swing left and support for Trump decreases, Democrats could flip the seat.

The 2020 election in Wisconsin will be somewhat unique because there is no race for statewide office (Governor, U.S. Senate) for the first time in several cycles, which should mean that success for Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature will rely solely on attitudes in the presidential race. However, while Wisconsin is considered one of the foremost battle ground states this year and Biden leads Trump in recent polling, the vast majority of Democratic voters reside in Milwaukee County and Dane County (Madison). Democrats already hold the legislative seats in these two areas. The reality of how voters are distributed in the state lends itself to the possibility that the Democratic nominee for president wins the state and legislative Republicans return with large majorities again. 

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